A good few years ago we were out for a meal at a Noosa restaurant with a work colleague of She Who Is Pictured on the Left. As it happened, this chap’s signature is on our marriage certificate, circa 1981. He did it a second time three years later when we had a Reaffirmation of Vows ceremony.
(photo by Sarah Calderwood))
He may well have taken on a second job as a civil celebrant to help feed his large family, but his personality was well suited to the role. As we studied the menu at the Hastings Street bistro, a 30-something couple with children in tow greeted him like a long-lost uncle. They chatted for ages and, before he was able to sit down again, another couple came up to say “Hi”.
“I’ve married thousands of people,” he explained later. “I might forget, but they never do.”
Party animals, not
I was prompted to recall this anecdote after spending Saturday night at the 20th wedding anniversary party of musician friends. It was a 70s theme costume party so I really lashed out, spending $6.50 at a Lifeline shop in Nambour where I picked up a splendidly appropriate surfie shirt to go with the purple hippie pants someone gave me for my 60th birthday. She Who Buys Quality Clothing and Keeps it for Years wore an original from the era. The party was in a retro Fortitude Valley nightclub. The music was suitably cheesy and we knew many of the people attending, so as parties go (and I’m not normally a party-goer), it was lovely. Many selfies were taken, there was much hugging and everyone happily forgot who bought the last bottle of champagne.
I ended up chatting to a musician writer friend who looked like he needed a reason to keep sitting in the corner. We quickly agreed that a certain level of introversion, usually demonstrated by a reluctance to go anywhere on a Saturday night, was healthy (for us). We’d come along (a) because we like the bride and groom and (b) our gregarious partners insisted.
We sat there watching our women working the room – playing Tigger to our Eeyore and there’s something to be said for that.
I am a big believer in the opposites attract kind of relationship. Even Tiggers have days when they can’t bounce. They can privately retreat into the arms of their respective Eeyores whimpering “looks like rain” to which their Eeyores will agree “probably will”.
Hanging in there
Later there were speeches and cake. The bride started talking then the tears came. The groom took over and said exactly the right things. The bride recovered and told assembled guests about her deep love for “this man”.
“I don’t know where I’d be without him,” she added.
“You’d be rich,” murmured the groom.
This event had been on our social calendar for months. It wasn’t just that we like the people who felt moved to reaffirm their love for each other in this way. It seemed that we, the veteran musician couple, helped set a certain tone. Several people wanted to know how long we’d been married. We typically flounder when asked this question. I/we usually say self-deprecating things like “It depends which wedding you’re talking about,” or, “It wasn’t continuous service, you know.”
Married men will know there is a right and a wrong time to be glibly sarcastic – for instance, if someone asks you about the secret to your long relationship, “inertia” might get a laugh, but it could lead to you making a bed up in the shed.
A Relationships Australia survey asked respondents to rate reasons for their getting married – 91% of people said love was the major reason. Second in the running was companionship (88%). Legal/financial security was not rated highly (66%) nor was religious beliefs (62%) or pressure from parents (50%).
Hanging in for a really long haul
There was a bit of chatter at this party about long-lasting relationships – we were not the only 60-something couple in attendance. Someone said her grandparents had been married 64 years and were still daftly in love.
The world record holders, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher, were married 86 years, 9 months, and 16 days until Herbert (106) passed away in 2011.
Another entry in the Guinness Book of Records tells of Ann Shawah (17), who eloped in 1932 with John Betar (21) instead of marrying the older man her parents had chosen for her. John told The Telegraph that learning to compromise and letting his wife be the ultimate boss was the key to their enduring union.
Someone should make a meme out of that.
Memo: watch Burton and Taylor
There are plenty of record-holders for being married (and divorced) many times. Film star Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times, even if one of those was a second marriage to Richard Burton (check out Burton and Taylor, ABC 8.30 Saturday).
Liz had nothing on Linda Wolfe, though, the world’s most married woman. The Guinness Book of Records says she married 23 times, the first at 16 for love and most recently in 1996 to Baptist preacher Glynn ‘Scotty’ Wolfe “for publicity”.
The Tennessean reported that locals Lauren and David Blair exchanged vows for the 109th time last year. These hopeless romantics from Hendersonville, who married in 1984, have reaffirmed their vows with ministers and civil celebrants in many exotic locations including London, New York, Gretna Green (Scotland), Las Vegas, Tupelo (Elvis’ birthplace) and the Hard Rock Café in Honolulu.
Celebrants are now the preferred option for Australians who swung away from formal church weddings in the 1970s.
In 1973 Attorney-General in the Whitlam Government Lionel Murphy introduced civil celebrants as a viable alternative to church weddings. Before then, people who did not want to be married in a church made do with a soul-less encounter in a Magistrates Court registry. Someone who had suffered that indignity said it was “like going to see your probation officer”.
Twenty years ago, more than 60% of Australian marriage ceremonies were performed by clergy. Now, 64% of marriages are performed by civil celebrants.
Author Amanda Lohrey wrote in The Monthly that under Murphy’s system, celebrants were appointed for life after being subjected to a ‘fit and proper person’ test which required a record of community service and solid references. In the late 1990s, the system was reviewed and civil celebrant numbers have increased fourfold since 2003 to more than 12,000, amid mutterings about inadequate training and falling standards. In 2004, The Howard government’s Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced changes to the Marriage Act to specify that marriage “means the union of a man and woman”. Lohrey wrote that Ruddock’s changes were widely interpreted as a response to pressure from the Christian lobby and its anti-gay-marriage wing.
She Who is Taller Than Me has a cousin in Calgary who has been a marriage celebrant for many years. ‘Cuz’ and her siblings came to Australia in 2010 for a family wedding where she did the honours on a Gold Coast beach. Every guest was given a custom-made pair of thongs (footwear).
We were late, so had to make do with bare feet. As is our marital custom, no blame was apportioned for the lateness.