The Summer Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, I had just turned 19. She was 20. Wide eyed, I sat glued to the tv set watching the carriage slowly rolling from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Buckingham Palace, her slightly chubby face smiling, engulfed in a cloud of white. It looked like the embodiment of one of the fairy tales I was so fond of as a child.
Even if marriage couldn’t have been further from my mind, I remember feeling a slight envy for what looked like the beginning of a charmed and storybook life. Not that I envied her big eared prince nor that meringue concoction of a dress but the myth was so ingrained within me that I fell for the whole hullaballoo. A few months later, I even brought back home for my mother a box of tea with Diana’s smiling effigy on it, which still lives somewhere in her kitchen.
Nearly thirty years later, on a different continent, I woke up in the wee hours to watch Princess Diana’s son marrying Kate Middleton, wondering what was wrong with me. Sure, both times I bought into the media hype, the curiosity about the dress, the tv friendly spectacle and the good cheer of a nation, but, deep down, I think the conditioning of all those princesses of my childhood worked its magic on my psyche: maybe it is possible to meet a prince, be rescued and live happily ever after. As if.
I did marry, not an actual prince and my wedding had zero pageantry. In real life, I avoid weddings like the plague, attending only those of people I am extremely close to. I have a tendency to lump them with christenings, confirmations and bar-mitzvahs as the most boring social occasions a human can inflict on another. Still, I eagerly watched two women I don’t know becoming princesses at a time when nobility has zero relevance . To an extent that my intellect refutes, I believed for a few hours there is a happy ever after, a life ending in perpetual happiness the moment we say “I do”.
In reality, everything that leads to the “I do” moment is the easy part: the lovers’ squabbles, the waiting by the phone, the planning, deciding together on the honeymoon are all piece of cake compared to the drudgery of bill paying, life difficulties, jobs losses, children’s problems, libido waning and waxing and whatever you married ladies out there want to fill the blanks with.
Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan notwithstanding, like Princess Diana at the onset of her marriage, we, women often organize our life, in ways big and small, around the turnings of a relationship: we move, we change jobs, we give up jobs, we choose to look exclusively after children, we support our men through thick and thin. All noble endeavours in themselves but not if they are at the expense of who we are. We, women, have this ability to change our spots to suit the occasion, to adapt and accept, sometimes with not enough questions asked of ourselves and that this is still happening never fails to amaze me. It certainly leaves me perplexed.
I never looked to get married. It happened and I am glad it did. But as I watch and listen to my step-daughter and her friends talk about marriage in reverent hush, I ask myself how many generations will it take before women stop thinking of marriage as an end in itself.
Like most life experiences, married life can be both blissful and terrible and I am not sure it should be put on a pedestal and imagined as the endgame. Living with another human being has amazing rewards but why are we perpetuating a myth that doesn’t serve us? How many young girls actually sit down and try to imagine life beyond the Big Day? (and don’t get me started on the cost of the Big Day).
Our society is still organized around the concept of family nucleus and marriage between two people – the concept is being challenged by some but, for a good time to come, most of us and our offsprings and, probably their offsprings, will choose to go through life within the cocoon of an exclusive relationship. Believing that a Prince will make everything better and that the story ends there does not serve the Princess nor the Prince. Life, alone or together, is lived one day at a time, with the same focus, energy and dedication applied to all the areas that fulfill us, be they a relationship, a career, children or globe-trotting around the world. Happiness is not coupledom – rather, it’s fullfillment no matter what we do or we are with.
Images found in the public domain