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Marriage vows? I'm committed to 'I won't'

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Becky Dickinson and Uli Frigeri with their children Jonas (7), Daisy (4) and Anya (1).

Becky Dickinson and Uli Frigeri with their children Jonas (7), Daisy (4) and Anya (1).

Amal and George Clooney

Amal and George Clooney

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

Becky Dickinson and Uli Frigeri and children Jonas(7), Daisy (4) and Anya (1)

Becky Dickinson and Uli Frigeri and children Jonas(7), Daisy (4) and Anya (1)

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Becky Dickinson and Uli Frigeri with their children Jonas (7), Daisy (4) and Anya (1).

We've been together 10 years, have been parents for many of those and are to all outward appearances a normal husband and wife.

Joint mortgage - check. Joint bank account - check. Insured on each other's cars - check. Children - check, check, check.

We row about the things most married couples row about, most notably: money, his mother, who is most tired and whose turn it is to get up with the kids.

We have sex like a married couple - or at least like a married couple with small children - that is, infrequently and lazily. We probably even dress like husband and wife, bar the his and hers bathrobes.

We are to most (non-governmental) intents and purposes a married couple. Except, to the enduring disappointment of my parents, my partner and I are not actually married. And now we don't even have Brangelina for solidarity.

Hollywood's longest-standing cohabiters may have made it official and of course I wish them all the best, but I won't be following suit. Ever.

Not so shocking or unconventional in 2014, you might think. However, barely a day goes by when someone doesn't refer to me as Mrs Frigeri - be it my son's school, the health visitor or yet another unwanted sales call. And barely a raised eyebrow escapes me when I inform them that I am not Mrs Frigeri. I am not a Mrs at all, or even a Ms, but a Miss.

This often leads to the assumption that we must at least be engaged. Because it's fine to be a Miss if you're in your 20s, or don't have children, but at the age of 40 and with three kids (or in Angelina's case, six) in tow, it is apparently just short of respectable. Even in the school playground other parents have been surprised to learn that I don't share my children's surname.

No doubt this spate of celebrity weddings - George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin are the latest - may prompt a batch of not-married-with-kids to rethink their status. Well, I have no intention of saying "I do" before an assembled gathering, either now or in the future, and even less intention of being "given away" like a prize cow or a round of cheese. It's not the commitment that makes me shudder, but the layers of symbolism and patriarchy.

Most galling is the notion of a woman being handed over from one male charge to another. Weddings are such an ingrained part of our culture that their patriarchal qualities are overlooked.

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As the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out, we teach girls to "aspire to marriage". Though of course, the same is not true for boys. It is as if looking (and spending) a million dollars and settling down with a prince is the best a woman can hope for. And no wonder, when so many little girls are brought up on a diet of Disney princesses and their impossible waistlines and happy-ever-after endings; the Cinderella façade. Yet, as a woman with a realistic physique and outlook on life, I have no desire to be a princess, even for a day, and even less desire for a fairy-tale wedding. Life is not a fairy tale and nor are relationships. So why start your marriage off on one? It can only go downhill. And that's before you've even paid off the credit cards.

The average wedding now costs more than €20,000. (Clearly, this is not an issue for Brangelina or the Clooneys.) But why would anyone blow this kind of money on one single day? A day where it might possibly rain. Even if my partner and I were to discover a few thousand lying around in the joint account, it would feel immoral to fritter it away on taffeta, tiers and tiaras.

What's more, the idea of having all the bickering factions of our families in one place fills me with even more dread than the thought of having to entertain any of them at Christmas.

We could always elope to a beach in Mexico and get hitched in secret. But why not just have the holiday? Except with three kids, we can't afford that, either.

Then there's the dress -that flowing, white symbol of virginal purity. Yet, having spent most of the past seven years either pregnant or breastfeeding, I'm not sure I'd be able to find a wedding gown compatible with either activity. You only need to glance through the window of any bridal shop to realise that weddings are best performed before the bodily changes brought about by pregnancy and childbirth.

Quite frankly, there is nothing at all about weddings that makes me even vaguely tempted to have my own. I have been a bridesmaid twice in the past 10 years and have made no attempt to catch the bouquet. Even the idea of a wedding gift list makes me cringe. After a decade of cohabiting, it's not like we need a set of coasters, or a new frying pan. Nor would our lives be significantly enhanced by a gravy boat, set of champagne flutes or any other gift list must-have. Some vouchers wouldn't go amiss, but that's hardly a reason to get married.

There's always the honeymoon. But with three kids, and no suitable grandparents to deposit them with, that too is out of the question. Then there is the religious element, the Godly union, but as neither of us goes to church, it would seem somewhat hypocritical to be joined in holy matrimony. Yes, we could recite a few vows at the local registry office, but that has all the romance of applying for a driving licence.

Yet according to a study by the Marriage Foundation, unmarried cohabiting parents are four times more likely to split than those who are married. The foundation urges: "For the sake of the children and society at large, parents and future parents should seriously consider making a concrete commitment to their family by getting married.''

Which could mean we're doomed - except, cynical as I am about weddings, I believe there is more to love than statistics. Just as there is more to marriage than guest lists, wedding favours and disagreeable relatives. Stress - check. Debt - check. Family strife - check. No thanks. We may not have the gold bands, the soft-focus pictures on the walls. But we are as committed as a married couple - whatever the figures, and the eyebrows, say.

Reasons not to marry

Pros

You'll be about €20,000 better off than your married mates.

With no wedding to plan, you'll have a year to do something productive. Pottery classes, anyone?

Worried about who to invite to the wedding? Don't invite anyone.

No divorce fees in the (unlikely) event of separation.

Cons

Forget that Egyptian cotton bed linen. Shacking up together isn't a valid reason to issue a gift list.

No, I don't share my child's surname. Yes, I am the parent. Shall I repeat that?

The honeymoon's off.


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