Princess Diana and the Future of Love

Princess Diana and the Future of Love

Princess Diana’s death marked the end of true love and the start of a new love with shared growth.

On July 29, 1981, Diana Spencer married Charles, Prince of Wales, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. (1) It was a fabulous ceremony and, like many women around the world, I saw it as the union of a beautiful, somewhat shy princess and the man destined to someday become king. It seemed like true love was being acted out on television sets all over the world.
It’s not that I don’t get true love. I grew up with those fairytales too. The horse-drawn carriage, the dainty glass slippers and a handsome, ever-so-caring prince who fulfills a princess’s every need. As a child I imagined I too would fall in love, get married and live in bliss, happily ever after.
Waking up to Reality
After the wedding Charles and Diana had two beautiful sons, William and Harry. Diana was completely devoted to them and from the outside everything seemed perfect. Yet, just 15 years later on August, 28, 1996, they divorced. (2)
If it was true love why did they divorce? First of all, they had very different social lives. Diana liked to party and Charles preferred intellectual gatherings. She began to promote charities for those who were injured by landmines and later for victims of AIDS and leprosy. (3) At the time her willingness to touch and sit with those suffering from AIDS shocked the more traditional.
It was surprising how quickly Diana adjusted to the constant presence of the press and learned how to handle the media. Her willingness to connect with ordinary people and those who were suffering earned her the unofficial title, “The People’s Princess.” (4) Meanwhile Charles seemed to resent her growing celebrity.
As the marriage broke down, the tabloids were filed with scandalous gossip. We learned that Charles had a mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, before the marriage and resumed his affair in 1986 after the marriage had broken down. (5) Later Diana had an affair with Major James Hewett, the family’s former riding instructor. (6) How did it all go so wrong?
They could have found a way to work through their differences, but apparently they lacked the skills to do that. Those who believe in true love would assume that the royal couple weren’t really meant for each other from the beginning and that was the source of their marriage problems. To understand why it failed we have to dig deeper into the idea of true love.
The End of True Love
In what I call “the true love myth,” there is a wonderful person just waiting somewhere for you. Once you find each other all will be well. You both know what you are supposed to do in life and you are perfect for each other.
It may seem that you have found true love and everything is perfect, but how do you deal with the inevitable challenges of life—or the reality of conflict? Each one of us is unique, both in who we are as a person as well as in our experience growing up. As unique individuals, couples need to learn to adjust to each other, to accommodate another person in their world. Unfortunately, the true love myth doesn’t have any room for change and growth. It seems like you’re either perfect or you’re destined to fail.
Falling in Love vs. Real Life
The skills that are needed in dating are very different from the skills that are needed to maintain a long-term relationship. In dating you are both showing off your best sides. Soon after you start living together, you have to deal with real life and the changes in the world. One of the biggest changes is that the majority of women work outside the relationship and about 37% of married women earn more than their partner. (7)
The old roles of the past no longer serve us. Too many couples confronted with these challenges decide, “This person is not my true love,” and they break up and try to find somebody new and better.
Sadly, they often do so only to be disappointed again. I believe that blind belief in true love is part of the reason why people run into the same relationship and marriage problems again and again. According to Paul Amato, the Arnold and Bette Hoffman Emeritus Professor of Family Sociology and Demography at the University of Pennsylvania, the divorce plus permanent separation rate still hovers around 50%. (8)
A new model is emerging in which couples form a lasting, loving partnership in which the partners support each other and grow together. Women are getting more realistic and taking better care of themselves.
One trend is that the median age of first marriage for women is going up. Right now in the United States it stands at 27 years old for women. (9) They want to get established in a career before making a stronger commitment. In case things go badly, they can still support themselves.
The Acid Test
In my experience women pay a lot more attention to the quality of a relationship than men do. In jewelry, the acid test is used to tell the difference between gold and base metal. If there is one piece of advice I have for women before entering a marriage or committed live-in relationship, it is this:
Don’t say to yourself, “Once we are living together, I can change him.” You might be able to get him to wear better clothes, but you aren’t going to change him on a deeper level. If he can’t listen to you during an argument or disagreement, drinks too much or shoves you around, things will only get worse when you live together.
If you can take off the rose-colored glasses of being in-love, see him as he is and still find him likeable and loveable, then there is a good chance that the two of you can make it in a committed relationship. If you still feel that he needs to make major changes, it may be time to move on.
When dating, what you are really looking for are signs that the two of you can work through your differences. Instead of just going along with what he wants, ask for something else and see how the two of you handle it. What you are looking for is not perfection, but the ability to grow together.
The new relationship is evolving beyond ‘true love’ as couples explore ways of handling women’s growing economic power. Together you can create and grow your love as the two of you pursue your shared and individual goals. We already know no one is perfect, but through time we can grow as people and deepen our love. Then you may find that your relationship is even more wonderful and fulfilling than any of the fantasies.
1. “International Special Report: Princess Diana, 1961-1997.” The Washington Post. January 30, 1999.
2. “Timeline: Diana, Princess of Wales.” BBC News. July 5, 2004.
3. “Diana: The Legacy”. Huffington Post. August 31, 2012.
4. Beaumont, Gabrielle. Diana: The People's Princess. (Film) (1998).
5. “Timeline: Charles and Camilla’s Romance”. BBC. April 6. 2005.
6. Ipsen, Erik. “’Kiss and Tell’ Officer Draws Heaps of Scorn”. The New York Times. October 5, 1994.
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Wives who earn more than their Husbands”. 1987-2014.
8. Luscombe, Belinda. “Are Marriage Statistics Divorced from Reality?” Time Magazine. May 24, 2010.
9. “Historical Marital Status Tables.” United States Census Bureau. November, 2016. Table MS-2. Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present.

Dr. Karen Gless is a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice who has developed her own approach to helping couples have a successful and loving relationship. For those with sexual and intimacy problems she created the “Pure Pleasure System” - learn more at Sex Therapy Doctor.com. For ways to increase love, get close or handle conflict visit DrKarenGless.com