There is something meditative about a marriage. If you’re about to attend your own wedding, you may well be reflecting on what it means to promise a person to do your best by them forever, and how it’s even legal to charge £20 + VAT to hire out a fairly battered looking chair for eight hours, and to charge a further £6 to cover the chair up and prevent law suits and bum splinters. But even if you’re just a guest, or a member of the wedding party, you might start wondering about your own life, the promises you have made, and your romantic hopes and fears.
Princess Eugenie is now married to Jack Brooksbank, and the nation – well, certain parts of the nation – remains concerned about her big sister Princess Beatrice, 30 and still single. The good news is that I haven’t read a single piece of news coverage in which Beatrice has been referred to as a spinster, not one right wing columnist has suggested that she be tried as witch and dunked in a well, and it hasn’t even been suggested that she choose a sexier sort of giant hat in order to ‘get her man.' Based on the way that single women have been treated by the media for the past ten thousand years, this indicates that we have made some progress.
In fact, many of the reports have focused on the closeness between the sisters, and the significant role Beatrice played in the ceremony. She gave a reading from The Great Gatsby, in which narrator Nick Caraway describes Jay Gatsby’s smile, and how it felt to meet him for the first time. ‘I’d got a strong impression he was picking his words with care.’ Before the wedding, Eugenie gave an interview in which she picked her words with care, describing how she felt about Beatrice. ‘She’s my big sissy. I’ve always looked up to Beatrice. I’ve wanted to be Beatrice at times.’
It’s bittersweet to watch the woman who has always looked up to you walking down the aisle, to her new life. There are two conflicting areas of tension. The first is that as feminists, we know it is always better to be alone than badly accompanied, that it is far too better to be single than to be married to the wrong person, that as life goals go, marriage is a pretty arbitrary one and it is reductive to talk about any pain Beatrice might be feeling because she envies her younger sister as she walks down the aisle.
However, I have been that big sister, and I know it isn’t that simple. When my little sister Grace called me to tell me she was getting married, I was unhappily single and staring at the unsolicited image of a grubby penis, sent via a dating app. While Grace planned her happy day, tasted canapes and revealed a surprising number of strong opinions on marquees, I was dumped twice. By the same man.
It’s difficult in different ways. Firstly, when your sister is completely absorbed in planning one of the most serious and complicated days of her life, you can’t keep crying on her shoulder about your terrible love life. It is not an appropriate time to complain about being the Wile.E.Cyote of dating and how unfair it is that you keep doing the same stupid thing, and having a love anvil dropped on your head. Also, being broken hearted made me obsessed with what I didn’t have. I felt like a failure next to Grace, and I would have been much calmer and saner for her if I’d been happily single for a while.
I was very lucky, because I was only interrogated and promised it would be ‘my turn next’ by a few of my more old fashioned aunties and uncles. Princess Beatrice has to hear it from millions of strangers. As much as the newspapers have managed to restrain themselves, the ITV coverage of the wedding still noted, as Beatrice walked into the chapel with her mother Sarah Ferguson, that she'd been through a 'bad break up' a few years previously, and that as the oldest, everyone had expected Beatrice to get married first.
It’s very hard to make peace with your own emotions when they are constantly being interrupted by a chorus of well meaning, irritating voices. Even her mother wrote a sweet, if slightly embarrassing open letter to Jack and Eugenie, which was published in Hello magazine, as well as flooding her social media with gushing posts celebrating the couple. I don’t think there’s a sibling in the land who wouldn’t feel slightly left out, even if they were cringing slightly.
When a marriage happens within your family, it makes you start to wonder about your role within it. As the eldest, I’d always been the first to reach life’s major landmarks – taking my GCSEs, getting a part time job, going to university and getting grounded after being fetched home from the local Wetherspoons, having consumed two and a half pitchers of Blue Lagoon. Growing up, I took it for granted that I would always be first. That was the natural order of things. Suddenly, it seemed as though Grace had overtaken me within the family, and I started to feel as though I was losing my identity. More significantly, I knew my role in Grace’s life was about to change. She had always gone to me for help and advice – admittedly, the advice was mostly moisturiser based – but now that she had a husband, she would always reach out to him first. Surely our relationship would suffer?
Grace has now been married for six years. Unexpectedly, I feel closer to her, and my whole family, than ever. Now that she has a life and a family of her own I can’t take her role in my life for granted any more. I have to keep choosing her and making time for her. Having the ‘natural order’ disrupted has meant that I’ve learned to let go, and I’ve stopped putting so much pressure on myself to constantly come first. I met my husband a couple of months before her wedding, and I think it’s because of the brilliant life advice Grace gave me. She described her husband as ‘the kindest man I’ve ever met’, and so that’s who I looked for. I’ve never been happier.
Princess Beatrice broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years, Dave Clark, in 2016, and while she’s dated since, it hasn’t been reported that she has been in a serious relationship. I often think that the long term couples that break up when people are in their twenties and thirties are in ‘Catchphrase relationships’ – they’re good, but they’re not right. When Grace got married, most of my life was good, but not right. Grace showed me what was possible if I trusted my instincts and treated myself a bit better – not just in love, but in my career and friendships too. I wonder whether this is how Beatrice feels about her ex – and I hope that as Eugenie’s maid of honour, she will look at her sister and feel sure that in love and in life, she’s exactly where she needs to be right now.