Miranda Devine's ability to spoil an argument never ceases to amaze me.
In an op-ed article in today's SMH she mounts a critique of "try before you buy" cohabitation, hanging it on the Windsor-Middleton breakup the way one hangs a coat on a peg. One first has to wade through a page of tut-tutting at British snobbery: all very entertaining, but surely it's absurd if egalitarian sentiment becomes an excuse for feeling superior to the upper class?
She eventually makes a good point, if scarcely a new one: cohabitation, considered from the outside, seems scarcely in women's interest and "gives all the advantages to men". Very well, but what follows from this?
According to Ms Devine, it follows that If Middleton had really wanted to marry William she never should have set up house with him. Smart girls don't give away marital perks free. Really? Smart girls? Marital perks?
A critique of an institution is, by itself, no guide to individual behaviour. Ms Middleton is no more able to single-handedly change her social environment than any of us, but must act in the place and time she is given.
The naff reference to "smart girls" casts this as a matter of calculation, so let's be calculating. KM may have been trying out some merchandise of her own. Fancy being married to the heir to the throne, ladies? Not sure? Then perhaps you might want to try the role on for size, without making an irreversible commitment. It might be a way of finding out if you really do want to marry the guy, with all that implies. And at the risk of an obvious statement, KM may have been unenthusiastic about living through her twenties in celibacy. Is there anyone who doesn't feel some sympathy on that score? Anyone?
So perhaps the "New Rules" rhetoric is just a wrapper, and MD's real goal is a moral one, seeking to tie sex and commitment closer together. As a Christian, of course I sympathise. But one needs a fairly broad vision of the problem for this to make sense. If one is merely acting in a market, and the market is unchanged, then principles slow you down. There is such a thing as lonely virtue.
The problem is that many people don't feel ready to marry in their twenties, or would not feel supported in such a choice. This is almost certainly a criticism of our society; it may well (say it in a small voice!) be a criticism of ourselves. One is still left with the question of what to do. Marriage (and cohabitation for that matter) is a social phenomenon and I would have thought it an excellent start to broaden the frame of reference. Perhaps we can act differently as families, or groups of friends, or subcultures, or workplaces (!), and provide a milieu where an older-fashioned choice makes sense.
But to jump straight to how-the-individual-should-act is to claim that it is never prudent, or wise, or good, or even the lesser of two evils, to compromise with a flawed institution. This is ethical nonsense, and that makes it bad advice.