Marry me, or else

Sophie Rhys-Jones is weary of her Prince. She should be wary, too.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Christmas at Sandringham, by all reports, is fairly similar to Christmas elsewhere: a time when the assembled family walk on eggshells for fear of sparking another round of sulks, tantrums and lectures from Prince Philip. The royals have more space to sulk in, of course, but there is still the schedule of meals and presents, charades and church, when everyone has to grit their smiling muscles and try to pretend they'd rather be in each other's company than watching Jurassic Park. And just as the in-laws look to be calming down - Diana will be absent from the turkey blowout and Sarah will be popping in with the girls from a farm on the estate rather than popping up with whoopee cushions just as everyone settles down for a game of Scrabble - the out-laws are turning troublesome.

Reports suggest that Sophie Rhys-Jones, the refreshingly undemanding companion of the Queen's youngest, has finally got in a wax about the fact that nuptials are still conspicuously not impending. After three years dutifully walking the wannabe media impresario, having shifted her books and toothbrush into Buckingham Palace and gone freelance the better to accommodate his lifestyle, Sophie, 31, has decided that payback time is here. She is, apparently, refusing to pitch up in Norfolk unless there's a ring in the offing. She has, so those ever-voluble informed sources say, "no intention of playing happy families at Sandringham, or anywhere else for that matter, if the prince has no intention of marrying her". It's decision time for Eddie.

If the rumours are true, one can sympathise with Ms Rhys-Jones. Having got herself into this situation, she has little alternative but to plough ahead. Being a nation of hypocrites, we have for years looked to the Royal Family to embody the values we're not prepared to embody ourselves. Sophie and Edward are living in sin. The fact that there is an entire adult generation whose parents are likely to have done the same thing is irrelevant: Sophie must get married. When you're talking a literal, rather than a metaphorical prince, public opinion will only accept one outcome without showering you with gloating pity. As everyone from Perrault to Andersen has made abundantly clear, you don't live happily ever after with a prince unless you marry him, and being a prince's ex means being forever tainted with the label of the One Who Couldn't Get Her Man.

It's an interesting situation, and highlights the fact that underlying all our talk of the new liberty and independence lies the same old assumption: that men want freedom and women want commitment. While we're busy taking their jobs, buying our own dinners, hailing our own cabs and ogling strippers, men need some small hook on which to hang their battered egos. The m-word is it. New man will still solemnly state he's broken off a relationship because he wasn't ready for marriage and didn't want to waste the woman's time, as though marriage were an essential part of the female career path.

So what is Edward playing at? Is this merely another example of masculine hubris, that Daniel Day-Lewis game of convincing women they're the only one until the next comes along, or is there something deeper here? Association with Sophie has undoubtedly been advantageous, not least in quelling other questions about his sex life. Marriage would probably be even more effective. He could well, of course, be rightly chary of the c-word. Coming from a family with such a splendid record of making relationships last, he is wise to be cautious: but caution beyond a certain point can be as destructive as foolhardiness. Marriage could well be a far better career move for Edward than it would ultimately be for Ms Rhys-Jones.

The social and financial benefits of getting a binding legal contract out of the House of Windsor are obvious, but Sophie should beware. Statistics suggest that couples who have lived together before marriage have a significantly higher chance of divorce than those who haven't. This is partly because cohabitees frequently enter marriage as a last-ditch attempt to shore up a crumbling relationship, but that longed-for public statement of commitment can bring about changes that aren't always to the feminine benefit.

If Edward does Sophie the honour of giving her his name, she will have to hand over her identity. Royal girlfriends can have careers: Fergie had quite a nice one until she donned her ring; no soaring heights, perhaps, but respectable for a half-educated Sloane. All her subsequent endeavours have been treated as a bit of a joke. The Princess of Wales was never going to be anything much, but her life has been entirely defined by her relationship with her husband since she took the royal shilling. And think of this, Sophie. If the prospect of Christmas at Sandringham chills your bones while other options are still open to you, imagine what it's going to be like when you're committed to it for goodn