11.18.10

Waity Katie's Marriage Gamble

Prince William's bride was dubbed "Waity Katie" for waiting so long for him to propose, but it's not just a royal's problem. Hannah Seligson on the curse of matrimony's new timetable.

Prince William's bride was dubbed "Waity Katie" for waiting so long for him to propose, but it's not just a royal's problem. Hannah Seligson on the curse of matrimony's new timetable. Plus, read all of our William & Kate coverage, and see pictures of the couple through the years.

Now that Prince William and Kate Middleton have announced their engagement, England can breathe a sigh of relief, reassured that their future king isn’t some cad who strung his girlfriend along for eight years but never put a ring on it.

Kate can exhale, too. Finally, after close to a decade, those snarky British tabloids will stop calling her “Waity Katie.” But why did Kate get all the scrutiny? Why wasn’t it “Waffling Will?” Maybe the waiting was hard for her. “Will he ever pop the question? When do I get my tiara?” Or maybe she was the one saying, “Will, darling, I want some time on my own before I take on a suffocating number of royal duties, give up my privacy entirely, and become the new spokesmodel for the monarchy.” Wherever the truth lies—and it’s probably somewhere in the middle—plenty of waiting was involved, a situation that’s characteristic of many couples today.

No one wants to give ultimatums, but no one wants to waste years, either.

More couples than ever are playing the waiting game, a game that, for women, is something of a gamble. Marry too early and your career—and your marriage—could suffer. Wait too long and it becomes tougher to have kids (not to mention find another husband if your boyfriend jumps ship). It’s as if women are trying to hit that “sweet spot,” the perfect age at which to tie the knot. And when their boyfriends can’t settle on a wedding date, that sweet spot becomes a moving target.

The median age for a first marriage is the highest it’s ever been in the United States, and couples are dating for longer periods of time. No one wants to give ultimatums, but no one wants to waste years, either. Women used to offer up their virginity; now it’s their time that is the most precious conjugal commodity of the 21st century. How long should you wait? And when does waiting become foolish?

“I think there is a myth about the free, modern woman who is not bound by any timetable,” said Michelle Cove, author of Seeking Happily Ever After: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind ( and Finding Lasting Love Along the Way), a self-help book based on three years of research and interviews from the documentary of the same title. “If you want to have babies the old-fashioned way, you have to think about time.”

Doing life math is scary, however. If fertility starts to decline in your thirties, as the experts say, that can add the anxiety of the ticking clock when waiting for a guy to propose in your twenties.

“You want to sneak in marriage at just this right moment, when you can still focus on your career without kids for a few years, but not too late that your fertility window is closing,” said Rebecca Thorman, 27, director of communications for Alice.com, who’s been dating her boyfriend Ryan Healy, 27, the co-founder and COO of Brazen Careerist, for two years.

Gallery: William and Kate’s Ups and Downs

brown-prince-william-kate-gallery-launch

William and Kate: Photos and More NewsSure, there are volumes of cautionary tales about “the woman who waited too long,” only to end up living alone with her nine cats, but according to the data, there is merit to waiting. Law professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone looked at the five states with the lowest and highest median ages at marriage and found that marrying younger puts people at greater risk for divorce. It’s common sense: Younger couples are more likely to be less financially secure and less emotionally mature—two risk factors that can translate into matrimonial kryptonite.

Those stats, however, don’t change the reality that the waiting period is a complicated gray zone between dating and marriage, and even in 2010, the gender politics of waiting are more loaded for women. A 2005 poll found that 55 percent of women aged 18 to 24, compared to only 42 percent of men, wanted to be married in the next five years. And there you have the marital-readiness gap—women are prepared to get married earlier than men—and the culprit of the waiting game.

William’s mum, Princess Di, lest we forget, was 20 when she married 32-year-old Prince Charles.

Cindy (not her real name) and her boyfriend, like Kate and William, are both 28. Cindy has been dating her boyfriend for four years and living with him for the past two. “Last summer I found myself upset that I hadn’t been proposed to, but I didn’t want to become one of those nagging women who put pressure on him.” Her boyfriend, whom she describes as “a modern man who reads feminist blogs,” is waiting until he feels settled and secure in his career before he proposes. They’ve discussed their future and marriage, down to where they’ll have the wedding, so it’s not like they’re anticipating different things, but Cindy is still waiting for the formal proposal. “It’s really important for me to be married,” she said.

For Cindy, waiting is punctuated by periods of wistfulness, but this is not her grandmother’s relationship. Grandma gave her husband an ultimatum. “I know I’m not in some demo phase of being tried out. We are waiting for good reasons.”

Sometimes those good reasons elude her, turning waiting into a bitter cocktail of anxiety, unease, and a dash of shame. “I was wondering if Kate [Middleton] ever felt that it was embarrassing that she was waiting to be proposed to,” said Cindy. “I know they had probably talked about the decision to get married, but the world doesn’t see or hear those conversations.”

All we see is a ring-less finger, despite the fact that three years earlier, while on vacation, William and Kate became “engaged to be engaged.” Similarly, Thorman says she and Ryan have a pact that they’ll be married before she turns 30. As for right now, though, “I’d feel better if we were engaged,” she said.

As to whether this means anything to her boyfriend, Cindy says he feels like “a bastard” for putting her in relationship purgatory. Kate, of course, couldn’t utter a word about what this experience was like for her. And why would she? Saying the word “toilet” in front of the queen set off the “toiletgate” scandal.

What we might assume is that for commoners and royalty alike, the waiting period can be grueling, and as retro as it sounds, a tad ego crushing, even if you are waiting for your prince, literally.

It’s the new, perhaps twisted, fairytale ending.

Hannah Seligson is a journalist. Her book, A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It’s Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door, which spotlights and uncovers a major trend in dating today, the long-term unmarried relationship, was published by Da Capo Press on Jan. 15.