Passports need to be renewed, marriage vows DON'T

Adulterous husbands. Bragging wives. And demands for yet more lavish gifts. After sitting through nine couples reaffirming their love, one writer declares… Passports need to be renewed, marriage vows DON’T

  • Anna May Mangan says renewing vows is now mainstream for those in their 60s
  • Arguing that vows can’t be renewed because they are vows and can’t break
  • The UK-based writer will celebrate 40 years of marriage ‘without the circus’
  • At a dramatic vow renewal the groom and caterer were found in the mobile loos 

Awaiting my RSVP is an invitation to watch a couple declare their undying love on a Northumbrian beach in a (probably) whipping wind in October. It will involve a £200 train ticket and a £300 hotel bill to stand bored and barefoot (no shoes allowed) in the cold. 

Could it get any worse, you ask? It’s not even for a wedding, but for a vow renewal.

Unbelievably, the latest is the ninth such invitation I’ve received. 

There was a brief Covid hiatus — a rare bright spot in two dreadful years — but with two more lined up this summer alone among my sixty-something solidly middle-class friends, it’s clear that renewing your vows is no longer just a ghastly celebrity ploy for attention or a hippy oddity. It’s gone mainstream. 

UK-based writer Anna May Mangan cannot understand why her sixty-something middle-class friends are all renewing their vows (file image)

And yet, surely, vow renewals are just idiotic. There’s no registrar, celebrant or paperwork needed. They’re nothing more than pantomimes featuring cake and canapes. 

I genuinely believe you’d come off better, both in terms of your dignity and your wallet, by simply going out and getting matching ‘I heart hubby’ and ‘I heart wifey’ tattoos. 

Still, the invitations flood in quicker than I can come up with believable excuses. One recent study found 19 per cent of UK couples are interested in having a vow renewal ceremony. 

If it were just that I happen to know nine — nine! — couples who are so in love after 40-odd years together that they want to shout about it in front of all their friends, well, that would be sufficiently sickening. But the fact is they all seem to use their vow renewals to show off the most irritating aspects of their characters. 

During one such ceremony, we got a compulsory guided tour of the couple’s recently renovated and infuriatingly gorgeous house.

The ‘bride’ absolutely insisted I took a close look at the workings of her newly installed boiling waterspout, resulting in lasting damage to my fascinator when it got wedged between two pipes. The house tour took three times longer than the vow renewal part of the day, and made me feel a lot more emotional as I realised I really envied their walkin wardrobe. 

Clearly the whole thing was just a decoy to show off their enviable new home… and drum up business for the various contractors who worked on it — all of their websites were listed on the back of the order of service. 

All the guests were also instructed on the invitation to wear various shades of yellow — a diktat that instantly made me prickle. As I teetered around the house, 6 ft tall in my hat and heels, I looked like Big Bird’s twin sister. 

Anna speculates that the ceremonies are are just a ploy for the couple to show off and paper over the cracks in their relationship (file image)

Another couple I know renewed their vows in 2019 after just 15 rocky years of marriage. 

They were unashamed about their motivation — a photo of their upgraded wedding jewellery, his designer watch and her two-carat diamond solitaire, featured on their invite. 

She’s planning another vow renewal for 2026 as she now has her heart set on a platinum-anddiamond eternity ring. 

US writer Heather Havrilesky has just published a book called Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage, in which she boldly admits she sometimes ‘hates’ her husband. In fact, she calls him ‘a snoring heap of meat’. But really, it’s an honest account of how hard and boring long relationships can sometimes be — even when they’re good ones. 

Heather says: ‘The reason I wrote the book in the first place is in our culture, we love to tell stories about falling in love. There are a lot less stories… about actually making a relationship work over the long haul.’ 

Is that what inspires couples going through a particularly dull patch to think ‘Let’s get married all over again’, I wonder? 

‘Forgiving and forgetting’ is an uncomfortably common theme in the speeches. 

At one renewal I endured, a groom gave an evangelical address about how he had lost his way in the marriage. He had — right into a colleague’s bed — and all of us present knew of the sadness and pain it had caused. 

Tears squirting from his eyes, he described himself as a ‘new man’, and his partner as his ‘beating heart’. Days later, it was discovered the tearful groom was still seeing the chap at work.

Another groom, a Michael McIntyre wannabe, cracked 1980s-style gags about his wife’s driving and parking. Funny that, as I know he drinks and she drives on all of their nights out. 

Anna, who will be celebrating 40 years with her husband next month says there will be no audience, marquee, canapes and ‘certainly no string quartet (file image)

He also said he would have loved his bride to wear her original dress for the renewal, but her weight gain meant she couldn’t. Not to worry, he assured everyone, even if she was 3 st heavier after 11 years and several children, he still loved her. This got a cheer from his drunken mates; every woman in the restaurant gave him dagger stares in stony silence. 

But the most dramatic ending of a vow renewal I’ve witnessed came four years ago when the groom was discovered in the mobile loos looking rather too friendly with the caterer. He tried to quell the bride’s tears and the fury of her family by claiming he had just been saying thank you. 

Logic tells me that vows can’t be renewed because they are vows: you make them once, and then live them. A ceremony to remind you of that is no more than confetti-and-fizz paste to paper over cracks in a marriage. Can’t I just sit back and let the absurdity of renewing vows wash over me, you ask? The trouble is that it’s never just my presence that is required at these tedious events. 

There’s always a very cheeky — and expensive — present list attached to the invitation. These give me a powerful sense of dejavu, since I bought most of these couples perfectly good gifts the first time around. 

There is one positive in this seemingly endless drain on my wallet and social life, however. 

At least, now that my friends are older and generally more financially secure, the food and drink tend to be of a higher quality than at the original wedding.

I recently enjoyed some wonderful mozzarella arancini and a wedding cake made with pistachios and raspberries at a vow renewal. But still, I was cringing inside. 

My husband, Joe, and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage next month. There’ll be no audience, no marquee, no canapes and certainly no string quartet. We will share our happy memories, and raise a toast (hopefully!) to many more. No circus required.

In four decades, there have been times, of course, when our vows got stress-tested. Life hurls stuff at you. My cancer diagnoses, twice in the early years of our marriage, were certainly a bump in the road, bringing frightening times for both of us. Especially as we had four young children. 

Our vows included ‘till death us do part’, and more than once it nearly did. We then became carers for elderly parents, which soaked up the best of our physical and emotional energy. 

Vows can be magical things, though. After getting stretched, they somehow become stronger. That’s how it was for us. 

I have recently made another vow of my own. I am RSVP-ing with a firm ‘no’ to all future vow renewal invitations. TV licences and passports need to be renewed. Marriage vows don’t.

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