A royal wedding is a big fat, tasseled (often literally) deal. Outside of fairy tales and Disney movies, new princesses don’t come around too often. But the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton is actually a textbook example of how most modern marriages happen. And it shows that Buckingham Palace may have learned a thing or two about the changing state of matrimony.
Last time the palace announced that a future king was to be married, it was William’s father, Charles, who hardly knew his bride to be, the willowy young Diana Spencer. It wasn’t exactly an arranged marriage, more one chosen from a number of royally approved options. What a difference a generation makes. William and Kate have been dating since they met in college almost a decade ago. According to reports they’ve virtually been living together for the last year. (More on Time.com: I ♥ Boobies: ACLU Defends Girls’ Right to Wear Sassy Bracelets)
As you may have heard, William’s parents’ marriage ended just about as badly as these things can, with a public scandal, a divorce and a mother of two young kids dead by the side of the road in a foreign land. In a way, Charles and Diana’s union was a casualty of the enormous changes that marriage had undergone in the decade or so that preceded it and followed it. It was a marriage that was about duty in an age of marriage that is about love. The center did not hold.
Kate and William’s union, on the other hand, is very much a partnership of the times. Despite the tabloids’ snipey title that the romance had gone on so long the bride should be called “waity Katie,” the two are simply doing what their peers are doing and waiting until they’re a bit more settled to get married. In fact, at 28, William is the median age at which most American men get hitched for the first time. (More on Time.com: The Real Question About Eliot Spitzer Has Yet to Be Answered)
Charles and Diana’s union was clearly one in which a much richer and more powerful man was marrying a woman who was going to take care of him and produce heirs. Both William and Kate have similar levels of education. Unlike most royal brides of yore, she doesn’t have what used to be called “noble blood” — her parents run a party supply business — but clearly, she doesn’t need to be taken care of by William. He’s elevating her position in society and she’s probably going to treated much more nicely in shops, but without him, she was not without assets.
This doesn’t mean that the royal family has given up on using marriage as a power tool, as a way of forging or cementing a strategic alliance. There was no worse PR disaster for the House of Windsor than the dissolution of Charles’ marriage and the death of Diana. By allowing the romance of Kate and William to run its course, with breakups and makeups and a long getting-to-know you period, the royals have ensured it’s got as good a chance as any of surviving. Studies have shown that college graduates who wed after the age of 26 are less likely to divorce. This should increase goodwill among the constituency the royals need most: the British people. (More on Time.com: Can an iPhone App Save Your Marriage?)
Plus, if ever Queen Elizabeth or the Duke need a bouquet of mylar birthday balloons at a discount, they totally know where to turn.
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