I can still remember hunting down vows for my wedding day. I wanted the most ancient thing I could find, the most olden-day words that modern day people would still understand.
I wanted something that rebelled against modern matrimony, something starkly opposed and highly controversial. Fortunately, my husband was happy to go with the flow on that one, and we found the perfect words hidden in the dusty internet pages of the 1559 Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
And now, with Married at First Sight having just waltzed through the arrivals lounge and into New Zealand, our reasons for going old school have been confirmed.
The very popular overseas show sees experts match up couples who meet at the alter, and who then have a month to decide whether or not to stick life out together.
It’s not the show I’m worried about, by the way, because it doesn’t trivialise marriage as a couple of church leaders proclaimed this week. Quite the opposite, in fact. Television is little more than a mirror reflecting back at us, with dreadful accuracy, who we really are. And that means we trivialised marriage first. The show is nothing more than a very serious, accurate likeness staring us back in the eye.
Just look at the three “one in threes” if you’re not convinced that we messed up first. In 2011 an article states that one in three people confess to having had an affair in New Zealand. One in three marriages end in divorce (read past the headline from Statistics NZ on that one). According to the website “It’s not OK” one in three women have experienced abuse from a partner (and this will include many married women).
With statistics like that, who could possibly take marriage seriously? No wonder we ended up with a television show that experiments with vows like one might experiment with making white sauce. We already do it with each other.
And that brings us back to 1959. The subjects of Good Queen Bess were scattered across the realm nervously awaiting their wedding proclamation in church each Sunday, for three Sundays in a row, after which anyone give a reason for why the marriage ought not to go ahead.
If they made it past that test (hopefully with their fingernails intact), England’s young lovebirds were then forced to endure the same question (does ANYONE object?) at the start of their marriage ceremony.
After a rather arduous philosophical treatise on the origins, purpose and ends of marriage, you would think a little romance would enter the ceremony.
But instead, vows mentioning death all sorts of serious stuff had to be uttered, and then everybody repeated lines about God having mercy.
In fact, mercy is mentioned as many times as love.
It might seem a bit pessimistic, but I reckon these old codgers knew a thing or two. They knew that marriage was as much about love as it was sheer, bloody-minded hard work, and that was why it would take mercy.
They knew young couples needed sobering up and reminding of this as they soared the dizzying heights of new love. They knew that old couples sitting in the audience needed reminding of this as they took a break from the stresses and pressures of daily life.
They knew that repeating the same old lines in the same old ceremony might seem a little uncreative and boring, but they also knew that the moment we stopped, we would forget what it takes to make marriage work.
And I think we’re proving them right.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz