SHE had always dreamed of getting married and living happily ever after.
But six months after tying the knot with her partner of seven years in 2011, Cheryl Beckworth’s marriage broke up — and she now blames getting wed.
Cheryl, 40, says: “All I ever wanted was to be a wife, but I’d never do it again.”
Her experience mirrors that of a string of celebrities.
TV host Alex Zane, 44, split with artist Nettie Wakefield, 35, just five months after their wedding last August, despite having been with her for five years before that.
Ex-England striker Jermain Defoe, 40, and wife Donna Tierney, 40, were married last year for only a matter of months, having previously been together for a year and a half.
But it is not just the famous who are losing faith in nuptials — fewer people than ever are now saying: “I do.”
The 2021 census revealed there were 1.2million more unmarried 25 to 35-year-olds in England and Wales than in 2011, and the average age at which women wed was 35.
‘Rung alarm bells’
When Cheryl, who owns a life-coaching business, was born in 1983 the average age women married was 27.
But she now wishes she had never walked down the aisle.
She says: “Today’s younger generation can see marriage for what it is. And I so wish I had.
“When I married 12 years ago, it was all I ever wanted.
“I came from a single-parent family and so always wanted a secure unit for myself.
“I thought that being married would create security and be a commitment for ever. I’d always wanted to settle down, marry and have kids.
“My boyfriend Henry* didn’t seem to want the same things. It should have rung alarm bells but I wonder if he knew I would leave if he didn’t change his mind.
“Eventually, after we had been together for seven years, he agreed to get married.
“But there was no romantic proposal — we just decided to get married and went to choose the ring together.
“I was over the moon, and I hoped we’d have the happy future I’d dreamed of.
“I had a dream image in mind, I’d always wanted to get married in the countryside, so we booked a beautiful hotel and I spent months organising my perfect day, with bridesmaids and my favourite wild flowers.
“But I was surprised when it wasn’t the dream experience I had expected. It was stressful and I didn’t have a chance to really enjoy it.
“But I was looking forward to the life I thought was mapped out for us — I told myself the marriage was more important than the wedding day.
“After the wedding, though, Henry was behaving differently towards me. I felt things had changed but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I felt he was cold and unaffectionate.
“Six months after the wedding, I finally sat him down for a crunch talk and my world came crashing down as, reading between the lines, I realised that he had never really wanted to marry.
“The following day, when I got home from work, he had gone — and taken all his things with him. It was over and I was devastated.”
But Cheryl, from Derby, says: “Seven months later, I became pregnant with a new partner and started to realise that I didn’t need a piece of paper to be happy.
“When our daughter Elfie, now nine, was two, we split up on good terms and in 2017 I started my business, Grounded Goddess, teaching and helping women to feel empowered in every aspect of their life.
“The same year I met my current partner Jaden, who is 36. We have two children together, Osha, three, and one-year-old Neo.
“And while I love my life now, I remain sure I do not want to get married again.
“I had always thought it would give me security, but the opposite was true. In the end, the vows meant nothing.”
The Marriage Foundation, a national charity launched in 2012 in response to “epidemic levels of family breakdown”, believes high wedding costs are deterring many young people from exchanging vows.
Psychologist Emma Kenny agrees, and explains there is a perfect storm brewing for the institution of marriage.
She says: “From being put off by the collapse of celebrity unions and the high price of a wedding, to the fact there is now less of a stigma around children coming from unwed parents, it is no surprise young people are turning their back on marriage.”
For copywriter Bernie Watkins, 48, while the idea of marriage was all she had ever wanted, the reality turned out to be a huge disappointment.
She wed 15 years ago, in a beautifully decorated register office, following a whirlwind romance.
But Bernie, from Liverpool, soon found herself all alone again — and with all her £2,000 savings gone.
She says: “Since I was a small child, all I could think about was getting married and living happily ever after.
“Coming from a religious Christian family, marriage was always the main topic of conversation, the expectation.
“I spent all of my childhood dreaming of walking down the aisle in a big white frock and being the perfect wife.
“When I was growing up, I used to play weddings and families with one of my friends from school.
“We used to pretend to cook for our husbands, in her Wendy house.”
When Bernie, then 33, met construction worker Jaxon*, then 35, in a crowded pub in 2008 she thought he was the husband she had been waiting for.
She says: “He was funny, would crack jokes and make me laugh all the time.
“He was only my second serious relationship, but I knew he was The One.
“It wasn’t long before he proposed to me in my kitchen, and I jumped at the chance, because it was finally my time to sink into the happiness of married life.
‘Rushed into things’
“I planned the big day lie crazy and just weeks later we were married.
“We were surrounded by friends and family but I suddenly knew on the day that it was not the right thing to do, and that night I was kept awake by the feeling I had rushed into things.
“We went on honeymoon to Lyme Regis in Dorset and, although it was a romantic setting, red flags started to show. I felt like he was uncaring towards me and maybe inconsiderate.
“It was not what I had expected, at all.” Things were not much better when they returned home.
She says: “I felt like there were stinking socks every-where, and everything he did annoyed me — even the way he squeezed the toothpaste tube from the middle.
“I instantly felt like a tired, boring housewife — not the energised newlywed I had dreamed I would be.
“This instant dissatisfaction centred on the blandness of the situation — whose turn it was to take the bins out and what were we going to eat for dinner and so on.
“I wanted a bubble of domestic happiness where we would constantly be laughing and joking.
“I got my idea of marriage being wonderful from my mother, who was always talking about romance.
“I believed it would be the dream come true, it meant ‘for ever’ and my life would be complete once I had that ring on my finger.
“But the marriage I imagined had been an illusion I’d built up in my head, and wasn’t for me after all.
“I tried to explain how I was feeling, but felt totally alone. Two weeks later I discovered I was pregnant — I couldn’t believe it.
“I immediately fell in love with my baby but knew Jaxon wasn’t going to be the one for me. Just four months after saying, ‘I do,’ I sat on the end of our marital bed and sobbed my heart out.
“Jaxon asked me not to leave. I couldn’t blame him for my mistake so agreed not to get divorced. But I told him I wanted to live apart, bringing our son up separately.
“After a one-night stand with Jaxon two years after our separation, baby number two, now aged 12, came along but the situation did not change anything for me — I still didn’t want to be married.
“Jaxon and I get on great as friends but I’ve remained single as I don’t even want to date anyone, let alone get married again, and I live alone now.
“I’m not shocked that the number of people marrying is falling — it is a huge thing to commit to and ‘wedded bliss’ was absolutely nothing like I had imagined it.”
Psychologist Emma is also unsurprised that the institution of marriage is on its knees.
She says: “Fifty years ago, the goal of many young girls was finding a husband who could provide for a family and offer a level of economic protection.
“But there have been many societal changes since then.
“Nowadays, 72 per cent of UK women work so they no longer need to take a traditional approach to relationships, and single-parenthood no longer carries the stigma that used to be associated with having children outside of wedlock.
“Divorce has also become socially acceptable, meaning that many millennials, and Generation Z, have grown up in single-parent households.
“These experiences can make marriage seem less relevant, relatable and realistic for many couples.”
Cheryl adds: “I would rather buy a camper van and go travelling than pay for another wedding.
“Marry if you want to marry — but I’ve learnt it’s not the only way to be happy.”