Times are changing. I have just done some family calculations. I have fourteen grandchildren of whom twelve are in their twenties. Of those twelve, three are married (two have children and the third is expecting). The unmarried nine, boys and girls, are all in stable relationships. None of them are engaged, none of them speak specifically of marriage in the offing. I do not of course ask awkward questions about how they conduct their relationships, although this is obvious for those who are living together. I need hardly say that all of them have, so far, chosen excellent partners by my judgment, and they are all close to me. In a week I get more hugs from beautiful young women than most do in a month of Sundays. I am a happy man. But a concerned one.
The situation is novel to me. I got engaged quite early on in my first serious relationship and, although National Service was a delay, we got married as soon as possible afterwards. It was, for the record, the day that Nasser took over the Suez Canal, so the Sunday Express next morning had Nasser at the top and my wife at the bottom. She was the better looking.
Being a grandfather, and so without direct responsibilities, we are free to talk easily about serious questions, and so our conversations do turn to marriage – at least at a theoretical level. I try to get across the fundamental difference between a sworn, committed relationship and one which is held together by just the feeling of love, and perhaps an ambition for the future – which may not be identical in both cases. There seems to be no point at which each partner has to decide whether the relationship is for keeps. The message which comes across to me is: why commit when you don’t need to? There’s time enough to wait until you start a family for that. But I have a sense of people sliding, incident by incident, into marriage – without stopping to think. The statistics which show that this is a dangerous course do not apply to them. Their situation is always different.
But I have every reason to hope that all these existing relationships will end in happy marriages, lots of great grandchildren – and a future as blessed as mine has been in the past. And so, I pray.