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Some Thoughts on Our Emotional Relationship with Royal Weddings

I'm not crying, you're crying

royal wedding

Royal weddings are like Halley’s Comet. Both are massive, sparkly endeavors that take place maybe once or twice in a lifetime, bringing out massive crowds to witness the rarity and majesty of the event. But why do we do it? What compels us to stay up late or wake up at an ungodly hour to witness these rare occurrences? We don’t know these people/astronomical events. We have zero stakes in this game. So what does it matter?

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In the July of 1981, my mother, then seven months pregnant with my older sister, threw a royal wedding party. She made finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and watched Prince Charles marry Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She and her friends marveled at the royal fashions, at Diana’s dress, at the pomp and circumstance that surrounds a royal wedding. My mother, a spirited blonde like Diana, had just married her husband, a British man named Charles, and the parallels were the subject of much humor among their friends.

Many years later, Diana and Charles’ divorce coincided with my parents’ own split. My mother would cut out pictures of Diana, thriving in her singlehood, surrounded by celebrity friends, and tape them to fridge in a 90’s version of a vision board. If Diana could get through it and come out the other side with class and spirit intact, maybe she could too. I cannot remember a time when our coffee table didn’t have at least two issues of a magazine showing a newly liberated Diana with a smile on her face. She had survived and everyone still adored her.

Princess Diana on the Cover of Vanity Fair

(Diana’s Vanity Fair profile with photos by Mario Testino, published a month before her death.)

Sixteen years after the wedding, she would sit beside me and my sister, watching Diana’s funeral and weeping as though she lost someone she knew. We were all crying, as those two bereft sons marched along in the seemingly endless funeral procession. I vividly remember walking through the hallways at school in the weeks after, where it was not uncommon to see another female classmate wiping tears from her eyes as Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” played in near constant rotation on the radio.

We live an increasingly insulated life: the rise of technology and the fall of communal spaces have led us to a lonely precipice. Thanks to the internet and social media, we’ve never been so connected to one another on a global scale. We’ve also never felt so lonely or isolated. Often it is a great tragedy, a world-shaking event that stirs us out of our digital coma and inspires us to seek human connection. Grief needs community, needs witnesses.

So rarely do we get to come together in moments of joy, to marvel in awe at something beautiful and seemingly untouchable. Royal weddings, like comets or other rare phenomena, make us stop for a moment in a unified gaze. In the violent, chaotic, relentless world we live in, we are perpetually bereft of good news. Events like the royal wedding capture our imagination so fiercely because they appeal to dreamers inside us: the explorers, the astronauts, the princes and princesses that we spend our childhood play-acting as before the harsh realities of life sink their claws into us. There will be dozens of think pieces, of take-downs and analyses of the royal wedding this weekend and in the weeks to come. But let us not discount the wonder, the pure excitement of witnessing something otherworldly and magical together as a global community, our eyes glued to our screens and to the stars.

(image: Ben Birchall, WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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