Janet Street-Porter: If only more couples could be as honest as Gwyneth and Chris

Marriage is a practical solution to bringing up kids and finding companionship, but if it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up


Supreme Court judge Lord Wilson of Culworth, an expert in family law, says that marriage is “an elastic concept, entirely capable of embracing people of the same sex”. Easy divorce had resulted in many more remarriages, leading to “blended” families. In a speech last month entitled “Marriage is made for man, not man for marriage”, Lord Wilson talked about the “uncomfortable mismatch” between vows taken in church and the high rate of divorce, reflecting that every era and every culture produce a different version of marriage.

Today, we shed partners and move on, and guilt is a thing of the past. The number of couples who cite adultery as grounds for separation has halved in the past 40 years, replaced by “unreasonable behaviour” – just one step away from no-fault divorce, which we seem too timid to adopt in law. About 39 per cent of marriages end in divorce (the highest in the EU, which averages 26 per cent), but couples married since 2000 seem to be better at staying together, partly because they are older, and also because many have lived together first.

We sneered at Gwyneth Paltrow’s pompous statement about her “conscious uncoupling” from Chris Martin, but she is only reflecting a trend: that it’s better to cut your losses and try to stay friends when a relationship has ended and there are kids and property involved. Gwyneth is a product of the Me generation, every aspect of life documented on a website to “help” followers emulate her charmed existence. Although she presents her separation (and subsequent joint holiday with the kids) as a modern solution, in fact she’s just following everyone else.

Emma Thompson said last autumn that monogamy is “an odd state” for today’s women. I couldn’t agree more. Why we pretend that one version of marriage will suit everyone, I can’t imagine. The judge is right. It must be an elastic concept that adapts to suit our lifestyles. Religion and dubious concepts of morality should not come into it.

Marriage is a practical solution to bringing up kids and finding companionship, but if it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up. This whole notion of “making sacrifices” to stay together is a load of cobblers. When it becomes about adapting and blending on that scale, look for an exit. Life’s too short to suppress your true personality.

I’ve divorced four times. Each marriage was the right decision at the time I took the vows. They just ran their course. I’ve never had kids, just partners who were projects – demanding, difficult, inspiring and very annoying. When we talk about domestic abuse, there’s a very subtle form which starts with your partner telling you that no one else would “put up with” you. It’s brainwashing.

You’ll probably never find Mr or Mrs Right, but you might find someone who is fun for a while. In fact, three million more of us live alone now compared with 10 years ago. At least Gwyneth and Chris have had the guts to admit they are better apart. If only more couples could be this honest, it would be better for the kids and far better for adults.

When people tell me I’ve “failed” at marriage, I point out that I’ve “succeeded” in spending most of my life living with seven men and deserve a medal. When prenups become law, expect the divorce rate to soar because breaking up will be easier and hopefully cheaper. My friends who have stayed married say it’s a struggle. But some would be better opting for “conscious uncoupling” and spending the final third of their lives alone.

Give England another chance, Jan

What’s got into Jan Morris? The acclaimed travel writer told an audience that England “depresses me greatly”, adding that “it’s become such a nasty country”. At the Oxford Literary Festival last week she added that politicians were materialistic, the police corrupt and “the public seem to think only about spending money. Kindness is not there any more.” She described the Last Night of the Proms as “embarrassing”.

For God’s sake, Miss Grumpy Drawers, lighten up. I might offer to take you to the X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! because its sheer silliness is guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face. Morris describes herself as half-English, a Welsh nationalist and republican, claiming she is making no more public appearances. She’s competing with our other super-opinionated senior, Vivienne Westwood, who recently revealed that she doesn’t wash much – “just bits” – in order to save water.

Could Jan’s demeanour be the result of prolonged exposure to Welsh weather? I’m also half-Welsh and spent every summer holiday there as a child. Six weeks of unbroken rain combined with a diet of laver bread ensured that I looked forward to the autumn school term in London, even if it meant minor bullying and a horrible uniform.

England is fabulous, Jan. The Last Night of the Proms reduces me to tears, and I’m never happier than walking across the moors in a gale. I’ve been to Venice and the Himalayas, and give me London every time. I ran into another opinionated senior, Yoko Ono, the other night in a great neighbourhood restaurant (A Little Bit of What You Fancy) in Hackney, before she performed a secret gig. Yoko loves England. Jan, let me show you what you’re missing.

The defence brief could do with a woman’s touch

Listening to Defence Minister Philip Hammond on the radio the other morning was the aural equivalent of Complan – utterly anodyne. Isn’t it time we joined the trend for female defence ministers? There are now five in the EU, yet we have Mr Mogadon opining on how to respond to President Putin’s aggressive posturing.

Women definitely have a different approach. Under Defence Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, the Norwegian army is adopting unisex dormitories following successful trials. The women said they felt “part of a team” and incidences of sexual harassment dropped. Last summer, the Norwegian army allowed male troops to grow their hair long, as long as it was securely tied up. Vegetarian food is served on meat-free Mondays, to reduce the army’s carbon footprint. In military spending, Norway is ranked seventh per capita in the world, and troops are deployed to Libya and Afghanistan. I can’t see Mogadon Phil going for meat-free Mondays, can you?

Can’t cook, won’t cook – but will watch it on TV instead

MasterChef is back, with Gregg shouting at John that “cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this”. I’m still having nightmares after my stint in the celebrity version last summer. I recently judged some famous contestants in the new series when they were being secretly filmed, and I felt sick for two days afterwards. Sadly, you won’t see the yucky results until later in the summer. Now we can watch would-be serious chefs “deconstruct” dishes. In the current series one bloke tried it with beef Wellington, only to be roundly abused.

Fans love MasterChef, and when I reached the final the feedback was tremendous. So I can’t understand why we cook less. New research shows that in 1980 we spent an hour toiling over dinner, whereas now it is just 34 minutes. Our favourite evening meal is a roast, followed by pizza, sandwiches and then Indian food. No filo pastry, no steamed sea bass, no fish pies. On average, we cook only four different recipes.

Jamie Oliver sold 117,000 copies of his 15-Minute Meals in just one week, so what are we doing with all these manuals? Seven million people watched Bake Off in 2012, but the skills on screen haven’t translated into anything more substantial than a boom in sales of pastry tins at Lakeland.

Twitter: @The_Real_JSP

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