For years while living in Upland, I was a part of a women’s book club. I enjoyed the group for many reasons: it had a long history and I loved being a part of something that spanned decades. It was multi-generational and made up of women at all stages of life which added a depth to our discussions I really appreciated. We had varied tastes in books so it forced me to read books I never would have chosen, some of which I really enjoyed. One such book that I did not appreciate at the time was Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith. This was definitely a book I would not have read on my own, and I never really warmed to it. It was very long and at the end, while I felt I knew a great deal more about Queen Elizabeth’s life, I didn’t feel I knew all that much more about her. My summary to the group was “She has met a ridiculous number of historical figures and led an extremely eventful and interesting life, but she doesn’t seem like a very interesting person.”
Though I have strong opinions on the subject, I don’t intend to use this post to go into the credibility of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s claims of mistreatment and prejudice. I will leave that to the royal experts to publicly debate. But there was one statement by Prince Harry which has been rattling around in my brain for the last week that seems worth further explanation, whether you are Team Sussex or Whales.
In discussing his choice of a wife, Prince Harry said “I think for so many people in the family, especially obviously the men, there can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold, as opposed to somebody who you are perhaps destined to be with…”
There followed clips of Katherine and Meghan, and the viewer, I suppose, is meant to draw the conclusion that Prince William made a calculated decision for someone who “fit the mold” and Prince Harry made the bolder, more courageous decision to follow his heart. This is certainly the advice that every modern day fairy tale would endorse: take a “leap of faith,” look beyond differences in personality, family backgrounds and plans for the future, and go with your gut. I couldn’t disagree more. Going with my gut leads to me sitting on the coach, eating improvised Rice Krispie treats from a bowl at 10 pm. Taking leaps of faith can sometimes lead to wish fulfillment, but it can also lead your life straight off a cliff if you haven’t first determined just where you will be landing.
I don’t believe it is necessary to make evaluative statements regarding the morality or wisdom of choosing a spouse with one’s head or with one’s heart, but rather that one should carefully consider the possible outcomes and accept the consequences of either choice, nor do I think this applies exclusively to one’s choice of life partner. In choosing a husband or wife, career or calling, it seems essential to one’s long-term happiness to accept that by choosing a particular person, profession, or path, one is naturally excluding other options. If I choose a job that pays well but requires long hours, I can’t complain about working overtime. If I choose to work a job with flexible hours and low stress, I can’t complain about lower wages or boredom. Prince Harry should be free to choose a wife who doesn’t “fit the mold,” but it seems unfair to then complain when she doesn’t fit in. Joining an institution steeped in tradition and hierarchy would definitely require loss of autonomy. Leaving that institution would involve loss of another kind. Life seems to be orchestrated with those types of trade-offs as part of the package. Our current cultural trends glorify victimhood in a way that tempts many to paint themselves as helpless. I don’t see the appeal of that mindset. Isn’t it better to take ownership of one’s decisions and their consequences?
This brings me back to Queen Elizabeth and my initial assessment of her as bland. I see now that this “blandness” was a choice on her part, an intentional suppression of personality in service to what she saw as her duty. Now I will leave it to you to decide whether or not the role of Queen of England is a worthy role to devote one’s life to, but I think we can agree that she believed it to be so and was willing to pay the price for a job well done. If, perhaps, more of us embraced our own duty, as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, community members and citizens, and were willing to pay the price required rather than demanding that we have our cake and eat it too, we would have more successful marriages, happier children, and peace between nations. We might not end our lives with millions paying tribute, but I think there would be more jewels in our crowns.