It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is with a poor man.
– Everyone's grandmother, including my own
Is it possible to feel a bit sorry for Priscilla Chan, new bride of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg? Or will I be laughed out of the room for expressing even a thimbleful of sympathy for a smart young woman, about to be a doctor, who has just achieved marital liftoff with one of the world's youngest billionaires?
The couple married in their Palo Alto, Calif., backyard on May 19, a day after he took his company public. This move may have netted the hoodie-wearing Facebook titan $1.1-billion, with a remaining $20-billion stake, but the share price shockingly faltered, and there are now serious questions being asked about what some are calling a debacle. To make matters worse, several pictures of the couple honeymooning in Italy, which have popped up online and in the media, have shown them looking like two sad sacks.
"Zuck and Chan spotted in Italy looking miserable!" was the gist of many a headline.
Oh dear. I hope they are happier in private, because this could be what their public married life is destined to be: an ongoing ruthless calculus of how their net worth is affecting their relationship. Nobody, it seems, can get past the money.
News reports tut-tutted when Zuck was said to have not left a tip at one Rome restaurant, (although in Europe, the tip is often included), and naturally there has been rampant speculation about a pre-nup – and the fact that, by marrying a day after the shares went public, Mr. Zuckerberg may have been making sure he knew the exact amount of his wealth in case it should ever be in dispute in a divorce. What new bride wants to have her own marriage on death watch before she's even home from the honeymoon?
But never mind! That's for cynics and accountants. Let's focus on the real news. In a modern-day scenario that crosses Jane Austen with Gloria Steinem, Priscilla Chan, at 27, has entered the nuptial history books as a hybrid bride (a Hybride?).
Yes, Austenites: After an arduous nine-year romantic journey, Priscilla, a determined daughter of Asian immigrants who grew up outside of Boston, knew at 13 she wanted to go to Harvard, and did so after becoming her high-school's valedictorian, has finally secured her future by marrying a difficult man with pots of money.
As the heroine of Canadian author Kim Izzo's shrewd new novel, The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, points out, marrying for money may be today's best survival tactic. While searching for a rich husband, she muses "job prospects could slow for years. It made me think that making a good marriage will be far more vital to a girl's future than it has been for generations."
But hey, feministas! Ms. Chan, who wants to be a pediatrician, could easily make it financially on her own. And frankly, Zuck, 28, probably needs her emotionally as much or more than she needs him.
As the Daily Beast website gushed, "he has chosen a woman of substance, with whom he has a long-standing, mature relationship. Chan is the opposite of a Real Housewife… clearly independent, intelligent, and … assertive of her needs."
A notoriously publicity shy couple (a rich irony since Facebook has succeeded by virtually wiping out personal privacy for everyone else), they've released snippets about their long relationship – they met at Harvard in a bathroom lineup at a party; she followed him to Palo Alto; they separated once; they moved in together sharing a modest house in 2010. (He announced this on Facebook.) They now live in a $7-million mansion.
There have been reports of a "relationship contract" that Ms. Chan reportedly insisted upon several years ago, guaranteeing her one two-week trip abroad a year (why didn't I think of that), plus spending one date night and 100 minutes together a week, "not in his apartment or at the Facebook office," with the reputedly oddly behaved Mr. Zuckerberg.
How odd? Well, even he has described himself as "socially awkward." And actor Jesse Eisenberg portrayed him coldly, and completely devoid of normal social skills in the Academy Award-winning movie The Social Network.
Yet Ms. Chan, cool and collected, seems to take her relationship with the Boy King of Silicon Valley in her stride: "We try to stick pretty close to what our goals are and what we believe and what we enjoy doing in life – just simple things," she told the New Yorker magazine in 2010.
They have a Puli dog they love named Beast, and she apparently makes a mean lemon ricotta pizza. Sounds pretty normal to me. Except of course for that $20-billion stash.
Okay, so I don't feel all that sorry for Priscilla Chan, new Queen of Facebook. In fact, I wish her well and hope she stays level-headed. With their smarts and their money, they could do a whole lot of good in the world.
So let the sniping stop, and let "Zuck and Chan" get on with what is not so easy, whether you're rich or you're poor: forging a successful marriage.
Although Jane Austen (and everyone's grandma) may have had an unassailable point: "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." At the very least, it's one heck of a start.