Last week, on November 27, 2018, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement. They sat down for an interview. They took photos. They smiled. It may have looked well-coordinated, even commonplace for a royal engagement. However, this marriage is set to be “game-changing” for the British royal family.
Comparing this pending union alongside past royal engagements, Harry and Meghan’s relationship is refreshing to say the least. But in actuality, it’s downright groundbreaking for the Windsor family.
When in 1936 Prince Edward, slated to be king, fell in love with divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson, he had to abdicate the throne. When Prince Charles needed a royal-approved, suitable bride, a young, white, Anglo-Saxon protestant virgin (ultimately, Princess Diana) was sought for the role. It was a big deal that Prince William, ignoring past protocol, chose Kate Middleton, “a commoner,” to be his wife and the future queen.
Prince Harry has gone a step further in bucking those old-school British royal traditions. Meghan Markle is an American actress, biracial, a divorcée, and at 36 three years Harry’s senior. She’s also a vocal feminist who graduated from Northwestern in 2003, double-majoring in theater and international relations before thriving in her career as the star of a popular TV show.
Harry and Meghan’s whole storyline is a sign of how far society and the royal family have come in just a few short decades, as well as how Prince William and Prince Harry are ushering in the modern era for royal romances. They did, in fact, heed their late mother’s advice in looking for love; Diana famously told William, “If you find someone you love in life, you must hang on to it and look after it. … And if you are lucky enough to find someone who loves you, then you must protect it.”
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are an entirely refreshing pair. However, perhaps the most refreshing thing about their relationship has nothing to do with all the discarded royal traditions. What’s always been striking, to me, is how sure they were of each other the whole time. When a reporter asked Harry the moment he knew Meghan was the one, he said simply, “The very first time we met.”
His actions would indicate this is the truth. Just before meeting his future bride, Harry claimed to be “pretty busy at the moment” to focus on much personal life, saying that “kids can wait.” Only a few months into dating, he released a statement condemning the media frenzy and ridicule of Meghan, an unprecedented measure by a prince. Just months ago, before the engagement, Harry seemingly had little problem with Meghan sitting for a Vanity Fair cover story.
Meghan has been reciprocal. “I could barely let [him] finish proposing,” she said on Monday. “I was like, ‘Can I say ‘yes’ now?’”
Sureness, in itself, is a rare and uncommon feat these days in relationships — not just for royals and actresses but for everyone coming of age in the modern era of technology and delayed adulthood. There’s been a lot of talk about why we’re all so unsure. Many point to psychologist Barry Schwartz’s “Paradox of Choice” concept, the idea that some choice makes us happy but too much choice can make us miserable and cripple our decision making. Just look at Prince William, who broke things off with Kate for a time before finally committing to forever; even he was unsure.
One of my favorite aspects of real-life love stories — and analyzing them, as I have for the past two and a half years — is that each one is different. I’ve seen kindergarten besties marry in their 30s. I’ve seen college sweethearts break up, reconcile as grownups five years later, and walk down the aisle. I’ve seen first Tinder dates, with no expectations, fall in love and wed within a year. But what is becoming increasingly less common is that feeling of total sureness. I’ve sat across the interview table from men and women who wonder if they’ll ever know what it feels like to be sure about someone.
That’s where Harry and Meghan come in. To me, the most refreshing thing about their relationship, each theoretically with a world of options and ways to meet people, is that none of this turmoil happened (at least none that we know of).
By my rough calculations, age of first marriage for royalty is inching upward along with that of the general population. In yesteryear, Prince Andrew and Fergie wed at ages 26 and 27 respectively; it ended in divorce. Princess Anne married her first husband at age 23, before splitting. Princess Diana was a mere 20 when she wed Charles, 33 (who, in theory, would have already met and maintained a relationship with the real love of his life, Camilla Parker Bowles, 34).
Marriage and divorce statistics do suggest if you delay marriage until after age 25, or tie the knot in your late 20s to early 30s, you increase your odds of a lasting union, and this generation of royals is doing just that. If you look at the British, Harry is 33 to Meghan’s 36. William and Kate were modern-day babies at roughly 29 when they wed. The similarly aged Swedish royals were all older, as well, marrying in their 30s; Princess Victoria (35) and Princess Daniel (39), Prince Carl (36) and Princess Sofia (30), and Madeleine (31) and Christopher (39).
There are reasons that clarity comes with age. Failure, missteps, and the overall wait are part of the data-collecting process. If you wait long enough, you get time to know yourself on a deep and intimate level. You get to understand what it means to be a partner to someone else, both through mistakes and experiences. You get to learn what’s out there, both for your own life and for the types of love you might have with someone else, finally choosing from a place of understanding. You get to fall in love, and out of love, and appreciate how some loves are just different. If you wait long enough, yes, you ultimately increase the odds of stumbling into sure.
With a similarly seasoned dater, you also don’t need to wait around for your lover to decide if they want you. You don’t need to enter into an on/off relationship cycle, hoping it stabilizes as they figure themselves out. You can have a sure relationship with less experience, but it becomes less likely without the modern-day journey to romantic wisdom.
Harry and Meghan, both in their mid-30s with former long-term and short-term loves, didn’t stumble into love on the first attempt. They waited, they dated, they failed, and they finally felt sure before commitment. From what I can tell, that feeling is rarer than it should be, but undeniably glorious when felt. If Harry and Meghan’s obvious happiness is any indication, it’s often well worth the wait.
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018).
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