When a young royal, albeit not directly in line for the throne, announces plans to marry a commoner – a thespian, at that – there is bound to be excitement. And so it was last year in Japan when news broke that Princess Mako, granddaughter of the emperor, was engaged to Kei Komuro, better known as "Prince of the Sea". There was a romantic twist: like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, forced to the surface of the ocean after falling in love with a human, the princess would be required to give up her imperial status on tying the knot.
No such sacrifice is asked of the other royal who recently became engaged to a commoner. Prince Harry, it's been reported, did not partake of the family Christmas Day hunt at Balmoral last year because his fiancée, Meghan Markle, disapproves. But he hasn't had to give up much, really. There are elements of modernity in their coupling, but Meghan is the one facing a radical change in circumstances, and not objectively for the better.
For a start, the British royals love their chilly houses. Like most rich people, they seem extremely stingy. Can you imagine the pain of getting out of the bathtub at Windsor Castle on a frosty morning? And the pressure of having to find a novelty gift for the Queen at Christmas, because – see above – they don't like spending money? According to the highly reliable UK tabloids, one year Princess Kate got around The Firm's £20 rule by gifting a jar of her grandmother's chutney, but this time around Meghan stole the show with a wind-up singing hamster. Have none of these people heard of scented candles?
Meghan, meanwhile, is not only giving up her acting career, and one of her two beloved rescue dogs. (He wasn't well enough to cross the Atlantic.) Think of the little freedoms we plebs take for granted which are no longer hers. The ability to express a mild political opinion! (Meghan called Donald Trump "divisive" in the lead-up to the 2016 election.) Or to choose one's nail colour! (Royals don't wear anything except pale pink.) Meghan has broken with the royal protocol of wearing pantyhose, but will she also be able to continue using the f-word? (Feminist. She's a proud one.)
Beyond the understandable delight in a story about two attractive people so clearly in love, a lot of the commentary seemed to treat nabbing Harry as an achievement. A woman getting married is still implicitly greeted with relief, while the common response to a man "settling down" is sorrow and strippers.
The etiquette rule on engagement announcements – that women should receive best wishes, and men congratulations – seeks to redress this imbalance, but isn't often followed. Yet Harry is not the prize. Meghan is. At 20, he was wearing a swastika at a costume party; she was preparing for an internship with the US State Department. He is expert on nightlife in Vegas; she's served as a UN Women's Advocate.
Meghan and Harry are both in their mid-30s, with lessons from past relationships to ponder, and I'm sure they have considered the pros and cons of the union. But in Japan, Princess Mako and Kei Komuro have trod a different path. Recently they declared their wedding had been postponed.
"It is because of our immaturity and we just regret it," the couple, who are both 26, said in a statement. The princess continued, "I wish to think about marriage more deeply and concretely." Good on 'em. Who knows what the full story is, but theirs is evidently a union characterised by thoughtfulness and care.
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