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The big news this week was the announcement that Prince Harry and girlfriend Meghan Markle became engaged and are planning to marry in the spring. Although some may say her prince has come, theirs is no fairy-tale romance — Markle is a thoroughly out-of the-box modern bride. bride

At 36, she’s older than her husband-to-be, who’s 33 — a trend that makes sense not only because men often die earlier than women do, but also because older women bring more to the table. As biological anthropologist and adviser to Match.com Helen Fisher says, “Men want a companion, and we are seeing the rise of women as intellectual partners, as sexual partners, as soul partners.”

She had a beta marriage. Markle dated film producer Trevor Engelson for six years, got engaged in 2010, married in 2011 and divorced in August 2013, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

She’s been a live apart together partner. Markle landed her role in Suits shortly after she and Engelson wed. He was based in L.A. while she was based in Toronto, a five-hour flight away. She has been in a LAT relationship with her fiancee, too. “I think we were able to really have so much time just to connect and we never went longer than two weeks without seeing each other, even though were doing a long-distance relationship. We made it work.”

She’s the child of divorce. Markle’s parents — her mother, a clinical therapist, is African-American and her father, a former TV lighting director, is white — divorced when she was 6 years old. Although she lived with her mom, she saw her dad a lot, and her parents put her first. ‘What’s so incredible, you know, is that my parents split up when I was two, [but] I never saw them fight. We would still take vacations together. My dad would come on Sundays to drop me off, and we’d watch Jeopardy! eating dinner on TV trays, the three of us. We were still so close-knit,” she says.

She thinks outside the box. In the seventh grade, Markle had to fill out a census and check one of the boxes to indicate ethnicity — white, black, Hispanic or Asian. She didn’t know which one to choose. “You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other — and one half of myself over the other.” So she chose to not answer.  “When I went home that night, I told my dad what had happened. He said the words that have always stayed with me: ‘If that happens again, you draw your own box,'” she wrote in an Elle essay.

She’s an independent woman and feminist. “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches — I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works,” Markle once wrote on her now-shuttered blog. Since her early days, Markle has spoken up for women’s causes. “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table,” she said in a speech on International Women’s Day two years ago.

She’s opting for a safety marriage. One can imagine what it’s like marrying into a royal family, so it’s no surprise that Markle is giving up her acting career — she’s starred on the TV show Suits for the past seven years — and is instead ready to delve into groups in the U.K. “that are working on the same causes I’ve always been passionate about” — causes that include human rights and encouraging young leaders to create positive change.

Still, she’s quitting her paid work to take on her new role — what The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels would call a safety marriage. Markle doesn’t see that as a negative, it’s just something different, she says:

I think what’s been so exciting [transitioning] out of my career and into, as you said, the causes I can focus even more energy on, very early out of the gate, [is that you] have a voice that people listen to, a lot of responsibility. I don’t see it as giving anything up. I just see it as a change. It’s a new chapter. And keep in mind I’ve been working on my show for seven years. We were very fortunate to have that sort of longevity on a series. For me, once we hit the 100 episode marker, I thought, I have ticked this box and I feel really proud of the work we’ve done there and now it’s time to work as a team with [Harry]. tweet

One thing they will not do is sign a prenup, following in the footsteps of Harry’s brother, Prince William, and father, Prince Charles. That’s a mistake; while Harry is worth nearly $40 million, Markle is worth about $7 million. But a prenup that goes beyond money and addresses how a couple wants to live, what I call a marital plan, can help them individualize their marriage — especially since they plan to have children.

Princess Diana grew into a strong, vocal woman in her marriage to Prince Charles. Markle is entering her marriage as one. It will be interesting to see what she becomes as a royal.

Want to see if a safety marriage is right for you? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.

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