When Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer got married — the wedding of the century, remember? — I was working at a small-town newspaper in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was always on the lookout to find something interesting to write about. There it was: Charles and Shy Di, crowns, nuptials, Westminster Abbey!
I ended up talking to several people in town to get their advice for the newlyweds. Our next-door neighbors, who’d been married for a half-century, told them to respect each other. A local hairdresser suggested Di get a new haircut and cut her bangs a little shorter. A friend who’d just gotten divorced predicted the royal lovebirds had just taken the first horrific step toward a messy divorce.
I caught hell for that last interview (so negative on such a lovely occasion! Why interview somebody so cynical who clearly didn’t appreciate the beauty of true love?). But then, I was always catching hell about something — and let’s face facts: my friend was dead right. The romance and wedding of the century morphed into the coming apart, separation and divorce trainwreck of the millennium.
Looking back, I’d still interview the same people and quote them on the same things and get screamed at for my troubles. After all, who can tell about any marriage’s prospects? What does anybody know? You go to the altar, you toss the dice. I’m not cynical about it; I’m simply a realist.
What I am deeply cynical about, though, is the prospect of marrying into royalty. Don’t do it. Marry a prince of a guy, but avoid the born prince. Look at Lady Di. Look at Princess Grace, who gave up her acting career to marry a monarch of the country Somerset Maugham famously called “a sunny place for shady people.” And look, equally heartbreakingly, at this New York Times story about Japan’s troubled royal family.
There, as usual, boy met girl. Girl was independent, Harvard-educated and accomplished commoner. Boy was (warning signs!) a crown prince. In 1993, she finally agreed to marry him.
Unfortunately, a Harvard education, fluency in a few languages and a successful career are worthless when you can’t get it together to bear a male heir and you live in a society that treats women and female heirs to the throne like, shall we say, dirt. Since she gave birth to the couple’s only child, a daughter, Princess Masako evidently suffered a nervous breakdown and has been a virtual recluse ever since. No pregnancies, no masculine children, and — to make matters worse — Masako’s sister-in-law has been pumping out sons like freedom fries at a McDonald’s.
This latest article highlights the furor around the royal couple’s 7-year-old daughter, Aiko. Recently, she’s stopped going to school, reportedly suffering from anxiety and a stomach disorder. Naturally, her mother gets blamed for this and at least one palace critic has suggested such “an unhealthy family” shouldn’t be ascending to the Japanese throne anyway.
Meanwhile, the press is hounding the palace and all you can think of is what must be going on within — the sadness, the deep depression, the anxiety, the despair. All you can do is read between the lines of a story that has only a few pitiful lines to parse. You can only wonder about such a promising, vibrant young woman and how her life has come to this. You can only imagine what life must be like for her daughter.
So, listen. As far as I’m concerned, my kids can bring home anybody they want, even a Republican, and I plan to love that person. But anybody referred to as “your highness” or “your majesty” can just keep walking or strutting or whatever you do when you’re royal. My politics might be blue, but when it comes to blood, my favored color is red.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
See one of my favorite posts about how you think you really want to visit your adult son’s first apartment, but maybe you don’t