Thursday 15 November 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: Why we should all learn to follow our heart

The marriage of Charles and Diana was an unmitigated disaster

Ciara Kelly

It seems the British royals have learnt from their mistakes. Prince Harry has become engaged to American actress Meghan Markle. And everyone from the Queen down is apparently delighted. Meghan isn't your traditional royal bride. She's not aristocratic, in fact, some throwback relative was a servant in Windsor Castle. She's divorced, as are her parents. She's older than Harry, comes from humble beginnings, is of mixed race, and has appeared in fairly racy scenes in the TV drama Suits. The kind of things that a generation ago would rule her out as a suitable fiancee for an heir to the throne.

Indeed, Prince Andrew, Harry's uncle, went out with a beautiful dark-haired actress back in his day, Koo Stark, and the royal family was not amused. She was dispatched and he married and subsequently divorced the more Windsor-friendly Sarah Ferguson. Harry's father Charles had a lifelong love affair with Camilla Parker Bowles that began before his relationship with Diana Spencer, continued during it and survived long after it. Charles famously - when asked at his own engagement announcement if he and Lady Di were in love - replied with "whatever that means". The marriage of Charles and Di was an unmitigated disaster with Diana describing in one interview how there were three people in her marriage. And she suffered from bulimia throughout the relationship, and only really blossomed after she was divorced.

Charles wasn't allowed to have an official relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles until long after his relationship with Diana was over - despite his clear devotion to Camilla since his youth. Which probably resulted in his, Camilla's and Diana's lives all being messed up at the altar of royal etiquette.

Harry and Meghan, on the other hand - if one can tell anything from body language - seem completely smitten with each other. Unlike the formal awkwardness of Charles and Di in the same circumstances, this newly-engaged pair seem close, comfortable and loving. And even though there are clearly no guarantees in any relationship and no doubt they have some challenges ahead, it looks like their relationship is based on an actual affection for each other as opposed to her fitting some set of criteria decreed by the family business.

And why am I talking about this at all? Well, apart from the fact that people appear to be inordinately interested in what the royal lot get up to, I happen to find the human heart quite fascinating - and the truth still remains, it wants what it wants.

In the past, duty, societal or family expectations, children or perhaps just conformity was enough to keep us in relationships that didn't make us happy. At best, people often lived lives of repressed emotion or at worst, lives of quiet despair. But over time, what we were willing to put up with, changed. People embraced the idea that life is short and perhaps they had a right to be happy. Or if not a right, they just decided they had a choice. It's why people started to come out as gay. It's why people started to get divorced.

There's always been an argument that people following their hearts were going to cause the unravelling of the fabric of society but the truth is that people living a lie or living a life that made them miserable was never a great recipe for stability anyway. And in the long run, it probably only resulted in pain for them and those around them in a way that perhaps the more honest and maybe more selfish but ultimately more sustainable life-path didn't.

All life choices are a kind of social experiment and it remains to be seen how new societal mores will affect our society down the line. But it seems to me that institutions like the monarchy moving forward and recognising that people's lives were damaged by forced unions in the same way that any of our lives would be, is only a good thing. Finding someone to spend your life with, choosing what makes you happy - these are part of our fundamental drive as human beings. Attempting to subvert your heart's desire simply doesn't work. Good luck to the pair of them. Let's hope they won't need it.


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