I BOUGHT my wedding dress in half an hour.
It was pretty and inexpensive. But that was before weddings became an extravaganza.
Did you know that some girls nowadays spend up to three years organising their wedding? No, I didn't either. My jaw dropped when an assistant in a wedding dress shop told me. It's quite common, she said. The girls pay off their £1000-plus dresses in instalments.
Everything is planned to the last detail. "They live for their big day," she said. "It's the only thing in their lives." How does any marriage live up to that?
Few do, according to Sir Paul Coleridge, a senior family court judge in England. Clearing up the misery of failed marriages is his bread and butter. Day in and day out he deals with divorce, with hurt children and the squabbling and pain. When he says family breakdown has reached a point where it is endangering society, it's time to pay attention.
He's not on a moral crusade. He's just telling it like it is. But he feels so strongly about it that he's launching a campaign in support of marriage. Young people need to re-educated about its demands, he says. He wants compulsory mediation before an acrimonious split.
I support him – though paradoxically I also support divorce.
Let me explain. People who marry only to discover they are bound to a misanthrope, a crook, an addict or a bully should have a legal exit. Sometimes they need to protect themselves and sometimes to protect their children. It's right that the law should assist them.
However, divorce is too brutal an instrument ever to be used lightly. It leaves no winners and many more losers than the two people who part. In England the numbers have risen so much the courts have streamlined family cases. Sir Paul and his supporters say it's making it too easy for couples to split.
We know the upshot: children's lives disrupted and their prospects often dented. Mothers raise families alone. Fathers lose touch with their children and grandparents are too often locked out. The family unit that should be a support to everyone becomes a bone of contention for all. The wound is reopened at every birthday, Christmas and school event. It bleeds across the years to future weddings and even funerals.
In Scotland, maybe we could be feeling smug. Divorce here is at a 10-year low with 10,173 in 2009-2010. However Stuart Valentine, chief executive of Relationship Scotland, says it's mainly due to "a significant fall" in the numbers of people getting married. The story about break-up is otherwise the same. Couples here typically wait seven years before seeking counselling.
Sir Paul implies that too often today people marry in a whirlwind and divorce on a whim. The patrons of his campaign agree. They include a phalanx of baronesses: Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly chief family law judge south of the border, Baroness Deech, a family lawyer and academic, and Baroness Shackleton, the divorce lawyer who represented Prince Charles and Sir Paul McCartney.
Unrealistic expectations seem to be at the root of many marriage splits. According to Sir Paul, the couple's ideas are fuelled by Hello! magazine and Hollywood. "Marriage is not something that falls out of the sky on to people in white linen suits. It involves endless hard work, compromises, forgiveness and love. In order for a relationship to work you hang in there and adjust and change and alter and understand."
He has been married for 39 years. I'm catching him up, having recently passed the 36th anniversary. But I think the causes of the current failure rate are more complicated than he suggests.
Certainly today's young people are sold a romantic ideal. Wasn't it ever thus? Romance has always propelled people up the aisle. It was Oscar Wilde who said the honeymoon destination Niagara Falls was the second greatest disappointment in American marriage. And he died in 1900.
Yet Ian Maxwell of Families Need Fathers says couples are splitting earlier – sometimes only months after their first baby is born. Why?
It can't be because life with a real baby isn't like a Pampers advertisement. Surely everyone knows that. More likely it's because marriage itself and parenthood are so much tougher than young people expect.
Most new parents are financially stretched even on two salaries. They have debt from university or from their splashy wedding. They have a mortgage if they are lucky and high rent if they aren't. Child- care costs are extortionate. Perhaps neither has a "secure" job. And few will have granny nearby.
New parents are typically in their thirties and used to pleasing themselves. Add broken nights and colic to the mix and instead of bonding over the baby, the couple are torn apart..
They need support. They need preparation as much as mediation.
They might get a bit more help if there were fewer "silver splitters". For divorce is up 10% amongst those over 50 and 60. Maybe they should pay heed when the learned judge says that "long and stable marriages are carved out of the rock of human stubbornness and selfishness and difficulties".
Those who divorce when their families have grown up also leave pain in their wake, according to the judge. Grown-up children can cope better than the very young but many find it as emotionally disturbing as a bereavement. Their foundations shift.
Is this campaign doomed to failure? Is Sir Paul Coleridge a modern Canute pitting his will against an unstoppable tide? Statistics show that a million people in Britain cohabited in 2001. There are 2.9 million now and there are likely to be 3.7million by 2031.
It's a worrying trend. People do part more easily if they haven't tied the knot. Some will say it's less messy. But the pain is the same. The effect on the children is just as damaging.
I bet it's the Hello! effect that stops many marriages. People fear the expense of a wedding. But there's more than one way to celebrate. A recession is a great time to start a trend for borrowing a wedding dress, making a cake and having a party in the garden or the local pub. Less pressure on the day puts less pressure on the days, months and years that follow. It gives marriage a fighting chance – which according to the judge will support families and ultimately save society.
And who wouldn't want that?
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.