We're so used to Kate Middleton's outright ownership of every photo she's in that we've forgotten what the official beginning of a royal relationship looks like. Never has a deer been compelled to stare into so many headlights all at once. So even though Meghan Markle has starred in a hit TV series, nothing could have prepared her for the step-and-repeat that came with getting engaged to Prince Harry.
But do not be fooled by any photo you may see in the coming days in which Markle, the future Duchess of somewhere romantic-sounding, looks at all overwhelmed by her surroundings.
She is thoroughly in control of the situation. Prince Harry, who until last year when he met the American actress was the most eligible bachelor in the world, would not be getting married if she wasn't.
Which brings us to the most burning of all the burning questions: Why her? How did Meghan Markle get so lucky?
The answer, unlike the glamorous consequences of their love affair (an engagement ring boasting Princess Diana's diamonds, congratulations from the queen, etc.), is pretty basic: Chemistry, shared values and, of course, timing—that last one being perhaps the most important factor of all.
Because if Harry had met Meghan at the peak of his rambunctious 20s, this day most likely would not have come. He was in no place emotionally—as he has since attested to himself—to commit for good. Nor had he matured enough to know what he wanted in a lifelong mate. And yet for all the talk of Harry being this big playboy, he's had, what, three public relationships? Or two, plus a reported fling? Surely he's had some dalliances we don't know about—yet. (It seems likely that a few women may have stories to sell, er, share now that the royal is engaged.) But still, that's a fairly modest record for 33.
Ultimately, there probably wasn't that much left for Markle to tame. He was pretty smitten from the start, probably all the more so because she wasn't that familiar with him when they met. So she didn't need to rein him in; rather, she just had to wrangle Harry's outsized reputation.
"I think for both of us it was really refreshing, given that I didn't know a lot about him, everything that I've learned about him, I learned through him, as opposed to having grown up around different news stories or tabloids, or whatever else," Markle said in the requisite joint interview she and Harry gave to the BBC to follow Monday's engagement announcement. "Anything I learned about him and his family was what he would share with me and vice-versa, so for both of us it was, it was just a really authentic and organic way to get to know each other."
Does this mean Harry managed to meet the one woman on the planet who didn't know about the naked billiards?
Well, whether Meghan knew about Harry's youthful indiscretions or not when she agreed to meet him—"I had one question; I said, 'was he nice?"—once you're dating as an adult, anyone you meet is going to have some baggage.
And as a then-34-year-old woman from California's San Fernando Valley who graduated from Northwestern, made her own money, ran her own lifestyle site, had traveled the world on behalf of humanitarian causes and had been married and divorced, Meghan had quite the life of her own already when an intrepid mutual friend set her and Harry up on a blind date.
While the long-distance aspect of their relationship was a challenge, it also gave Markle time in between Bachelor-caliber fantasy dates to be alone with her feelings, so there was no getting swept away too fast. (This all may seem to have unfolded fast, because one day Harry was single and the next he wasn't, but really, it's been a year and a half since they met—this is a perfectly adequate timeline.)
She wasn't all agog at the exciting life that he had led, because she'd been busy leading her own rich life (downright scandalously if you're going by 1930s-era royal standards) in the meantime. In turn her passions and pursuits appealed to the royal—as did her beauty, obviously—and they never had occasion to look back.
Meaning, for the first time, all the premature excitement about Harry possibly having met "the one," which started just moments after he confirmed he had a girlfriend, was not overblown.
Though some boys just never grow up, Harry has for the last several years been nothing but the commensurate adult, determined to make his late mother proud and be an asset to the royal family as the monarchy itself retools for the next generation. He's been vocal about wanting to settle down and have a family. He's great friends with his sister-in-law and has become closer to his brother since Prince William started his own family.
Frankly, Meghan Markle caught Prince Harry because he didn't need catching.
"I can tell you that at the end of the day I think it's really simple," Meghan told Vanity Fair for its October 2017 cover story. "We're two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people's perception. Nothing about me changed. I'm still the same person that I am, and I've never defined myself by my relationship."
She can continue to leave that up to everyone else.
Prince Harry fell head over heels because she was like no one he had met before—and though Meghan of course knew of his existence, not being much of a pop culture buff he didn't know anything about the person he was meeting sight-unseen for a drink that night.
"I was beautifully surprised when I walked into that room and saw her and there she was sitting there," Harry recalled to the BBC. He remembered thinking, miming giving a gulp of anticipation, "'OK, well, I'm really going to have to up my game and have a sit down and...make sure I've got good chat.'"
And though Prince Harry is obviously quite the catch, as is Meghan Markle by any standards, he's the one with the weird life and the strange job. And while love tends to conquer all in fairy-tales, not every royal-falls-for-a-commoner story has ended with "and they lived happily ever after."
When he realized that he was in love a few months in, Harry remembered thinking "but we still have to sit down on the sofa...to have some pretty frank conversations with her" about what she was in for as a member of the royal family.
"I tried to warn you as much as possible," Harry said, turning to Meghan during their interview. "But I think both of us were totally surprised by the reaction after the first five, six months we had to ourselves of what actually happened from then [when the palace had to release a statement imploring the media and the public to respect Markle's privacy]. I think you can have as many conversations as you want and try and prepare as much as possible, but we were totally unprepared for what happened after that."
Now that they've been through the gauntlet and come out stronger—and engaged—on the other side, the actual act of getting married should be a breeze.