It’s Love, Actually, Not Marriage for ‘Yesterday’ writer Richard Curtis

If the name Richard Curtis doesn’t come quickly to you, think of some of the most enduring rom-coms — Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary — and the recently released Yesterday. Surely the writer of such films would be a total romantic and be married, right?

So it was surprising (well, for me) that the British writer and producer has been romantically involved and cohabiting with script editor and broadcaster Emma Freud, 57, for 28 years and has four children with her — but they’re not married. And, they have no desire to tie the knot. As Freud says:

When we were working on Four Weddings And A Funeral, we added up the number of weddings we had both been to and it was over 100. Those weddings were the basis of the movie, and also the reason that neither of us could imagine going down an aisle. And I always thought that if we didn’t get married, we could never get divorced. He did present me with a ring 27 years ago and ask me if I’d spend the rest of my life not being married to him. He’s an excellent boyfriend, and is everything I admire in life.

It’s not that I don’t believe in it. I think the wedding my mum would have wanted is not the wedding I would have wanted. Consequently it was easier to not get married because it didn’t make much difference in terms of children.

If it looks like a marriage, is it marriage?

It’s easy to consider them married — they live together, they have kids together, their lives have been enmeshed for nearly three decades. But the lack of a marriage license gives them some things and keeps them from some things. First, it keeps them from getting the perks and privileges government bestows upon people who legally commit, and that’s huge.

The financial aspect of marriage probably isn’t all that important to Curtis and Freud — he’s worth about $42 million; Freud’s worth is unknown, but she’s probably doing OK. But it may matter to others who reject marriage.

Like Curtis and Freud, most long-term cohabiting couples look and act a lot like married couples, with the same concerns and arguments, shared responsibilities — in some cases children — and commitment. The problem is with what they miss out on and, the other downside, how they are judged:

[M]any faced legal obstacles in their attempts to secure the rights and privileges given automatically to married couples (e.g., the right to coverage by a spouse’s health insurance). Additionally, most to some degree faced social pressure to marry, which reflects Andrew Cherlin’s (2004) argument that despite the increase in cohabitation and ‘deinstitutionalization’ of marriage, the symbolic significance of marriage remains high within the culture.

Is marriage necessary?

Still, some are willing to give up those rights and privileges and face the judgment for what feels real and authentic to them. And that proves that marriage isn’t necessary to keep couples together — it’s each person’s desire to be together, a decision they make over and over, because they (wait for it) love each other.

But is love enough? Philosopher Anca Gheaus says, yes:

As long as love, understood minimally as the inclination to seek another’s companionship and advance her well-being, exists, commitment is not necessary. One need not be committed to one’s beloved in order to suspend any cost-benefit analysis of the relationship … the appearance of more desirable partners will not be a reason to leave the marriage if one loves one’s spouse. … A world where the goods of marriage were achieved without commitment, out of love alone, would therefore be a better world; marital commitment seems to be a second-best solution to securing the goods of marriage.”

A radical idea — right?

Compared to marriage, in which our spouse may stop loving us at any time or treat us poorly but they’ll hang around not necessarily because they want to, but because marriage is too hard to get out of, long-term cohabitors seem to have a much more loving and present partnership. Nothing is forcing them to stay together but themselves.

And, let’s not forget that for a long time same-sex couples couldn’t get married, so they just went about their business living together, loving each other and often raising children together.

What about the kids?

Which brings me back to what Curtis says: “it didn’t make much difference in terms of children.” Because it doesn’t — you don’t have to be married to your children’s mom or dad to raise happy, healthy kids. You just have to be devoted to the kids.

In fact, as we learn from long-term cohabitors like Curtis and Freud and economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson, it isn’t marriage per se that makes people happier, healthier, wealthier, etc. — all the claims that pro-marriage types keep throwing at us to get people to follow the cultural romantic script and tie the knot. It’s actually that two people decide to love each other and stay together because they want to. That’s it.

And, you know, you can still throw a big-ass party to celebrate that.

Deciding if marriage is for you? Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore (please do) or order it on Amazon.

Originally published at

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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