Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Poor Waity Willie

Thursday, 24 June 2010

I don’t always put my Observer column up on the blog, it’s a sporadic thing. It’s always on the “WRITING” page - but I haven’t yet decided whether I should put it on the blog or not, so I’ve settled on a decisive ‘sometimes’.

  Anyway, I didn’t put up last week’s on here but, since you ask, it was about single life. There was something in the paper about Lisa Snowdon, who talked about the fear and loneliness of thinking she might never get married. I wrote a grumpy little piece about this attitude, saying that in 2010 it is easier than ever to (a) remain unmarried without stigma or sacrifice, and (b) find someone to marry. So what’s to moan about? If you don’t want to marry any of the millions of available people, that means you’d rather be single, so you should celebrate social change and enjoy the freedom. Or, if marriage is the only thing that would make you happy, pick a candidate and stop saying nobody’s “right”. If you wanted it enough, they would be.

  Except I said it at greater length, because I get paid by the word.

  Somebody’s written to the Observer to criticize me for this vicious attack on “a minority” (single people) and ask who I will target next. “The disabled?”, they ask. Apparently the Observer’s going to print it. We’ll see. It sounds like quite a funny letter, though I don’t think it’s meant to be.

  I think a few readers did get offended, thinking I was saying that single people should settle for second best and marry someone they don’t really want. I wasn’t saying that at all. I was saying that you should at least acknowledge it is a choice, and be happy that the choice is so much freer than it used to be.

  I was thinking about all this again today because I read another of those stories about “poor Kate Middleton”, still hanging on for the proposal that Prince William hasn’t made. It’s news again because the prince has turned 28 - the age at which he once said he might get married - but there’s still no engagement. Poor Kate, poor Kate, poor Kate.

Why the automatic “poor Kate” ? It never seems acknowledged as a possibility that maybe she is the one who won’t marry him. We don’t know how the land lies. It would be pretty insulting to assume that she MUST want to marry him because he’s rich and titled. It would be sexist (and a profound misreading of human nature) to assume that she must want to marry him because it’s always the woman in the relationship who presses for the wedding.

  Maybe the reason that they are still together after eight years, but unengaged, is that Kate has never wanted to marry anyone and they are going to be the ground-breaking royal couple who stay together for ever, bring up children, but never marry. Or maybe Kate just won’t say yes. Maybe she’s a commitment-phobe. Maybe she has real concerns that hold her back; maybe she loves William madly but isn’t sure she wants that life; maybe they are stuck because she can’t bear to commit to “forever” as a royal, but can’t bear to leave him either. Maybe she is, quite sensibly, aware that getting married involves choosing not just a person but a joint life path - in this case, his. Maybe she just doesn’t want Christmas at Sandringham.

  Maybe he proposes every day, but Kate declines.

  Probably not. But this is like a Heresy topic: it is a Received Opinion in this country that Kate wants to marry William but he won’t jump. Whatever the truth of the relationship, that assumption is informed by old-fashioned notions, some sexism, and something rather disrespectful towards her. Heresy is now finished for the year, and may never come back - but I hope, if nothing else, the message lingers, BEWARE RECEIVED OPINION. Sometimes it may be right. But it’s always worth questioning.








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RomanticRecluse at 8:02 pm on June 24th, 2010

It is terrible, isn’t it?  It’s terrible how attractive successful celebrities moan about being single, about not experiencing the joys of getting married, becoming a parent and getting divorced and about the unsuitability of people of the opposite sex they meet in their line of work.  It’s terrible how they moan about time running out, describe their dreams which will remain unfulfilled and talk about the chances they have missed.  You would never do that, would you Vicky?  If you did that it would be like trying to have your cake and eat it too or applauding an artist because he produces “art for art’s sake” and loving the artless capitalist karaoke that is The X Factor or claiming you’re a good matchmaker and admitting it never works out or…

“it’s always worth questioning”

KlooRhee at 8:40 pm on June 24th, 2010

I love making arguments for the sake of it. So first, didn’t know who Ms. Middleton was until i read this. Second, don’t know exactly how marriage institution came about in human history, but i’ll assume it was for the protection of offspring. Not much else. This is why your argument of her “choosing his path” seems a touch out of place. I don’t think marriage has anything to do with supporting one party’s choices in principle. It could be like that, it could even be preferable, but i don’t think it’s the necessity for safe development of children. Maybe i have a wrong idea about marriage but successful team of 2 people doesn’t have to be sanctioned by any power. It may give some people peace of mind, but it is not necessary. In my opinion. Peace :)

Angela G at 10:29 pm on June 24th, 2010

I enjoyed your article, a welcome change from all those ‘how terrible it is to be single’ pieces.  I too am sick&tired; of folk whinging about being single as if it were a disease. Heaven forfend you suggest it’s okay to be single in this day & age, it’s perfectly acceptable, women can have fulfilled & varied lives without being married or having children – oh no, if you dare utter such things then you are accused of being a rampant feminist who is one step away from getting Germaine Greer’s face tattooed on your person or chucking yourself under the hooves of the Monarch’s horse!  ”Happy?...being single???...sorry I misheard, you couldn’t possibly have said that, that’s UNTHINKABLE!?!” Keep up the good work Victoria, the world needs more sane voices like yours

The Tim at 10:30 pm on June 24th, 2010

Thanks for helping to take the stigma out of being single, Miss Coren! We’re not all sad, lonely recluses. The article would only have offended those who wanted to be.

MarkP at 11:08 pm on June 24th, 2010

It’s a good job you don’t follow the lead of that ‘skinflint’ David Mitchell, because you’ve just given away several hundreds of pounds worth of work there. Or is that a received opinion on how much journalists get paid for their work?
Still, I really enjoyed this series of Heresy and I hope it’s not the/your last.

Guido at 11:23 pm on June 24th, 2010

There’s always the other option,

That with Billy away doing things in the forces,  like crashing helicopters and getting medals, and Kate off doing whatever it is she does (apart from drink rugby players under the table, like back at St. Andy’s), that they just haven’t had a chance to have a sit down yet, and discuss getting married, let alone the proposal - which has to be checked by Billy’s Gran first, who is also really busy.

It’s just trying to fit it into their hectic schedules. When they’ve got the time, then we’ll hear about it.

Either that or he’s holding out for an attractive poker player/ journalist to make her move.

Phil at 1:14 am on June 25th, 2010

I read the article the other day whilst sat in a pub awaiting my train. It set me off looking at the dynamics of the couples around me, giving my usual random people-watching more of a sense of purpose. Did they really want each other or had they just settled; perhaps they had met via a knitiing enthusiast chatroom - stuff like that.  An enjoyable way to spend half an hour or so.
I guess not all people share your confidence that someone else will find them necessarily attractive (not me by the way; I’m stunning) and that might explain why one or two may have had a negative reaction to it; kind of a bitterness towards your assumption of being automatically desirable. This is clearly their fault and not yours, but just thought it worth a mention

Ozzy at 9:44 am on June 25th, 2010

Or maybe Billy isn’t so keen on girls. When you can have almost whoever you want, the desire may not be the same.

Markjb at 10:21 am on June 25th, 2010

Think I disagree, today, only slightly, with the gist of your article Vicky.
I don’t think that the reason why people, who you might think are good matches, don’t get together is because they are being too fussy or they really want to be single. I think it really is because there was not the spark or the chemistry or the je ne sais q. And there is no way of understanding why the ‘spark’ happens or why it doesn’t. Maybe it’s just a matter of split second timing, or things having to happen by chance rather than arrangement, or it’s in the stars. On the other hand, maybe the ‘spark’ is just a bit of romantic self-delusion that rarely works out in the long run. Love is unfathomable (like the universe)... maybe that’s why marriage is like a contract, just to be sure.

Fakey Jakey at 12:41 pm on June 25th, 2010

VC, I’m sure you’re actually delighted that Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells has written to The Observer, since it demonstrates that people do read your stuff and that it’s sufficiently interesting and contentious to provoke a response. As a scientist I publish because a) it helps me get a job b) it’s how I get paid when I’ve got a job. Unlike you, however, I’ve no means of knowing if anyone’s ever read a single word of it. Ho Hum. In my next life I’ll be a telly scientist like Brian Cox….

Alpha sausage at 12:49 pm on June 25th, 2010

Oh come now Victoria! Keep up with the times. Have you not felt a change in the air? Have you not seen the lithe girlies prancing about with their late 50’s/early 60’s retro dresses? (*tut tut*, what would their mothers think!)
Poor Kate Middleton IS still awaiting the proposal in vain, but not necessarily because she wants to get married - but because it makes her tingle (forbidden tingle, anti-feminist tingle)
Are you familiar with this tingle? You may get it while watching Mad Men…
And if Prince William is any REAL man, he will be knocking back a double scotch, woodbine in hand, laughing with the big boys, while Kateywatey sits patiently by the phone, dabbing her tearful doe eyes with her favourite peach angora sweater

THIS IS YOUR DESTINY! ACCEPT IT! (also available in mauve)

RomanticRecluse at 5:59 pm on June 25th, 2010

Single people shouldn’t be stigmatised and can be happy but I think some of the advice in the Obs article is bad and based on a bad attitude.  If you treat marriage (or having children or having sex or finding a partner) as an end you are reducing people to a pawn in a selfish game or a commodity in a deal and if you do that you can have no complaints if others do the same to you.  You’re putting actions before people and yourself before others and it’s a recipe for disaster, especially if you have children (and I say that as someone with experience of a disastrous marriage).  With advice like that no wonder so many people (single or otherwise) are unhappy.

My advice is find someone that you love and try to make them happy.  If they don’t appreciate it find someone who will.

Rog at 12:04 pm on June 26th, 2010

Hey, if only it was so easy.. Good article, but I beg to differ, me thinks you’re having a bad hair day! This is all about perception. I mean I used to think you were blonde, classy, articulate, stylish and then having seen you on the TV show Miss World contest recently I realised you’re 4ft 5 and like smoking cigars and saving dolphins…

Now back to perception…

People think that marriage is an answer to everything, yet you can still be lonely whether married, single, with or without partner.. What is most important is having friends around you.

Still, with this ‘being single’ in mind, your next programme really should be a reality dating show!

Marianne at 1:01 am on June 27th, 2010

I’m one of those annoying people who moans about being single, but you’re right that if I really cared I could get someone. BUT what’s also annoying is that whenever people ask about a boyfriend, when I say I haven’t got one I might as well say I haven’t got a head. The response is either, “Well hurry up or you’ll end up alone” (I’m 21) or, “Oh, are you a lesbian?” (if it’s my mum). The latter might be fun but given how complicated we are it’d be impossible for me to be in a relationship with a woman (poor men!).

On the same day appeared in the ST. This only talked of ‘successful, attractive, single women’ enjoying being single. Er, what about the rest?! Obviously I wrote in expressing DISGUST at my exclusion from the article ;-)

David Bodycombe at 4:30 pm on June 28th, 2010

Mathematicians have worked out the best way to maximise your chances of marrying the best person you meet.

1. Estimate the number of potential suitors you are likely to get to know (e.g. through dating, work or - if in Norfolk - family ties)
2. Divide this number by 2.72. Call the result X.
3. Reject the first X suitors you meet.
4. Now keep dating until you find someone who is better than all the ones you rejected.
5. Marry them.

So, for someone with 100 potential suitors, you should reject the first 37 then pick the next best one you can find.

Incidentally, this is also how the Church of England does job interviews. After the interview, the interviewers have to either reject the candidate or give them the job without meeting the others still in the waiting room.

C Scott at 6:35 pm on June 28th, 2010

I vaguely remember studies some time ago that suggested women’s mental health suffers when they are married while men are psychologically better off married. Hmm.

RomanticRecluse at 8:09 pm on June 28th, 2010

Looking at my family I can believe that studies would find that marriage is psychologically bad for women and good for men, especially if they were looking at the bad old days.  However, if it is true why do women seem to be more interested in seeking marriage and other related things (wedding ceremonies, having children, buying houses and so on) than men are if these things are bad for them?  Why do they overestimate the value of marriage and men?

David Young at 11:09 pm on June 28th, 2010

Mr/Ms Scott (6.35pm - see above),

isn’t it more likely that women chose to marry the blokes with better mental health? And men are more likely to have their advances appreciated by slightly nutty females? Fast forward a few years and you get the observed result!

C Scott at 12:34 pm on June 29th, 2010

This article (on how “Tuesday’s emergency budget sent an uncompromising message to women who have the temerity to divorce or to remain unmarried”) pretty much covers it -

Marianne at 9:48 am on June 30th, 2010


Two reasons:
A) So we can do a wedding list
B) So we have someone to do (or help us with) our tax returns/parking

Maybe that’s just me.

RomanticRecluse at 2:18 pm on June 30th, 2010

DY, that’s not it.  The research seems to be a before-after comparison which shows that marriage tends to drive women mad.  Here’s a relevant example: Charles and Diana.

Charles wanted a wife but hadn’t found one and turned to a kind young woman he’d known for years.  She met with his family’s approval and they had a dream wedding but the marriage became a nightmare because Charles wanted Diana to get an heir and a spare and once she’d given him them he went back to Camilla.  During her marriage Diana went from happy to suicidal and only became happy again after divorce.  Her marriage was doomed from the start.

With a childhood, a family and matchmakers like that I’m not surprised William hasn’t married.  If I was him I’d have disowned Charles because of how he treated Diana.

MDW at 5:04 pm on June 30th, 2010

Single people are the kings of the world, ask a married friend to do something reckless and impulsive (the type of thing that makes you feel alive) and they can’t - they need 6 months notice to meet you for a coffee. Marriage I’m not sure is for everyone- church no thanks, the vicar type bloke no thanks, flowers, wedding bands, free wine that I’m paying for no no and no again.

Then it’s a life of compromise, less football, less seeing your friends, less drinking, weekends at her friends, less drinking, where have you been all night, what time do you call this, shall we go shopping for curtains, eating bbq’s with people you don’t know or don’t like, talking to some loser husband of wife’s friend about his sh1t new car, shopping for clothes at Next.

or it could be good ?

Mark at 1:12 pm on July 10th, 2010

I heard a researcher say on the radio that people get married when they decide that they want to rather than because they’ve met “the one”. The point wasn’t a cynical one; there’s nothing wrong about that. The thing that is wrong is the idea that there is such a thing as “the one”.

I’m something of a singleton, and occasionally feel a bit sorry for myself. In reality there are people with whom I could embark upon a relationship if I wanted to. The reason I haven’t, if I’m honest, is as Victoria says in her Guardian article, I’m “holding out for something better”.

Overall I quite like being independent. The idea of relationships appeals when I feel either a bit lonely (which isn’t all that often) or want sex. But hey that’s the trade off you get for choice.

Victoria Coren

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