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.