COVER

LEAP OF FAITH

Summer—the traditional heart of wedding season—is a time of boundless hope

BOB LEVIN June 28 1993
COVER

LEAP OF FAITH

Summer—the traditional heart of wedding season—is a time of boundless hope

BOB LEVIN June 28 1993

LEAP OF FAITH

COVER

Summer—the traditional heart of wedding season—is a time of boundless hope

BOB LEVIN

Because we’re Goin ’ to the chapel And we’re

Gonna get ma-a-a-rried —The Dixie Cups, 1964

Never mind that it all started with men dragging women off to caves or, later, trading cows for them. Never mind that, once upon a time, many marriages were little more than tribal alliances, about as romantic as corporate mergers. Forget, too, that in today’s post-Ozzie and Harriet age, divorce rates are rampant and cohabitation is cool. Forget everything but this: every spring and summer, sure as sap rises and church bells ring, something propels people to go bravely where multitudes of men and women have gone before—often again and again. Something compels them to choose between the new silk gown and Mom’s old satin, to decide whether to serve after-dinner mints and in-

vite weird old Uncle Willy—to speak solemnly of lifelong commitment within an institution that some experts have pronounced dead or at least dying.

Call it a leap of faith. Call it traditionalism or romanticism—even masochism, as the maritally-wounded might see it. Call it whatever you want but give it its due: the wedding season, like the baseball season that runs around the same time, is a season of boundless hope.

Just look at the odds: four out of 10 Canadian marriages now end in divorce, victims of bad faith, troubled times, unrealistic expectations or the throwaway ethic of a consumer society. Against that bleak backdrop, it’s hardly surprising that, according to the number-crunchers at Statistics Canada, there were only 6.4 marriages per 1,000 Canadians in 1991, down nearly 10 per cent from 1990. The recession is part of the reason, but the rates have been slipping for two decades. Another factor is demographics: the aging of the baby boomers has left fewer people in peak marriage years. And many more are living common-law—especially in Quebec, where marriage rates are the lowest among the provinces. “Marriage is becoming obsolete,” insists Jean Dumas, chief of current demographic analysis at StatsCan. “People prefer to live together. Economically, you pay less taxes, and you are much more free to break the marriage—no lawyers.”

Is Dumas married?

“Oh yes, twice,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a disease.”

It’s also a business, and the glossy wedding magazines—doorstop thick with ads for

rings, gowns, flowers, cakes, cosmetics, reception halls and fancy underwear—dispute claims that marriage is moribund (page 40). “Marriage is down but not dead,” maintains Frances Fuller, promotions manager at Toronto-based Wedding Bells magazine. “It’s a population question—we’ve gone through the baby boomers.” As for the next generation, today’s Canadian teens generally tell pollsters that they expect to get married and have a couple of kids. Dumas remains dubious: “You ask a small boy, 6 or 7, what he wants to be, and he says, ‘A fireman.’ But you look around and there are not that many firemen. There is a place for dreams and a place for reality.”

The times are definitely a-changin’—to a point. After all, the nation’s new prime minister is single, divorced Kim Campbell, but

that will not stop other politicians from posing prominently with their spouses. And marriage in Canada has survived assorted trends—not to mention countless arguments over who-leftthe-toilet-seat-up and the realization that, as Robertson Davies put it, “There’s more to marriage than four bare legs in a blanket.” In the 19th century, says Ellen Gee, a demographer at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., people married late and a fairly high percentage did not marry at all—a pattern exported from Western Europe. Only in the current century—and especially in the 1950s—did Canadians start marrying in their early 20s, having several kids and sending out the man as the sole breadwinner. The golden age of marital stability? Maybe. But the Happy Days decade wasn’t happy for everyone: it burdened men with all the bills and drove the

next generation of women to rekindle feminism.

Today, not only are fewer people marrying but they are again doing it later in life—for first-timers, a mean age of about 28 for men and 26 for women in 1991. “People say, Wow, this is a major social change,’ ” says Gee. “But I’m always saying, ‘Hey, look, it just seems that way because of the anomaly of the 1950s. You need a broader perspective.’ ” Gee also doubts that marriage is really on the rocks, arguing that the current cohabitation trend “looks as though it’s just another stage in the family life course—people cohabit and then they get married.”

But enough of the debate. This is summer, after all, the heart of wedding season—which, by the way, was historically the lull after planting crops in spring. It’s the time for until-deathdo-you-parts in churches and temples, on

beaches and mountaintops and in garish Las Vegas wedding mills (page 41); for snapping honeymoon photos in Waikiki and gay Paris and, yes, in Niagara Falls, as well (page 42). The newlyweds, says Robert Glossop, director of programs at the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family, are expressing “a profound, sincere, deep-seated desire for an intimate commitment and sharing of one’s life with another. Romeo says to Juliet, The more I give you the more I have.’ So the interest is no longer individual.”

For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, that desire still sends people streaming to the altar, no matter what the latest trends.

Goin’to the chapel of love.

Yeh, yeh, yeh, yeh.

Goin’to the chapel of love.