Love and Marriage. Love and Marriage. Go together like – a fish and a bicycle, to paraphrase feminists everywhere.
Weirdly, only married people tend to laugh at this – because it’s hilarious and tragic and true.
Parents in particular can be forgiven for hiccuping with the sort of giddiness that segues into tears because, believe it or not kids, even though long-term partnerships aren’t always easy or glorious, and can be shouty and occasionally door slamm-y, they are worth every ounce of effort.
It’s a hard sell – I should know after 20 years of marriage and 31 years of togetherness – but somehow the new Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) syllabus, which becomes compulsory from 2020’s autumn term, is going to have to convince our kids that relationships rock.
As of this September, Key Stage 4 pupils, aged 14 to 16 will be learning not just about sex itself but also how “to manage their academic, personal and social lives in a positive way”.
The lesson plans were devised by academics at the University of Exeter Law School and based on a 10-year research project into what factors help long term relationships to thrive.
“Our research has told us a lot about the features of healthy, happy relationships,” says Professor Anne Barlow, one of the experts involved.
“Teaching resources have historically focused on avoiding unhealthy relationships, which of course is essential, but young people also need to learn how to build positive, vibrant relationships.”
It marks a welcome shift in priorities, but as it’s (literally) a far less sexy subject than sex, I can’t help feeling the 20,000 staff involved will have their work cut out.
But that doesn’t mean that they – we as a society – shouldn’t try to persuade this younger generation that there are two definitions of intercourse; communication being one. The other is explained more easily.
Back in the day when my 18-year-old daughter was a little ‘un, she guilelessly – but not unreasonably – asked me if sex was fun.
“Not with your father,” I quipped, with admirable end-of-the-pier sass. Then I addressed the issue head on.
“Imagine you are going to the cinema and it’s a film you really really want to see,” I told her. “How exciting would that. be?”
“Very,” she nodded, vigorously. “Will there be enough money for proper pic’n’mix? So we don’t have to sneak in a bag of Revels?”
“Of course!” I cried. I’m not a complete monster. At least not when it comes to salutory life lessons.
“Now imagine,” I added, “you are going to see the film with someone your age who is equally thrilled at the prospect, won’t that be great?”
“So would you prefer to go with a complete stranger who hogs all the pic’n’mix, watches the movie and then disappears before the credits have rolled? Or with a friend who shares nicely, asks you whether you enjoyed the film and walks you home afterwards?”
Job done. I hope. But as my girl is technically a young adult and a member of the Generation Z cohort that prefers Netflix (chilling is None of My Business), I’m not sure the metaphor has legs.
But I am happy to offer it for free to any teacher struggling to convey that contrary to every music video on YouTube, emotionally fulfilling relationships are built on respect and kindness rather than biceps and booties.
Another spanner in the works is the fact there are entirely unsuited parents who stick together for the sake of the kids. They who invariably cast aspersions at the entirely unsuited parents who go their separate ways for precisely the same reason. And vice versa.
In truth, my generation (old enough to settle down en famille to watch Miss World like “the Swimwear Round” was a perfectly normal thing) has little concept of the push and pull our hormonal offspring experience on social media.
The pressure on girls to conform to hypersexualised body images is now equalled by the misery of boys horribly self-conscious because they will never reach the 6ft “ideal” height.
Teenagers in search of other teenagers – believe me, they are finding each other on Snapchat and TikTok long before they graduate to Tinder and Hinge – is a fact of life. Which is why they need to know the facts of life.
Once they start seeing one another or embark on a boyfriend-girlfriend thing – face to face not just a union of carefully-curated Instagram bios – everything changes for our youngsters. For that, they will need other facts, other reference points, other resources.
Teaching the joy of long term unions is an admirable goal – as long as we grownups remember that when you’re only 15, any reference to “marriage” immediately makes them think of their parents, bickering in the car. And nobody wants that. Not even their parents.