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Yes, Meghan Markle dated other men before Prince Harry – get over it

Posted by
Chloe Gray
Published
Meghan Markle

Reports regarding The Duchess of Sussex’s past contact with men shine a light on the scary rhetoric society wants women to live up to 

Prince Harry isn’t Meghan Markle’s first husband. But you probably knew that already because, in the lead up to their star-studded royal wedding, Meghan was repeatedly referred to, among many other things, as the ‘divorced American’.

Now, certain members of the press have decided to once again focus on Meghan’s past, with baseless reports of her messaging Matt Cardle (sent before she met Prince Harry, I hasten to add) have become front page news. 

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The Sun, as ever, is at the front of the pack, salaciously poring over the details of Matt and Meghan’s non-relationship. According to their report, Matt followed Meghan as he was a fan of Suits, the show Meghan starred in at the time. In 2015, Meghan then sent him a message to say she was a fan of his, too. They had some back and forth, but then Matt met his now-girlfriend, Amber Hernaman, and stopped replying to Meghan.

Hmm. This ‘splash’ feels less “juicy celebrity gossip” and more “woman once spoke to man”, but that hasn’t stopped people on social media losing their minds over it all. On Twitter, the duchess has been labelled as “desperate”, with some laughing over the fact that she “managed to bag herself a prince after being ghosted by a painter and decorator”. 

The Express, jumping on the bandwagon, then ran some extra comments from Liz Cundy, who claimed that Meghan once asked her to set her up with “someone”, but then met Harry and so didn’t follow up on her request. The scandal.

Shame on her

What do we even call the shaming of women for simply being interested in the idea of a man? Is it still slut shaming if, as far as we know, they never met, never kissed, never slept together? The stories about Meghan, Matt and Liz’s matchmaking are less about judging a woman’s promiscuity and more about the idea of ownership – that once a woman has engaged with a man, in any context, they shouldn’t engage with any other. That they should not aspire to a real connection or to meet someone who they love or want, but to accept the first choice or get what they are given. The idea that a DM (direct message, for those not down with their acronyms) is symbolic of a deeper commitment, and that Meghan shouldn’t move on after sending one, only serves to highlight our extreme expectations of women: we still, in 2019, demand them to be chaste, virginal, in a way we definitely don’t with men. 

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It is worth noting that no one is shaming Matt for talking to Meghan before he met Amber. And no one has mentioned the multiple women Harry dated in the years before he found love with Meghan. And yet, for some reason, the relationships Meghan has had, and even the messages she has exchanged, aren’t exactly scandalous – one was a loving marriage that sadly ended. The other was a message exchange with an artist whom she was a fan of and who, note, was a fan of hers.

A window to the world

Meghan might be the most famous example of this source of ‘relationship shaming’, but it speaks to a bigger problem in our society. The conversations surrounding Meghan’s race, social status and background and the accusations of promiscuity she has received seem in line with research by sociologists from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Merced that found that slut-shaming actually had more to do with a woman’s social class than it did with amount of sexual activity. 

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, in profile (2019)

As a single woman, I often find that I am expected to commit to men I have no intention of committing to. If I don’t, I am labelled as a slut. When I am talking to a man at a party I feel eyes on me. When I say I shared a message exchange with someone of the opposite sex I am questioned about my motives. When I flirt, kiss or sleep with someone people expect me to immediately stop looking elsewhere. It’s a weird, archaic and slightly disturbing pressure to owe a part of myself to every man I engage with. Meghan was single when she was talking to Matt and yet the ‘exposure’ of their conversations seems to imply that she should have followed through on that relationship, which inevitably would mean she wouldn’t have met Harry and wouldn’t be happily married with a child. 

There’s no way to know how Meghan was feeling at the time, but if she also felt this pressure, then I’m glad she didn’t bow to it. 

The irony is that we encourage girls to aspire to a relationship. We teach them that they aren’t full until they have a man, and then when they talk to one, meet one or begin a relationship with one we shame them for desperation, promiscuity or sluttiness. That’s not to say that Meghan was talking to these men or asking to be set up because she felt unfulfilled, but there’s a disparity between the encouragement we receive to find a relationship and society’s reaction when we go in search of that. 

Once again, women can’t win.  

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So what are our options as women? To never engage with a man, whether in a friendly, romantic, sexual or professional context until we are sure we will be committed to them forever? To remain with an unsatisfactory partner forever, regardless of how bad things get, because we are ‘damaged goods’ and no longer worthy of anyone else? No thanks.

Instead, we need to start accepting that women can live their lives without owing anyone, particularly a man, anything. The decisions we make and the people we engage with do not need to affect our future relationships, ambitions or stories. After all, the men that Meghan has interacted with over the course of her life no longer have an impact on her life, nor do they shape her future. She is her own woman, charging forward with her own purpose. And that sounds much nicer, doesn’t it?

To quote Ariana Grande: thank you, next.

Image: Getty