What is it about this somewhat old-fashioned institution that is strangely enduring despite our access to viable alternatives?
Yes, it seems there's no getting away from Beatles music. And as Paul McCartney prepares for his third marriage to New York businesswoman and socialite Nancy Shevell this summer, editors the world over will rejoice in yet another opportunity to (ab)use some of those famous lyrics in their headlines.
Who could forget the delight with which the British tabloid press screamed, "We Can't Work It Out" when McCartney's divorce from Heather Mills was announced? And when all the details of the financial settlement were revealed, he must have regretted ever recording "Money (That's What I Want)" It was all just too easy.
Many are surprised that with the hideousness of the split from Mills still fresh in his mind, McCartney would even consider marrying again, much less so with no legal financial protection.
"Even after Heather, he's still not getting a pre-nup!," columnists gasped, before pointing out that Shevell's own family fortune makes it a safe bet. But they're missing the fact that pre-nups just don't go with people who believe that money can't buy them love--the Beatles Romantics.
Beatles Romantics differ from your ordinary romantics. They don't temper their joy in candlelit dinners and beachfront strolls with a healthy pinch of cynicism about the fluctuating nature of long-term relationships. They don't need to. Everything worth knowing about love can be found in those song soundbites. Even the marriage vows themselves could be distilled into that two-and-a-half minute pop song, "Love, love me do / You know I love you / I'll always be true / So please love me do."
The instant-gratification that a Beatles love song gives comes through offering us a kind of romantic Groundhog Day. The lyrics are infused with an incurable, if naïve, optimism; adolescent understandings of the ways in which we are psychologically motivated to behave, and a denial of complexity--indeed of anything but the beginnings and ends of relationships.
If you love the music, it's hard to be immune to Beatles Romanticism. I walked down the aisle at my own wedding to "All You Need Is Love," and it's still a sentiment I'm not ashamed to stand behind. I also now have an 18-month-old daughter who regularly points at the stereo, "Help!" album in hand, demanding, "Bea-kles! Put n'on!" so she may well go the same way. But the real Beatles Romantic in my family is my mother. From teenage years subsisting on baked beans and pop music; to running the Raynboe Disco with my father in her twenties; and filling up our spare bedroom wardrobe with records, not clothes in later years, her life has been immersed in those catchy tunes that tell us it's all or nothing, and that the inevitable outcome of love is marriage. So it's no surprise that as McCartney gets ready to say 'I do' for the third time, my mother has also just enjoyed her own third wedding.
Third marriages still raise eyebrows, but before tarring McCartney or my mother with the Liza Minelli/Elizabeth Taylor brush, it's important to note that both endured the death of a first spouse, as well as the divorce of a second. And in a pleasingly retro twist, both have returned to the past for their third marriages. Like Nancy Shevell, who'd been an old friend of Paul and Linda McCartney's years earlier, my mother's new partner is a man she knew before ever putting on a wedding dress.
And if these third marriages don't work out, don't rule out a fourth. There may be no Beatles song called "Third Time Lucky," but you won't find lyrics about being empowered through singledom either. Beatles Romantics can't be alone for long--death and divorce be damned.
But perhaps there's room for a little self-awareness and humor among even the most softened Beatles Romantic. As my mother and her new husband turned to walk down the aisle after exchanging their vows, the usher pressed the play button on their song choice. They walked, accompanied by appreciative laughs from the congregation, to "Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I'm 64?" and I found myself feeling optimistic about the scale of their marital ambition. They are, after all, already 63.