When to get married

When is the right time to get married? Neil Faulkner gives his views on getting married and having a cheap wedding.

I've written a lot about money on this website, but not a word about love, so today I want to write about marriage, with money taking just a back-seat role.

Being a numbers man I need concrete things to work with and, as the philosopher Goethe said: “Love is an ideal thing. Marriage is a real thing”. Or words to that effect. Also central to my theme today is something else that is very real, and that is having children. So it's about marriage and children. Money will come into it at some point too.

Children before marriage

I came to the idea of this piece from an unusual source. Rather than scouring small print or consumer laws, or playing around with my spreadsheets like normal, I was talking to a family friend who married first and then had children.

She asked me why it is that people have children first, as if they think having children – the great responsibility that it is – is not so important that we shouldn't first demonstrate true commitment to each other, for which marriage is perhaps well suited. By “people”, she was including me.

But don't misunderstand her or splutter over your 21st century coffees. This isn't some battleaxe with a grudge. It was an innocent question exploring the philosophy of it. It wasn't said in a “my man left me to fend for myself and two kids – men are scum” kind of way. She was considering scientifically the potential social ramifications, like a devil's advocate.

I think she was exercising her brain by taking the old saying further along, the one that we have to know each other really well to get divorced, yet we need be no more than acquaintances to get married. She was talking about how we don't even need to be properly acquainted to get children.

Five reasons children come first

We can all come up with lots of reasons why children happen before marriage. I've thought of five in a few seconds:

Contraceptive carelessness (what your children might call an “uh-oh”) and over exuberance probably cause lots of children before marriage. That's two reasons right away.

Thirdly, many may consider marriage as merely a religious symbol, which is no use to you if you don't believe in God.

The fourth reason requires its own sub-heading

Then there are some secular people, like me, who still see marriage as a nice symbol of commitment, but we put off getting married anyway, and decide to have children first.

The first and foremost reason I haven’t got married is that, while I love children, I hate weddings. I cannot emphasise the word “hate” enough.

I find the ceremony, the tradition, the standing around, the conservatism, the speeches, the small talk, all of it, boring as hell. What's more, I can't stand 80s and 90s music, the two worst decades for music in 100 years.

I even hate them more than Ikea - and I know I'm not alone with this attitude.

The fifth reason has a technical term for it

Marriage is supposed to be a commitment to being together forever, until you die. Unless you're planning to ride off on a motorbike to some alcohol- and drug-fuelled revolution for your honeymoon, getting busy living, your deaths are probably a long way off.

Yet, as a symbol of this life-long commitment, where every day together is to be cherished, we're supposed to blow an extraordinarily gaping hole in our wallets in a single afternoon, right at the beginning of the marriage.

Some people spend half or even all their life savings on a wedding. Some even get into debt for it. All that gone in just one day of their marriage. Psychologists have a technical term for this, and that is “bonkers”.

Then they have their whole married lives ahead of them, to struggle together to rebuild the money they spent as well as futilely trying to recover the wonderful, wealth-building compounding effect that they interrupted as a result.

If you want to test early on whether you can live through hard times together – till death do us part – you could start by having a wedding, and trying to get by afterwards. 

But we surely can't expect that the rest of our married lives will be so worthless that we needn't bother keeping the vast majority of our hard-earned savings.

I did it my way

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking we don't have to have a traditional, expensive wedding. That's easy enough for you to say. But I can't propose to my girlfriend while adding the caveat that the wedding has to be done my way, without tradition, expensive food, tailored clothes, and excluding four-fifths of her family.

Once I've asked the question, and if she answers the way I hope she does (or, at least, the way I think I hope she does) the bills will mount, because she knows we can afford it at this point in time. It's just that I don't want to afford it, for the reasons I just stated in points four and five.

What I want is a symbol that is more appropriate than a wedding for a life-long relationship, and less explosive. A symbol that renews regularly, maybe daily, monthly, annually, or whatever. The cost is spread out over our lives, as is the message of renewal and commitment. But the symbol must also leave room for surprise – it can't be a rigid symbol, but allow creativity to flourish. It can't be boring like weddings. That's what a good marriage symbol looks like to me.

How to spread a wedding out over the rest of your lives

I like to pose problems in my articles and then end with original solutions and action points, but I'm stumbling over the second part. I can come up with some good ideas from time to time, but my spreadsheets just don't seem to be giving me any insights today.

If you have any thoughts on how commitment could be shown with the romance of a wedding, minus the boredom or ceremony, and spread sensibly over the course of the marriage, then messages, please, in the box below.

More: My Big Fat Frugal Wedding


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