Hollywood marriage: Till de-glitching does us part
The young see marraige as something to be learnt from and then discarded. But isn't permanence the point, asks Victoria Lambert
It seems that Generation Y has mistakenly taken its inspiration for matrimony from the short-lived marriages of Hollywood celebrities. Although many of them are in happy relationships now, their early attempts at marriage were famed for their brevity. Take Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton - they managed two years. Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney quit after six months. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries lasted even less. Till death do us part has been rewritten for the millennial generation: you either like it or leg it.
The young and in love now want to beta-test their marriages in much the same way as software is put through a last stage of testing before release. In the spirit of all things digital, marriage is seen as an iterative experience, where you learn what you can, adapt, then nimbly move on.
According to a new US survey reported in Time magazine, 43pc of millennials - those aged 18 to 34 - said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial, at which point the union could be either formalised or dissolved, with no divorce required.
The survey showed that 36pc fancied a "real-estate" marriage, where licences would be handed out for five-, 10- or 30-year terms, like mortgages.
Think of it this way: millennials love a start-up, but if the plan doesn't work, there's no shame in starting again from scratch.
Jessica Bennett, contributing editor for Facebook boss Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In foundation, puts it well when she explains, light-heartedly, how she beta-tested her relationship. "It began with a platform migration (a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450sq ft apartment)," she writes.
"There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency de-glitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship).
And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs."
So far, so modern.
Perhaps surprisingly, divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag is not impressed with the idea of couples planning to marry and divorce over and over. "Marriage is a special thing. Of course, one shouldn't rush into it either. A two-year trial period is sensible. But, unless you have specific religious concerns, what's wrong with cohabiting? If you want paperwork, you can have a basic cohabiting agreement drawn up, throw a big party and get a glamorous dress to wear to celebrate."
Diana Parkinson, a relationship counsellor, finds the idea of beta-testing marriages "terrifying. We're losing the ability to relate to each other. This is an idea about short-term contracts, when what we are all really looking for is long-term security and comfort.
"There would be no time for a relationship to grow or evolve - not living in the present; just terror and a focus on the ending. Where would the room for love be?" She's right - can you imagine the pressure of being in a relationship with an automatic sell-by date? You'd have to be 100pc perfect during testing in case you got the boot. Not even the odd gripe about dirty socks or an overbearing mother-in-law. I doubt this is quite what Generation Y has in mind.
So is there anything in this beta test for bliss? Parkinson says test-driving a relationship may appeal because it reduces the risk of individuals making the same mistake over and over. "So many of us don't see what we have really got until it is too late. We are in a throwaway society. And I think this idea of beta-testing one spouse after another is indicative of that."
But, she adds, that doesn't make short-term love a blueprint for wedded bliss: "Marriage should be different; it should be about warmth and empathy. Where's the talk of love, of children?"
Perhaps the best advice for our young brides-and-grooms-to-be comes from screen legend Paul Newman - famously married for 50 years to Joanne Woodward - who said: "We are very, very different people and yet somehow we fed off those varied differences and, instead of separating us, it has made the whole bond a lot stronger."
There you have it: beta-testing for life which can benefit the whole marriage. Not just one picky half.