Monday, June 02, 2008

I blame hen weekends for divorce

One of the many sobering facts in the first volume of David Kynaston's "Austerity Britain" is that in the 1930s the UK divorce rate was around 6,000 a year. By 1950, thanks to wartime upheaval, it had gone up to 20,000. That's partly because more people (425,000) got married for the first time in 1940 than in any other year since records began.

The UK divorce rate is now running at over 150,000 a year. I wonder whether the divorce rate rises in direct relation to the increase in fuss around the business of a wedding. In Barcelona the other weekend we came into contact with stag and hen parties from all over Europe. Bleached blonde girls from Carshalton wearing deeley-boppers at breakfast in the hotel, young Frenchmen dressed in nappies at the Park Guell and burly Brits in their late thirties striding round the Gothic Quarter in matching tee shirts.

Our daughter assures us this is now an obligatory component of the pre-match ritual. It's not something you have a choice about. It's important that you be seen to publicise your decision, particularly among your friends. When we got married nearly thirty years ago there were two ways to do it: you either organised it as a family occasion or you simply went to the Register Office and then told people about it afterwards. I know a few people who did this. I get the feeling nowadays that would be seen as passing up a unique opportunity to draw attention to yourself.


  1. The only such knees-up I've ever attended was a closed-doors affair at a Greek restaurant in Soho back in the Eighties, involving strippers and taramasalata. I made an excuse and left. It was all very degrading and embarrassing for all concerned, but not for anybody else. There were no public displays of anything at all - much less t-shirts or nappies.

    I'm not sure exactly when or why making a spectacle of yourself in front of strangers became the preferred way to "say goodbye to your freedom ho-ho". As part of the laddy/men behaving phenomenon in the Nineties, perhaps?

  2. My brother met a girl on an internet chatroom. About a month later they met in person and got married at a register office. Neither family knew about the wedding until after it had happened.

    A decade later they are still together and have two children.

    My youngest brother married with great fuss. The actual ceremony took place in Jamaica. The marriage was on the rocks after the first few months and effectively over within a year. You can't second guess these things.

  3. Anonymous9:42 am

    As a groom-to-be, I've instructed my best man that any competitive drinking, strippers or similar humiliation will result in my exit and his demotion to the sub's bench. And we won't be going to Prague/Amsterdam, quadbiking, paintballing or going to any establishment with a doorman.
    Having been on a great many stag events, I'm not going to force my friends to spend inordinate amounts of money in the name of 'tradition' (read: one-upmanship).
    If anyone doesn't fancy the prospect of catching up over a decent meal and a few pints down the Dog and Duck, they can whistle.


  4. For a while I've been promoting the idea of a pre-nuptual agreement not between the couple but6 with guests. So that if they knock it on the head before say 7-10 years we get the £300-400 for the stag do, £200-300 quid on the wedding plus gift back. I heard of stag do being held in florida and one mate was going on one that last 10 days.

  5. That last is a brilliant idea. I've been to weddings where it cost so much to attend that when it came to the present we just went for the cheapest thing on the list.

  6. Anonymous10:35 am

    My wife and I got married in a registry office in Ireland a few years ago. We didn't tell anyone (we'd been living together for ages and already had 2 children), and I spent the minutes before the 'ceremony' mine-sweeping the local pubs for 2 witnesses, finally prising two very well refreshed gents out of their stools to do the job.

    When we told friends back home we'd got married, the overwhelming response was of barely supressed annoyance and sometimes anger, rather than to offer congratulations. The clear underlying suggestion was that we'd diddled them out of something they'd come to regard as a basic human right....

  7. I love stag weekends. The stag has to want it, and nobody should be pressured into coming if they don't want to. But I've been to a lot, of varying scales, and they've almost always been great fun. I've met new people (acquaintance to be extended at the wedding itself), and done activities I wouldn't have otherwise. Gorge walking / canyoning is a blast.

    I've been to one week-longer in Las Vegas, which was of course extravagant, but nobody had to go, everyone were good mates, and we had a blast. We were also given a year's notice and the best man opened a bank account to help people save for it.

    Jon, did you take your negativity with you on the 'great many' stag nights you've been on? If so, you might have done your friend a better service by staying at home.

    On the other hand, my girlfriend absolutely hates hen nights, and often politely declines invitations.

    But all that aside: David, you're going to have to be more explicit about the link between hen nights and divorce. I think stag/hen fun is a tiny aspect of 'The fuss around the business of a wedding'. Far worse is all the fuss about choosing a dress, a theme, fine details of the meal and the table decorations and the flowers (the flowers for God's sake!). With so much emphasis on the day itself, how can humdrum married life possibly live up?

  8. BTLP - £300 to attend a wedding? Maybe I'm not being generous enough with my gifts, but attending a wedding always seems like great value to me: we buy a gift, and get a room for the night, and in exchange get a decent meal and a disco in the company of friends.

    And you can get your stag money back if you give the groom back a go-karting session etc.

  9. Yes, it's expensive and it's spiralled out of control. My stag night was just that - one night, in a pub, go home, all is well.

    A friend who got married the same time as me had a stag weekend in Amsterdam, which I went to at great expense seeing as going abroad for a stag was quite a novelty. We ended up watching Match Of The Day in a bar. Couldn't we have done this at home and saved the money?

    Subsequent invitations to the likes of Rimini, Thailand (for a stag WEEK), Budapest, Tallin, New York and Prague have all been turned down. It's not enjoyable and it's pricey. And I refuse to walk around in team t-shirts.

    Having said all this, I did go to one in Madrid a few years back, which involved everyone being over 40, interested in visiting the Prado, drinking fine wine, eating good food and going to bed earlyish. Now that's what I call a stag weekend.

  10. I don't think rising divorce rates come from hen dos and stag dos but from the fact that now it's more socially acceptable to divorce, especially from a religious POV, unlike the 50s, and many more people are more confident to break free and know they can live on there own. But I would agree a lot of people possibly do get married too early simply because it looks like a fun thing to do.

  11. John: How are wedding "great Value" most are away from home so you ahve to pay for hotel say £100 anight train afire multiples of between £30-80 quid plus or petrol (what times is it) there alwasys anew shirt, skirt, shoes to buy £50-100, taxis and sundaries £50. Drniks £30-60 quid. Present £50 quid. In return rubbish chicken dinner and bad disco plau you never talk to friends becaue they ahve to talk to their aunts. of course we don't have to go any of these thing but them again we can ignore all our family and friends to. I don't see how I can get my stag money back by giving more money. I think the basic Tennant here is that people spend too much time on the material side of getting married and less on do they like each other side of things. Also satrting married life 10K in debt only adds to teh tension.

  12. soryy for the rubbish typing!

  13. BTLP - the typing indicates you're angry ;)

    I obviously underspend on the presents. I don't usually buy new clothes for weddings - although my partner does sometimes buy a dress for the occasion. These do get more than one use!

    I'd typically forgo a drinks session elsewhere for a wedding, so the delta drinks price is marginal - OK, so possibly they cost more if you're in a swish hotel. Occasionally there's a free bar!

    So all that's left is accommodation and transport. Which are only poor value if you don't want to be there. Don't you want to be there?

    The point about asking for your stag night money back is: you were meant to be having fun. You weren't meant to be spending money on the groom: you were meant to be spending it on yourself. You pay your £30 and get a spin around a go-kart track - or whatever. The point is if the marriage fails, you still got your Big Day o' Fun, and you shouldn't get any money back unless you could somehow 'give back' the Big Day o' Fun.

    If you don't enjoy stag activities, don't go. A wet blanket just spoils it for everyone else.

  14. John: I do seem to live in a non-Pollyannaish world , you seem blessed by attending perfect social occasions and aren't swayed by social pressures of any kind for which you are most blessed. You have also never heard the phrase " don't be silly I can't wear that one I wore that to Jo's do" Also the last wedding I went to a round of drinks cost me almost £40 for 4 not my usual round. I think my basic point is that we seem to have cranked up the pressure to spend huge sums of money on weddings to little affect you can have a good time at wedding in church hall with a few ham sandwiches paying £50 to shoot someone's cousin in the head with paint ball deosn't improve the occassion.

  15. Anonymous6:07 pm

    To clarify my earlier comment: I’ve had wonderful times on stag dos, but have found that they’ve been getting way out of control of late in terms of place, activities and most of all, cost. My decision to scale it back for my own party derives from having to go to Edinburgh last year, stay two nights in one of that city’s poshest hotels and eat and drink in a manner to which I wasn’t really used to at the time.
    Yes, I could have said no, but I didn’t want to be the only one to turn it down (and I would have been the only one), and didn’t foresee how much it would hit my wallet.
    I overspent my bank limit by about thirty quid which resulted in some large charges, which resulted in me living on very little for a couple of months. All for something we, as South England residents to a man, could have done in London, Brighton, or Oxford, and possibly spent one of the nights in our own beds.
    Hope you can see why I don’t want to put this kind of financial pressure on my mates in the name of a good time. Some of them are comfortably off, some of them a lot less well off than me. And at my age, I’d rather chat in a friendly pub than shout in an overrated West End club.

  16. Well yeah. There's a balance. I had a fabulous stag in Edinburgh (traveling from the Midlands), but we kipped in the best man's house. The biggest extravagance was a limo from there to Flares. Not classy. Great fun.

  17. The wife and I started down the 'big family wedding' road but pulled over when we realized we'd be spending a huge pile of money just so our friends and family could get drunk in a nice hotel.

    So we got married at the top of the Empire State Building instead. The whole thing took two days to arrange and cost $500.

    I do like a good stag do though and one trend I've noticed (here in the US anyway) that I hate is co-ed stag/hen nights with the couple and their friends all going out together. I'm sorry, call me a borish caveman but there's a limit to how much of a 'new man' I want to be.

  18. One of the things my wife and I agree on is that the marriage is more important than the wedding. So it was a registrary office in Edinburgh during the festival - so that the guests had something to do afterwards because the reception was a few drinks and lunch in Nicholson's. All done and dusted by 3pm.
    Ok these are all personal choices, but I can't help but see the ceremony as less important than the life.

  19. Great ideas and interesting too. Looking forward to know more about about hen weekends.