On April 29, the charming Kate Middleton will marry her great love Prince William — or Big Willie, as she has been known to call him.
It has been eight long years of courtship since the two first met at the University of St. Andrews, and "Waity Katie," at the ripe age of 29, has got her man.
That unfortunate nickname conjures up an image of Kate pining by the phone for nearly a decade while William played polo, ignored her and flirted with barmaids. But that’s not the case. In fact, their arc of love and late marriage mirrors the dating patterns of most young lovers in North America.
The average age for marriage has been climbing for years. According to Statistics Canada, the average age of a bride in Canada in 1979 was 25.3; in 1999, it was 30.8; in 2004, it was 32.4.
"All that waiting means they will probably have a chance of success," says Dr. John Witte, professor of law and religion at Emory University in Atlanta.
"I see this trend of delaying marriage as a positive one," Witte adds. "People are taking the institution more seriously and not marrying out of desperation, but of considered choice. People are marrying with eyes wide open."
It seems true in Kate and William’s case — 10 years is plenty of time to discover whether your husband-to-be has an unfortunate porn habit or a collection of strange dolls. Kate and Wills met at St. Andrews in the fall of 2001; when William missed an art history class for some royal engagement, Kate would catch him up over a pint in the dining hall, according to Katie Nicholl in her amusing book The Making of a Royal Romance. Things remained chaste until the now-infamous dress affair: when Kate wore slinky underpants under a see-through garment (which has since been auctioned for £65,000 pounds), William supposedly told a friend, "Kate looks hot." A royal love story began.
Over the next several years, the couple shared a student apartment in Scotland, traveled to exotic locales like Balmoral Castle or the island of Mustique, and, let’s not mince words, were probably sleeping together. Of course, this didn’t tarnish Kate’s chances at a ring; the stigma of premarital sex has long passed, even in upper-crust WASP England.
"Girls nowadays are free to have sex from the age of 16, while my generation weren't allowed to have sex until they were married," Una-Mary Parker, the royal watcher and ex-Tatler columnist, reminded me in an email.
"My friends and I were all married by the age of 21," adds Parker. "This was in 1951, when truly if one had sex before marriage, it was a sin. Granny said, ‘Men talk,’ and it got around, and then no decent man would want to marry ‘used goods.’"
Kate and William broke up, once, and very publicly in 2007, and their stiff backs and long faces at a Cheltenham horse match gave them away. But then just as quickly, they seemed to have reunited. After that, it was a series of photo-ops at friends’ weddings, Kate’s hats got more and more feathered, there was a lot of when-will-they? and they finally got engaged.
It may not be what the royals are used to, but it’s the way of the world now. Diana and Charles had only been dating for a year; she was allegedly a "virgin bride" (the phrase alone is cringe-worthy, let alone the concept) and look at what a happy story that was. Kate and William’s less conventional approach to love and marriage may have shocked the Queen, but it bodes well for their marital health.
"All the studies show that marriages later in life, when both partners have education and some measure of independence, last longer than when the partners are young and uneducated," says Elizabeth Abbott, author of A History of Marriage. "Kate and William are part of a larger pattern."
In many ways, they are a prototype for what marriage may be for professional couples going forward in the western world. Think of Kate and Will as the anti-Diana and Charles. And that’s a good thing.