In a world of illicit affairs, single parents, gay relationships and co-habiting, who in their right mind would want to get married?

In her controversial new book Ball & Chain, Brighton author Nicky Falkof reveals why married men do less housework and sexual attraction lasts no longer than two years.

Ruth Addicott meets her to unravel the myths of romance and uncover the truth about marriage

"If you dare to say anything pro women which isn't empowerment by poledancing, people assume you're a man-hater,"

complains local author and self-styled feminist Nicky Falkof.

Having just written a book dissecting the myths of modern-day marriage and fairytale weddings, the 30-year-old is bound to rattle a few "princess-for-a-day" tiaras.

Ball & Chain, The Trouble With Modern Marriage takes a witty, light-hearted look at married life. Based on a mixture of hard facts and stats, it unravels the mystery of romance and discovers a huge range of people who tied the knot for the wrong reasons - "I wanted to wear a white dress"

being one of them.

Brighton-based Nicky, who is originally from South Africa, decided to write the book after two of her best friends got divorced within a year of walking up the aisle. Both were approaching 30, both had friends and siblings who were married and both said yes to the first bloke who asked. Nicky describes them as otherwise intelligent, sensible people who somehow got caught up in this strange marital fever.

"It got me wondering why we are all still so obsessed with getting married and the more I looked at it, the more it made me bristle," she says.

If the figures are anything to go by, she isn't alone.

In February, the BBC reported that wedding rates in the UK were at their lowest since records began, with the number of couples living together having gone up tenfold since 1960.

Nicky insists she is not trying to single-handedly destroy the institution of marriage - just to get people to think and consider their choices a bit more.

So what exactly does she have against getting married?

"I think my biggest problem is that it's seen as inevitable," she says. "It's something you have to do at a certain age to take your place in the adult world. Marriage is the norm. If you're in a serious relatonship, you're always asked Why don't you get married?' and it makes people assume it's something they should do.

"In a lot of cases marriage has a deeply traditionalising effect on people and that can be very detrimental."

Asked to elaborate, she cites a survey which found married men do significantly less housework than men who are living with their partner. As if the hoovering isn't bad enough, it seems married women are also worse off financially, apparently not being quite as savvy as men at saving.

"The cliche that evil money-grabbing women marry clueless, gormless men and leave them high and dry is just not true," says Nicky. "The truth is, women end up financially wrecked by divorce."

Nicky's other gripe is the wedding rituals themselves - the tradition of the bride's father being asked for her hand in marriage, then being handed over "like a prized cow".

Then there's the wedding ring itself.

While lots of women cannot wait to get their hands on a diamond encrusted rock the size of Gibraltar, Nicky believes there are "deeper connotations of ownership" at stake.

One of the biggest problems with modern-day marriage, she says, is that expectations have changed.

Marriage was originally invented as a practical building block of society so a couple could have children and the man would know who to leave his flock of sheep to. There was no place for romance, sexy knickers or scented candles.

In early American colonies, preachers would even tell their parishioners not to love their husbands to an "unseemly level" as it would complicate matters - just as it has done today, according to Nicky.

"Marriage is no longer about practicalities," she says. "It has become a space where we are supposed to find love and happiness. In a way, it has made itself redundant because as soon as it stops making us happy, it is not necessary."

Nicky says we've become obsessed with the idea of marriage being the ultimate place for romantic fulfillment after having it rammed down our throats by everyone from Tony Blair to Boyzone.

"It's all the cultural stuff we're fed from the Government and politicians who like to put us in boxes which are easy to understand," she rants. "As well as pop songs and movies and the bridal industry - don't get me started on the bridal industry.

(On a roll) "It is actually quite appalling the amount of money made by the bridal industry. If people can't afford to get on the property ladder, where are they getting £16,000 to blow on one big day?

"The bridal industry isn't there to make sure every woman feels like a princess on her special day, it's there to suck as much money as it possibly can out of us and we're falling for it hook, line and sinker."

But what if you've just met the love of your life and want to spend a few bob showing the world how blissfully happy you are?

This carries no weight with Nicky who retorts: "It's very romantic but extremely foolish. If you honestly believe you are entering into a marriage because you love the person and want to spend the rest of your life with them, it shouldn't cost that much.

"This ostentatious one-upmanship that the amount of money you spend on your marriage becomes almost a symbol of how much it means to you, is really misguided."

Nicky pauses momentarily, to stress she is not an "embittered old hag", just against the institution of marriage.

"A lot of people assume I'm a dungaree-wearing, man-hating, angry, bitter woman who can't find herself a husband but it's not like that at all," she says. She might be single at the moment but, having had her fair share of boyfriends, she states she is in "no way" anti-relationships and even envisages herself settling down with a partner and having kids one day.

So what if the man of her dreams turns out to play for Chelsea and wants the ultimate, full-on, Wag-style wedding?

(Choking on her coffee) "That's never going to happen. And anyway, I don't know the first thing about football. That's about as likely as me snagging one of the Princes."

Researching her book, Nicky came across all sorts of bizarre reasons for getting married, the saddest being "I didn't want to be alone".

She cites another example of a woman who was 31 and onto her fifth marriage. Having got drunkenly married at 18, she married again at 19, then split up because he was violent, only to find someone else who was even worse, who stole her son and all her shares from her father's business.

"This woman was on to her fifth husband and on the verge of leaving him. It was astonishing," says Nicky. "She was Italian born and Catholic and part of her reasoning was you have to be married'.

She was also an inveterate romantic and found the idea of being married more appealing than just being with someone."

Getting married is no guarantee of commitment, as the statistics show.

But even more interesting are the studies which show the chemicals produced in the initial love-struck phase (when people moon over each other in a deeply romantic fashion, becoming unnecessarily weepy, having trouble sleeping and forgetting to eat) last a maximum of two years.

Given this is the same chemical which makes you want to ravish your partner and bear their children, it's hardly viable for making a life-long commitment.

"If you're left with anything after two years, it's far more likely to be a real, solid, conscious, emotionallybased attraction and care for the person," concludes Nicky.

Which is where Ann Summers and Viagra come in.

"I think we forget we are all still victims of our own chemistry," she says. "Phrases such as blinded by love' are not accidental. It's easy to assume it will last forever but that rush does fade and if you can't imagine helping your partner with their walking stick when they're 70, then you're probably making a big mistake."

As far as affairs go, Nicky believes if you're going to cheat. you're going to cheat whether you've been dating for a month or married 60 years.

So what does she think of David Cameron's view that the decline in marriage is partly to blame for the breakdown of society?

"What he's talking about is marriage as it was 150 to 200 years ago," she counters. "He's not talking about it as a space where you meet someone, fall in love and go skipping happily through the forest holding hands while butterflies flit around your head.

"Plenty of people have very good relationships without the need for marriage and politicians such as David Cameron are really muddying the waters.

"You might be able to offer a few tax breaks but you're not going to stem the tide of people who don't want to get married. Why should you be rewarded just because you choose to get married?

How you choose to love doesn't have nearly as much social effect as how you choose to parent."

By focusing too much on marriage, Nicky believes the Government is doing a disservice to children of single parents, who are prone to doing not so well at school as children of married couples.

"It is not being raised by one parent that's the problem but the level of education and income," she says.

"What we're doing is demonising single mums. We're leaving them to flounder around on their own and we're telling married people they're doing well."

Nicky refers to psychotherapist Philip Hodson, who she quotes in her book, and suggests there is too much emphasis on the romance of marriage these days and not enough on parenting. "Kids should definitely have priority," she says.

A survey in The Sun earlier this year claimed 25 per cent of married people wish they hadn't got married, while 15 per cent had doubts even as they walked down the aisle.

With 560,000 due to marry in the UK this year, that's 84,000 people unhappy at spending a lifetime with their other half.

What Nicky hopes to see ultimately is a change in attitudes and for people to start questioning couples on why they are getting married rather than why they aren't.

"If marriage becomes less of a standardised norm, I think people will think about it more and mean it more when they do choose to marry,"

she says.

Unsurprisingly, she has received a fair amount of flak from traditionalists and outraged brides.

"A lot of people said, Oh, you just need to meet the right man and you'll change your mind', muses Nicky.

"Maybe I will. Maybe I'll do a sequel in ten years' time, when I find myself in a pinny living in a cottage with an Aga. But I think it's unlikely."

  • Ball & Chain by Nicky Falkof is published by Fusion Press at £10.99.

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