Sarah Sands: Weddings are for the family. The couple can wait

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The Independent Online

The Richard Curtis wedding – village church, silly hats, Hugh Grant pulling faces – is going out of fashion. One in six couples now prefer to get married abroad. They want something secular, hot and relaxed. Suspension of their everyday lives, freedom from their in-laws, wedding shots framed in Caribbean sunshine.

They are pitifully misguided. I bet those who marry abroad are more likely to end up in the divorce courts. Marriages for life have to be rooted in life. Whenever I read of a "fairy tale" wedding, I am sure it is precisely that. It is no good blaming the curse of Hello! for the celebrity beach weddings that end up on the rocks. Hello! is just the bad fairy at a predestined fiasco. If you are standing at the altar in a bikini, you will sink rather than swim. As soon as I saw Renée Zellweger flinging off her Bridget Jones status in the Virgin Islands I made haggish predictions that she would be back on the Chardonnay and fags before winter.

Sometimes beach weddings can disappear in a puff of smoke. Poor Jerry Hall got her Indonesian ceremony, only for Mick Jagger triumphantly to annul it, claiming it had no standing in English law. Couples who get married abroad understand, deep down, that it is a fantasy. Only Peaches Geldof had the sincerity to admit it. She could have said that a trip to Las Vegas was the joining of souls, unencumbered by worldly concerns such as guest lists and music. But she knew, really, that it was a lark to irritate her famous dad. It was never a long-term strategy.

Weddings, like Christmas, are about family structures. They are necessarily stressful and exasperating. You are blending relatives and friends and, more poignantly, enacting a rite of passage. The sight of a father walking his daughter down the aisle is as moving as the kiss of entitlement from the groom. This emotional casting off demands an element of ritual. The point about tradition is that it is a brilliant balm for disruptive events. The best way to deal with grief or ecstasy is a lusty hymn. Those best skilled in the ceremony of death are the Armed Forces. Formality is the basis for dignity.

I am not – much – of a Puritan. I am not saying there is no place for abroad. But looking at the list of top wedding destinations – Cyprus, Italy, Greek Islands, Caribbean, Mauritius – there's an obvious flaw. These are honeymoon destinations. The honeymoon has a completely different function from a wedding. It doesn't have to be at Chesil Beach. It is the place where you can laugh about the monstrous absurdities of family over prawn curry. But you can enjoy your liberation, only because you have experienced the full claustrophobia of family events. It is one of the simplest lessons in life. There cannot be reward without effort. It is because we are trying to skip the difficult bits of life that we are damaging our moral immune systems. Hence the collapse of so many "fairy tale" marriages.

Couples who opt for holidays rather than weddings are abusing their social obligations. They'd rather spend money on themselves than on others. They are like those businesses that use the excuse of a recession for mean-spirited behaviour, laying people off because they can, rather than because they need to.

If you are going to marry in Italy, you should not sneak off there on your own. You should emulate the exemplary Mr and Mrs Wayne Rooney, and fly Croxteth out, in all its brawling, drink-fuelled majesty.

Sarah Sands is editor-in-chief of British 'Reader's Digest'