Meghan Markle has spent the past week back in Kensington Palace, shacked up with her boyfriend Prince Harry.
They went for dinner at the private member’s club Soho House last weekend, and, significantly, allowed themselves to be photographed together for the first time leaving the club.
In other signs of domestic bliss, Meghan was spotted buying flowers for the house, and the couple are believed to be planning another vacation together after flying off to see the Northern lights in Scandinavia in the New Year.
Unsurprisingly, given the dizzying pace of developments in Harry’s love life, many are speculating that an engagement could be on the cards—but others caution that such talk is highly premature.
Putting a precise timeline on affairs of the heart—especially where Harry is concerned—may be construed by some as a fool’s errand, but there are certain waymarkers along the road that will need to be passed, and will give opportunities to divine if the relationship is progressing towards marriage.
Friends of Harry, 32, do believe that he is as serious about Meghan, 35, as he has ever been about anyone, he’s equally unlikely to rush into anything.
William is Harry’s most trusted advisor, and he is likely to be counseling his little brother to proceed slowly and cautiously.
He credits the success of his own marriage in large part to the fact that he and Kate lived together for several years—at St. Andrew’s University and then in London—before getting engaged.
While such a lengthy period of cohabitation would not be practical for Harry and Meghan, it is unlikely that they would announce an engagement without living together for several months first.
If Harry and Meghan are seen to be spending as much time as possible together for the rest of this month and next—and take another trip abroad—observers will assume that a wedding is still in play.
But before that could happen, Harry would probably feel it politic to introduce his girlfriend to the queen (they have already met each other’s parents) who will ultimately have to sign off on the marriage (not that there would be any question of her thwarting Harry’s desires).
Such a meeting would not be publicly announced, but it’s a fair bet that the news would be leaked out.
The next key date to watch is April 5, when Meghan is due back at work in Toronto to start filming the next series of Suits.
If the relationship does seem like it is going to go to the next level, Meghan will be unlikely to carry on filming the show.
To continue a career as an actress would create impossible tensions and leave her exposed to press criticism; the Middletons get accused of “cashing in” by the Daily Mail when one of the thousands of lines they stock on their website Party Pieces contains so much as a reference to a “little Prince” or a “tiny Princess,” so one can only imagine how the press might criticize Meghan’s every pay raise or new starring role. (This seems sexist and absurd, of course—why shouldn’t she be allowed to continue doing what she loves to do?)
If Meghan does go back to work to film the next series of Suits, therefore, one would have to assume that the possibility and timeframe of marriage were receding.
After that, Kate’s sister Pippa’s big day will be the focal point. Pippa is marrying her fiancé James Mathews on May 20, and it is inconceivable that Meghan would not be there if the relationship is still firing on all cylinders.
Pippa and Harry get on extremely well—although rumors of a romance have never had a shred of truth—and the Middletons would be thrilled to have Harry and Meghan there.
Making a relationship work is challenging enough for anyone. For Meghan and Harry it’s going to be all the more difficult, obliged to conduct so much of their lives under public scrutiny.
An engagement announcement—if it does happen—may well be a way off, but it may happen sooner than anyone expects.
Don’t bet against it; Harry, after all, has a mighty talent for surprise.