My nephew came to stay recently, glad to escape the chill of his British Army base in Germany. He had come to marry his sweetheart, we learned the day before the registry office wedding, a girl he'd met on his holiday in Tonga nearly two years before.
They hadn't seen each other since, but he'd been so smitten he wooed her from afar, the way a modern man does these days, by text and email.
He was worried I wouldn't approve of his untraditional courtship and marriage. So I told him about his uncle and me; how he'd courted me by telephone and mail, the long letters and cassette tapes, which seem unbelievably old-fashioned now; and about our crazy nuptials, a spur of the moment affair which very nearly took place in a stranger's backyard, all because the distracted bridegroom-to-be had put the wrong address on the marriage certificate.
That should have been my cue to run for the hills, but I was raised to be a fan of marriage, if not of weddings, so we exchanged vows and a couple of inexpensive silver rings we'd bought the day before, and then ate banana cake baked by the bridegroom. We lost the rings years ago but gained three children we rather like.
I mention this because it's Valentine's Day tomorrow, a time when a lot of people will be talking and playing at love, without necessarily understanding what it means. I don't think that I did when I pledged my troth to another human being; the love I'd been in love with back then was a thin sort of love, shaped by romantic movies and novels which seldom went past the first heady flush of romance.
It wasn't exactly the love which alters not when it alteration finds, or the expansive, all-encompassing, saving love that St Paul talks about, the kind that suffers long and is kind, that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things". The kind of love, in short, that has very little to do with the frilly, chocolate-covered hearts of Valentine's Day.
But we are about to hit that (drum roll, please) magical 25-year milestone, a testament as much to sheer stubbornness on our part as to (we like to think) the more muscular, grown-up love we discovered along the way, which is somewhat miraculous considering it took us a mere 20 years or so to become good at the things which are supposed to hold a marriage together - like how to talk to each other, and the proper rules of engagement in an argument - which means either that we're very slow learners or that it really does take time to get it right.
Most people would have given up long ago and, believe me, it crossed our minds on a number of painful occasions.
Why are so many of us finding it increasingly tougher to last the distance? Could it be that marriage has become too much hard work for a generation with a short attention-span and an appetite for easy thrills; a generation accustomed to over-stimulation and a multitude of choices?
Or is it that we've simply lost faith in marriage, seeing it as a chancy, outmoded institution which has outlived its usefulness?
Whatever the reasons, we should be giving it far more attention. Marriage matters, according to a growing body of international research, far more than we, and many policy-makers, like to admit.
It's now well established that married people are healthier, live longer, are better off and have better mental health than their single counterparts.
Less acknowledged is the fact that children are also better off when their parents are married. They're more likely to succeed at school and less likely to take drugs, be unemployed, or suffer from depression and their own broken relationships in later years.
Why that should be so is hotly contested. Marriage has become an ideological battleground, with support for marriage often seen by some as a proxy for an anti-single mother, anti-divorce, anti-gay agenda.
As the authors of a 2005 US report, Why Marriage Matters, wrote: "We can assert definitively that marriage is associated with powerful social goods for children and adults alike, but not whether marriage is the sole or main cause of these goods."
For example, the marriage rate is higher among the well-off and better-educated, so some of the benefits of marriage can be explained by wealth and education.
The report's fundamental conclusions were that marriage was an important social good which benefited both children and adults; an important public good associated with a wide range of economic, health, educational and safety benefits that help society at large; and that its benefits extended to poor and minority groups, where those who married were less likely to suffer hardship.
None of this applies to bad marriages, the violent, abusive relationships which aren't good for anyone. The best marriage advice is still to choose wisely.