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Marriage doesn’t work (just ask Bill and Melinda) – so let me present some alternatives

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Getty Images

A lot has been said about the end of Bill and Melinda Gates’ marriage, mainly by people who have as much insider intelligence on it as I do, which is to say, none at all. But there really is only one conclusion to draw from this story: marriage doesn’t work.

Look, I’m not saying that Bill Gates is the earthly representation of love incarnate. But if two people who have more homes than most people have shoes, own more farmland than any other private landowner in the US and have a private jet (no fighting about whose fault it is you missed the flight when you own the plane!) can’t make it, who can? Of course, there’s more to a successful marriage than money, such as shared experiences. Well, Bill and Melinda vaccinated the world. That seems like something you might bond over, right? “Hey honey, remember that time we eradicated polio?” That’s got to be better than reminiscing about the last holiday you took before the kids were born, like the rest of us do. Didn’t that give them a warm and fuzzy feeling inside? The answer, as we all now know, was no.

According to court documents, the Gates’ marriage is “irretrievably broken”, and broken it must be, if they couldn’t even bear the idea of staying married but just living in different houses. Did I mention they have plenty to choose from? Hell, the two of them could be in the same house and literally never see each other: the dining room in their Seattle home is 1,000 sq ft, which is bigger than any flat I ever lived in. But no, they’re insisting on a hyper-expensive divorce, and I don’t blame them. I find the idea of being legally bound to my partner unacceptably claustrophobic, too. Unlike Bill and Melinda, though, I’ve always felt that way, and that’s the only difference between us. Well, that and the billions.

Marriage was invented back when humans were lucky to make it to age 20 without being sacrificed to the Sun God. People were never meant to live together for as long as we do now. Sure, there are the occasional couples who happily go the distance: Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. But pretty much every couple who looked perfect to me eventually split up: Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton; Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis; Amy Poehler and Will Arnett. Surely all of us have had the experience where you meet up with a friend – the friend whose 20-year marriage was always the rebuttal to your cynicism about the institution, the friend whose face still lights up when their spouse comes in the room – and they confess to you that they’re having an affair/exploring their sexuality/joining a commune/all of the above. Marriage, in its current incarnation, doesn’t work, and who better than me – someone who has been happily not married for ever – to come up with the alternatives?

1 Set legal time limits
If marriages lasted, at most, seven years, then couples would enjoy the time they have together more. Couples who aren’t that happy could probably tolerate it enough to get to the time limit without activating the nuclear divorce option, and those who just can’t get enough of each other can simply sign up for another seven years. Everybody wins (except divorce lawyers).

2 Try a ‘onecule’
People are very into polycules these days: groups of people who live together and shag each other. This, I’m told by people much cooler than me, is clearly the way humans should live, instead of dullsville monogamy. Maybe, but only if you think the solution to struggling with one baby is to have triplets. Instead, I propose a onecule, where people can live on their own and be seen as extremely cool for doing so.

Related: A rich New York playboy with a famous surname – what if JFK Jr had lived? | Hadley Freeman

3 Join a cult
Cults seem as though they should be a bonding experience for a couple – like joining a book club together, only more time-consuming – but they generally turn out to have the opposite effect. This is because cults invariably turn out to be about sex; specifically, the cult leader having sex with whoever he likes. But if couples could join a cult that wasn’t about sex but free childcare, their marriage would last for ever.

4 Embrace the new rule of six
Make like Henry VIII and get married six times. It worked for him (eventually).

5 Just don’t do it
My partner and I have been together for a decade and we are not married, which means we will never divorce. Every time he goes out to the shop, I have no way of knowing if he’ll ever come back, because he’s not on the marriage leash. He probably will – we have three kids – but maybe he won’t. It’s exciting! Keeps things spicy. And that’s the real secret to longevity.