I thought marriage was supposed to be dead in the United States. So what’s up with the lovefest over the Royal Wedding?
After all, the marriage rate is barely at 50%, down from 72% in 1960. Since all 50 states adopted no-fault divorce, the divorce rate skyrocketed, too. It’s now at 40-50%, with approximately one million divorces each year. Gray divorce has also doubled since the 1990s, and tripling for those over 65. More people are cohabitating and bringing up children outside marriage today more than at any other time in history. According to the latest U.S. Census numbers, 45.2% or 110.6 million individuals are unmarried. We write books extolling the single life and single parenting; we sneer at marriage and conventionality.
So again, why the very loud and public disavowal of marriage and family on any other day of the week, and the sudden break in protocol by millions of us to celebrate the Royal Wedding?
When I signed into social media the day of the wedding, I witnessed women of all political stripes cooing about “the dress!” Others were moved by the music. Men and women of all faiths and none uttered successive amens after Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered his wedding sermon. Still others were caught up in the romance, particularly the way Prince Charming looked over at his dark-haired Cinderella from the wrong side of the tracks.
Certainly we Americans are fascinated by celebrities, especially royals. We love underdogs, too, and of course many of us were also heartened by the apparent nod to racial tolerance.
But I think our fascination with the Royal Wedding goes far deeper than that. Deep down I believe we’re inherently optimistic and drawn to love and marriage, as corny as that sounds. And when confronted by its raw power, we forget ourselves and drop our guard, allowing our hearts to take over.
According to a 2017 poll conducted by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair, 9 out of 10 Americans admitted they were inspired by couples who had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Seventy-three percent of those polled acknowledged that they preferred fairy-tale endings that resulted in marriage rather than affairs ending in break-ups. Only 20% of those surveyed thought marriage had little purpose today, with the overwhelming majority viewing the main purpose of marriage either as a sign of commitment or the best environment in which to raise children.
I have more reasons than many people to be jaded about marriage, and yet I believe in marriage as much as I ever did. In 2002, my husband had an affair and left me after 20 years of marriage. I spent nearly six years in family court. It smacked of injustice to be accused of things I hadn’t done in order to be pressured into a divorce I didn’t want. But there was also another, more important reason why I opposed the divorce lawsuit brought against me. As Bishop Curry so eloquently expressed it in his address, I still believed in the “power of love” and hoped it would eventually win out. I found solace, too, in the challenge to see beyond my husband’s betrayal and straight to the heart of the man I’d married and whose children I’d borne. So I wanted to save my marriage, even though I wasn’t successful.
Sadly once our Royal Weddings and 9/11s are over in America, many of us go back to the same old personas, afraid to open our hearts in public. Afraid of being politically incorrect and fearful of criticism and lost opportunities, we view vulnerability as a sign of weakness.
“Stop being Don Quixote!” my lawyer chastised years ago when I fought my divorce. Others weren’t nearly so tender in their terminology toward me when I wrote about trying to save my marriage. Desperate pathetic woman, complete idiot, foolish, narcissistic, mentally unstable, selfish, delusional: Those were some of the names I was called.
Perhaps this explanation of our brief enchantment over the marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle is too simplistic, too sentimental, or too naïve. But maybe it’s also true. And if it is, why not drop our pretense for good and allow ourselves to permanently picture the world the way we want it to be. Who knows what might change if we did.