Going by the latest statistics, marriages are significantly on the decline in the UK. In 1970, there were 480,285 marriages registered. As of 2021, the yearly average has has dropped steadily to 275,000 weddings, annual average, a massive fall of 43% during that time. In fact, the year 2007 produced the lowest marriage rates since they were registered. One writer in the Guardian attributed the gradual fall mainly to a lack of trust in society among people for each other, labelling current marriages as “households built on sand”. That could be one factor, but I doubt if it comes anywhere near the five major factors that are keeping marriages at bay in our technological world. The figures apply mainly to opposite sex relationships.
- The first and main reason is that today’s men and women are caught in transition.
The old authoritarian order where men were regarded as head of the household and could literally dictate whether a woman was taken or remained a spinster for life has been gradually swept away. Both sexes are now caught in no man’s land rapidly re-writing the rules. Women, in particular, are enjoying new freedoms, able to take care of themselves without needing to marry to do so. They have their own income, their own houses and their own cars, the kind of assets men would boast of when trying to woo a woman.
Many men now feel inadequate in that respect and are unsure of their approach. Worse still, too many lack confidence in how to interact with women. The goalposts of macho security have long moved and, fearing being rejected by the new independent women, many men prefer to look but lack the courage to make any connection. The result is a lot of lonely people busily skirting around each other, superficially looking keen and eager, but, in the absence of modern protocol, are often scared witless as to how they should proceed with that contact.
- The next key factor is a fear of being hurt.
Men on dating sites even have handles that say ‘Please don’t hurt me!”, which sounds so wimpish and cowardly. One feels the urge to say: We’ve all been hurt, just get over it! But men, in particular, take hurting very badly and many lives are actually determined by that fear of being emotionally scarred. Yet, by focusing on being ‘hurt’, they forget that pleasure comes before any kind of hurt and so they’ll miss out on the pleasure, too. Which is why many of them are increasingly lonely, angry and bitter at the state of their lives. A person living in fear is not a happy one. Fear spells doom and gloom because such people are simply waiting for the next worst thing to happen to them.
Not surprisingly, it does happen, in a self-fulfilling way, because when we fear we bring that fear into reality through our expectations and a lack of trust. If they believe that the next woman they meet will cheat on them it is only a matter of time before this happens because the way they treat that woman, mainly with suspicion and negative expectations, will soon annoy her off enough to send her into the arms of another. Most men need to recognise that life goes in a balance of pain and pleasure, up and down, good and bad, birth and death, for example. We cannot have one without the other and the quicker we cope with each event and leave it behind, the more effectively we cope with hurting, too.
3. The third problem for modern couples is seeking perfectionism in choice of partners.
Most people now will not make do with ‘second best’ in their eyes. Unless their choices are exactly right in every way, fitting the perfect imaginary identikit, they will not marry. She must have certain characteristics, especially being “young, slim and beautiful” and he must be “tall, handsome, solvent/wealthy”, and certainly not bald! Of course, as there would be a premium on these perfect beings, with younger women wanting even younger men, there are a lot of unhappy people whose unrealistic expectations are being ignored.
Many people foolishly believe that they are actually shopping for an unchanging product when they are seeking a partner, one that comes to order. But human beings are emotionally diverse and are ever changing. Often by focusing on some aspects to the detriment of others, one is likely to miss something else of value that person might bring to the friendship. The only two things that should matter in a connection are the degree of attraction and chemistry between them. Everything else will gradually unfold.
- The next major factor is a practical one: fear of divorce costs.
Marrying is pretty simple to do if one doesn’t desire a big splash. But the divorce can be traumatic because everything has to be shared. When there is bitterness and resentment included as well, that usually mean lawyers – and lawyers cost. That is why many people baulk at weddings. They project themselves further down the line and the sheer thought of the expense of divorce puts all thoughts of marriage in the shade. For some people it is all too much.
- Finally, there is the sex factor.
In the past, most people, especially women, ‘saved’ themselves for the man of their dreams, and to conform to social and religious protocol of no sex before marriage. If men wanted sex, they could only get it in being married. Now with freer sex between couples, there is no need for marriage, especially when one puts that together with the desire to have children significantly decreasing or being deferred to a later age. Many men are now having children in their late 40s and early 50s, putting careers firmly in front of families. It means the desire to settle down with someone and to have a family is lessened to a large degree for younger people. Many do not see the point in getting married at all, especially if they believe that they cannot afford to keep a family.
Fifty years ago marriage was the important foundation for society. It validated the family unit, it confirmed procreation, it established men in caring roles and gave security to women who often had no other outlet for their talents. Today, with increasing self-awareness and independence, the reasons for marriage are becoming obsolete, except in religious or traditional spheres. One thing seems certain: so long as people fear being hurt, seek perfect partners and lack the confidence to interact with one another, the decline of marriage will continue until something else, perhaps more convenient, gradually takes its place.