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Prince Philip: Two Steps Behind and All In

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On Friday morning the world woke up to the headline that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, had died. It wasn’t a total surprise as he was 99 years old and had just been moved home after a long stay in hospital for declining health issues.

What was a surprise to me was the gluttony of ‘haterade’ that poured out on social media. Reply after reply to news stories on Twitter about his death containing comments like ‘Good riddance!’; ‘Glad he’s gone,’ and ‘Nazi!’ As tasteless and tone deaf as these are, many comments also exist in the opposing vein: ‘A true British hero’ ; ‘Done a lot for his country and the world.’ Social media has made it possible to say anything we want, any time we want, but that doesn’t mean we should. It’s a fine balance. 

I have always wondered why so many people feel compelled to talk about and mourn celebrities and public figures as if they know them. Particularly when it seems that despite our tech-infused world, more and more of us know nothing about anybody. Least of all ourselves. Prince Philip may have related to that, at least in the beginning.

I have never met the late Duke of Edinburgh, and I won’t presume to know or ‘understand him’ because I binge-watched The Crown. By most accounts however, it does seem that he was unconventional. After all this is a man who lived for a century and spent nearly three-quarters of that time – as Number 2. Literally. Incorporated into almost every facet of his life and punctuated by walking two steps behind his wife at all times in public. Why would he do that? 

Despite his imperial roots, it’s no secret that Prince Philip’s childhood was unstable. Forced from his birthplace of Greece as a baby, he was moved about the European continent for years before his mother was committed to a mental health institution, his father abandoned him, and he was unceremoniously dumped into boarding school in Scotland. Add to this the tragic loss of his sister and most of her family in a plane crash during his teenage years and it’s safe to assume he might have felt lost and adrift as a youth.

When he met (then) Princess Elizabeth, her parents and her sister, he likely saw in them what he lacked most in life: A family. Marriage to Elizabeth gave him that, along with a sense of stability and belonging. In exchange for this, he would play the part of Number 2. His lifelong role was made clear to him before he decided to take the plunge, and at a time when being male and the less conventionally important spouse was unheard of. 

I think he knew what he was marrying into and, by choice, accepted and eventually adapted to all that goes with being the spouse of a top sovereign (a role which is expected to go before all others: wife, mother, etc.). If he had been a chimney-sweep, at some point he might have thought ‘I have two choices: I can grumble about being a chimney-sweep, or I can sweep the shite out of these chimneys and be the best chimney-sweep there ever was.’ I believe, after some grumbling, he chose the latter. He was all in.

It wasn’t easy for the Prince to be Number 2 just as it isn’t easy for men today, a full 100 years later and in a world where women are increasingly more conventionally successful than their male spouses. Research shows that men envy other men for their success and prominence, while women envy other women for their looks or the status of their spouses. It also indicates that divorce is significantly higher in couples when the female spouse earns more money than her male counterpart than it is in reverse. So how did they make it work for 74 years? 

In my opinion, simply by choosing to stay. Through it all. Prince Philip handled it the best way possible, by creating his own agenda, spearheading his own projects, his own initiatives, and seeing them through with genuine investment and passion. By developing his own identity and sense of self. If that self was offside at times, he appeared wholeheartedly self-assured in it. It may not be every man’s cup of tea to choose this, but it was for him. I admire this.

And even though Queen Elizabeth was the boss-lady, she needed him. She was in love with him from the start and he knew it. She has publicly declared as much throughout their marriage. Though we don’t need to be married in order to be happy, we all need to feel desired by our spouse if we have chosen to be married. Particularly the one who is more functionally dependent on the other, as was the case with Prince Philip. Their long marriage became a symbol of stability of the monarch against the ever-mounting fragility of its place in modern society. Somehow, his death is a reminder to me of a certain personality trait that I believe is going the way of the dodo bird: commitment.

I have been married 10 years. I’m not sure my husband and I will even have the ability to be married for as long as Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth were (we are both in our 40s). I also do not know what the future holds for the existence of institutions like monarchy or marriage. But I do know that we all – men and women – are interconnected and will continue to need one another forever. That is timeless.


Image credit: Myles Cullen

Natasha Sharma, PsyD is the founder of NKS Therapy.

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