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Prince Charles Syndrome: Why Do People Trade More Desirable for Less Desirable Mates?

Once upon a time, Prince Charles traded Princess Diana for Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall.  If you don’t remember who Princess Diana and Duchess Camilla are or what they look like, you can find information on the Internet.  The late Princess Diana did a lot to make the world a better place.  She was active in the campaign against landmines, in efforts to protect animals, and in many other charitable endeavors.  She was beautiful, outgoing, and eager to please.  She also was deeply insecure.  Duchess Camilla has done a lot of good things too: She looks out for horses in poor communities; she works with a foundation that puts burglar alarms in houses of victims of burglaries; she has been President of the National Osteoporosis Society in the UK.  But still: Why did Charles pull the switch? Or was it even a switch?

Prince Charles had a longstanding relationship with Camilla.  The relationship dated to before his engagement to Diana.  Camilla was married; for this and other reasons, she probably was not viewed by many as a suitable mate for Charles.  Charles and Diana both ended up having affairs, but the consensus is that Charles started them first.  It is not clear how many he had but the relationship with Camilla was the longest term, almost certainly the most serious, and pretty surely contemporaneous with his marriage to Princess Diana.  When Charles apparently threw off Diana for Camilla, many people, in the UK and worldwide, were stunned.  Why did Charles do what he did?

The big issue with men like Prince Charles, I believe, is that they cannot come to terms with women who outshine them.  Look, Prince Charles has not had an easy life: He’s spent his life, 70 years, as king in waiting.  I have watched him be king-in-waiting my entire life.  No king-in-waiting expects to ascend to the kingship as late as his 70s, if at all.  He has, in various ways, sought out attention from the press and others as he has made his opinions, not always the most educated ones, known in a variety of fields.  This is a man who probably thought he would get the attention he deserved, perhaps in his 20s.  Well, 30s maybe? 40s?  50s?  60s?  70s?  He just keeps waiting and waiting and waiting.  So, what might someone like him perceive he needs about as much as he needs bedbugs?  A wife who sparkled and radiated the very charisma that always has seemed to elude him.

What did Camilla offer?  Probably many things.  But one was that this was a woman who was not going to outshine her Prince Charming.

I don’t know Prince Charles, of course, and I know little about the details of his life. But his situation is scarcely unique.  There are just so many men who cannot tolerate being outshone or even competing with their wife for attention or recognition.  The men feel the need to be #1, although they may never admit it.  Patriarchal society was built on men who suppressed women’s needs and desires for anything approaching equal treatment.  And if you are a royal and people do not pay you the attention that you crave, you may feel you need to be with someone who pumps you up, not who you feel brings you down.  Princess Diana apparently wrote that anytime she had a success, Prince Charles seemed to belittle it.  Fits the pattern, doesn’t it?

Camilla had another advantage for Charles.  For whatever reason, he appears to be incredibly attached to her.  Attachment is not the same as love.  Attachment is what you start out feeling toward your parents. But how much attachment is Charles likely to have felt toward his parents, who at least in public, come across as less than warm and fuzzy?  Perhaps Charles has found in Camilla the closeness in attachment he just could not find in his parents.

Above all, though, there is a lesson for us all.  Too many successful men and some successful women need the limelight—they need to shine in people’s eyes, to tower over their partners.  Unfortunately, they may feel they need all the limelight, which means that they need to be married to someone who, while catering to their needs, largely shuns publicity for themselves.  And this craving for attention and even adulation in the dominating partner not only impedes their relationship with their less visible partner, but also their relationship with themselves because they view themselves as competing with their less visible partner.  And that is not the way that relationships ever will achieve their greatest success, or perhaps any success at all.

The bottom line is that, if you are thinking of tying the knot with someone, ask yourself whether they are insecure, but also whether they are so insecure that they will view any success you have as a personal failure for them. You may not want to be with someone who, seeing you succeed, resents your success or, worse, tries actively to undermine it.  Princess Diana reportedly felt that Prince Charles undermined her for her accomplishments.  We don’t know whether he did or whether he even thought he did.  We do know that you do not want to be in that position—always held back for the sake of your partner’s ego.

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