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Monday, 28 July 2014

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Eden bucking the wedding trend

Is it something in the water? Something in the air? Whatever the reason, there’s something about Eden.

Moore wedding photo
Samantha Moore and Mark Forsdike

It’s not just the area’s natural beauty. Eden’s special something is also evident in cold, hard facts.

The 406 local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have been ranked in order of the proportion of adults who are married.

And top of the pile is Cumbria’s Eden district, where 69 per cent of over-16s are in a state of wedded bliss. Well, they’re married. The statistics do not tell us what proportion are happy, or still on speaking terms.

Contrast Eden with the most marriage-averse part of the UK – the London borough of Lambeth – where just 31 per cent of adults are married.

Elsewhere in Cumbria the borough of Allerdale is also riding high: joint third with 66 per cent. In Copeland the figure is 59 per cent while Carlisle languishes in mid-table at 54 per cent.

So why are people in rural Cumbria more likely than average to tie the knot? And does marriage really matter any more, for couples or for societies?

Not even Eden can reverse a long-term trend in declining numbers of weddings. In 1972 there were 480,000. By 2009 the number had slumped to 267,000.

The good news for traditionalists is that the divorce rate in England and Wales is at its lowest level since 1977.

Perhaps this is partly because people are getting married older. In 2001 the average age at first marriage was 31 for men and 28 for women, compared with 24 for men and 22 for women in 1971.

But why are people still getting married at all? Married Couple’s Allowance gives a slight financial advantage but the social stigma of ‘living in sin’ is long gone.

Cumbria-based Suzie Hayman is agony aunt with Woman magazine and trustee of parenting advice charity Family Lives. She feels that marriage still refreshes the parts other lifestyle choices cannot reach.

“I can’t fight the statistics. We know that marriage is enormously protective of relationships, and of children. Children thrive on being in a happy family setting.

“Sometimes this can be where people are not married. But the statistics do seem to show that when couples are not married they are more likely to break up.

“There’s a complicated cause and effect. Does being married keep you together? Or are the kind of people who would stay together the kind of people who would get married?

“Marriage is not a magic wave of the wand that cures all ills.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in wonderful relationships who never married. And I know people in dire relationships who are married.

“But with a broad brush, marriage is good. Human beings naturally want to bond. We want to find somebody and stay with them.”

Maybe so, but why are people in Cumbria so much more likely to be married than those in big cities?

City dwellers are likely to be younger, career-driven and not ready to settle down. Rural communities are older.

And Suzie says there are other factors. “Communities in towns are more fragmented. In Cumbria we tend to know a lot of our neighbours. Our families tend to be nearby. There may be more pressure to be conventional.”

Deciding to get married is one thing. Making it work is quite another. Suzie is wary of the trend for lavish weddings, particularly if this starter overshadows the main course.

“People might spend two years planning for a wedding but no time planning for a marriage. How well do they get on? How do they resolve arguments?”

Suzie has experience of living with her husband Vic as both a partner and a wife. “My husband and I lived together for 20 years before we decided to get married. We’re still very happy. It hasn’t really changed anything. But there’s the thing about making a public commitment.”

Samantha Moore, 23, a records specialist at Sellafield, and Mark Forsdike, 25, a security officer at Sellafield, made that commitment last summer after going out for two years. “I’d always wanted to get married,” says Samantha. “It’s definitely a romantic thing to do. We got married on my mum and dad’s wedding anniversary, July 16. We did it for the obvious reasons, because we love each other and want to be together.

“We were looking to buy a house and it just seemed the right time. If people put it off they sometimes keep putting it off.”

Samantha estimates that about half of her friends are married. Why does she think some people say ‘I do’ while others prefer ‘I’d rather not’?

“People are different. Getting married can be very expensive and some people don’t want to spend money on a wedding. But it’s every girl’s dream to get married. I think many men do it for their partner. I don’t think anything’s really changed. We’re still happy now we’re married.”

Not everyone wants to get married – not even in Eden. Jon Bardgett, 47, and Nicola Davies, 52, live in Morland, near Penrith. They have been together for several years but have no plans to join the 69 per cent of married adults in the district.

“I’ve been married two times before so it doesn’t seem to work for me,” says Jon. “Me and Nicola don’t see that marriage would change anything.”

Jon is wary of politicians who promote marriage, and of anyone who attempts to push people down the aisle.

“I don’t think anybody should be persuaded into it by anybody else. Some people get married because their parents want it or because of names for children, that sort of thing. I think some people get married because they think they need something more, a tie or a bond. They might question why they need that tie or bond. Is it because of mistrust in the first place?

“There are that many influences. Adverts show us these ideal lives – you can have anything you want. We’re encouraged to swap and change all the time. That doesn’t encourage people to stay married.”

But some couples’ vows last a lifetime. Dorothy and Peter Sloan of Upperby, Carlisle, celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary two months ago. The couple met at a dance in 1947, when Dorothy was 15 and Peter was 19.

They were married at St John the Baptist Church in Manor Road, yards from where they have lived for the past 30 years. They have four children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“The most important thing is to love each other,” says Dorothy, 79. “We enjoy each other’s company. We’re a close family with children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We enjoy gardening. It’s the usual thing – he does the grass and I do the flowers. It’s fine unless he starts pruning – that drives me mad!

“My husband used to play golf. It’s important to have your own time as well. Just a few hours, I don’t mean weeks on end.”

What does Dorothy think about the increasing trend for couples to live together without being married?

“I think it’s a shame,” she says. “But you want to be sure you’ve got the right one.”



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