For the wise women donning pre-dawn tiaras, a puzzling epidemic of amnesia

Petula Dvorak
Columnist April 28, 2011

Ladies, please don’t go there.

No 4 a.m. watch parties in jammies and tiaras. No scones, no cucumber sandwiches. No swooning.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Aren’t we all just a little too smart, sage and savvy to get swept up in the hype and the unreasonable hope of the royal wedding?

Remember, we’ve been down this gilded road before.

Our moms woke us up in the early morning hours of a July day in 1981 to see Princess Diana sweep down the aisle, and those prairie-blouse sleeves of ivory silk taffeta took our breath away.

That year, the average age of an American bride was 22 — right around the corner for the average 10-year-old.

We were riding that Cinderella and happily-forever-after kick, back when princess obsession was fueled by stories you read at night or a movie you saw at the theater. Once.

There was no Princess Bracket, such as the one The Post offered this week, to rank your favorite tiara-wearing gal. Nor was there a princess racket, the endless merchandising of mini-manicures, princess parties, ice shows, cruises, endless DVDs and enough pink tulle to swallow your daughter’s brain.

No, there were wisps of the everlasting fairy tale dream, ushered along by our own mother’s lingering obsession with Princess Grace, perhaps.

It was simply sweet.

We were too young, back then, to see the foreboding of tragedy when the engaged couple answered reporters’ questions on whether they’re in love.

“Of course,” Diana said.

“Whatever ‘in love’ means,” Charles snapped back.

Uh-oh.

After their kids came the affairs. And the bulimia. And the depression.

There was the whole “Squidgy” period.

Diana became our cautionary tale.

As women watched the horror show of that fantasy marriage unfold, they were waiting longer to get married, entering college at ever-increasing rates and beginning to dominate the nation’s workforce.

By the time Diana and Charles separated, in 1992, the average age of American women when they walked down the aisle was 24. The riveting women in sequins we watched on TV were Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. And the big procession that captured America’s attention was O.J. in that white Bronco.

No thanks. We didn’t need a royal fantasy.

When Diana and Charles formally divorced, in 1996, a book called Feminist Fairy Tales was published, Alanis Morisette sang about “Ironic” things in weddings and chardonnay, and the average age that women married edged closer to 25.

That’s about the time we packed away that Prince Charming myth for good. A knight in shining armor? Meh. We’ll take the wonk with the master’s degree and shiny, balding head.

The moment we learned that Diana died in that Paris crash became the where-were-you-when-Reagan-was-shot instant for loads of women. Just ask — she’ll remember.

I was in a tapas restaurant in San Francisco. Our waiter told us. A friend of mine crumpled like a meringue; she was completely devastated by Diana’s death. I ordered her more sangria.

So the next year, Carrie Bradshaw and the girls of “Sex and the City” became our new royalty.

Then we made entertainment out of reality-show bridezillas who aspired to their own Princess Wedding Fantasies. Freaks!

Come 2011, deprived of royalty for so many years and ready to acknowledge that the “Sex and the City” movies should probably stop now, we are presented with a new princess.

Kate Middleton went to college, and she’s a commoner. She and Prince William met at school, which is a plus in our wiser, more skeptical eyes. She caught his eye when she was modeling underwear at a charity fashion show. (I wonder if that’ll make it into the next Disney Princess book.)

Anyway, they’ve been together for a while; he does some of the cooking, she’s spent time in the workforce and is apparently well aware of his follicular future. She’s even older than him by half a year, 29 to his 28.

This royal couple seems more familiar to us, more realistic.

The average age of the American bride is about 26 today, though it’s probably higher in this area. Here, 26-year-olds are still joining kickball leagues while getting their advanced degrees in international affairs. They are more into debating U.S.-China policy and less into picking out a China pattern.

Just this week, the Census Bureau told us that not only are women outpacing men in college enrollment, but — for the first time ever — women now hold more advanced college degrees and bachelor degrees than men.

So, Misses Smartypants: What’s up with all these vapid, royal wedding princess parties? One Washington mom complained online that four guests to her 1-year-old’s birthday bash are dropping in favor of a DVRed wedding watch.

Maybe this is just the girly version of being a Redskins fan, certain that if you cheer loud enough, it’ll work out this time. Optimistic? Or just delusional?

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