Rethinking Marriage as Fairy Tale

Last weekend I learned there is a channel on my cable network called Wedding Central. Really. I’m not kidding. I happened on it while trying to find a decorating show to amuse me as a backdrop to some household chores.

But with clicker in hand, I came across a show on this channel called How to Marry a Prince and suddenly my annoyance at the hoopla surrounding the upcoming royal wedding became crystal clear. Already pondering a Game Plan column on the topic, I stopped and watched as the stories of Diana and Charles and Sarah and Andrew unfolded -- first the weddings, then the divorces.

How very heartwarming. By all means, let’s bottle that formula. Who wouldn’t want to learn the secrets to staging a wildly extravagant party, billed as fairy tale, only to dissolve into a heaping mess of loveless bitterness?

Sign me up, and quickly.

Allow me to back pedal a bit. I wish Prince William and his bride-to-be, Kate Middleton, nothing but the best of what a marriage can be. But the key word in that statement is “marriage” as opposed to “wedding.” The planning and building of a life, as opposed to the planning and building of a keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ event that is over in a flash and leaves in its wake the stark reality of two people legally joined for the long haul.

The show about the royals was at least informative and historical. What followed was a train wreck of a reality show called How to Be a Princess. According to the official Web site, “The winner will claim a British title, a dance with a real European prince and $50,000 cash.” It is hosted by Yugoslavian royal and actress Catherine Oxenberg and she is assisted by Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell.

“Becoming a princess is a process, one that requires hard work, the will to succeed, an ability to take direction and often times, intense criticism,” Burrell says. “This gives us the chance to bring the My Fair Lady dream to life and make an immense contribution to these young women – one that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

Wasn’t this the same Paul Burrell who just one time slot earlier in talking about Diana said that a princess is just a “pawn” on her wedding day? Given that sentiment, the immense contribution he can make to their lives might be to let them meet someone organically in an environment to which they’re better suited.

For example, somewhere out there is a guy who will appreciate Jasmine’s tongue and lip piercings, but methinks it’s not someone with royal lineage. And certainly Kirsten can find a “pleaser” sort who would not be fazed when she melts down because she doesn’t have enough closet space in an $80 million house (yes, this happened on the show). Then she’d be prime material for Bridezillas or even the latest affront to grace television, Bridalplasty. This is where 12 newly engaged women compete for plastic surgery procedures from a wish list they’ve created (i.e., gum reduction, second toe shortening). The winner is away from her fiancé for four months and the ‘reveal’ happens on their wedding day.

“And then she’ll hear the words every woman longs to hear,” said Stephen Colbert in a bit on The Colbert Report. “I do … not recognize you.”

How sad that marriage -- a beautiful, meaningful institution -- has been given short shrift in the American media in favor of weddings and that it is overwhelmingly my own gender’s priorities that are out of whack. And advertisers do what they must to appeal to the demographic.

“When does a wedding become a fairy tale?” asks the Sandals resort commercial.

I enjoy the fairy tale aspects of life as much as the next person. The headiness of a relationship having a magical quality that feels outsized. So lovely and exhilarating. But what happens when life intervenes and happily ever after isn’t so smooth? Camilla Parker-Bowles might know a thing or two about that. She found a prince who loved her for her and vice versa. So her best day was probably not July 29, 1981, when her man walked down the aisle with Diana.

Camilla’s story, in fact, may help us redefine fairy tale as sustaining, loving in a way that includes warts, even ‘meant to be’ without the idealizing. That is the real love story in modern Britain’s royal family and one which hopefully provides a striking lesson for Prince William as experienced by his father. I will likely tune in for the royal wedding in the spring and enjoy the pageantry, but  I’ll be holding out hope that the groom understands it boils down to heart, not image.

Maybe somebody can create a channel for that.