The Tricky Rules of High-Society Dating & Relationships

Just as we were running low on steamy Netflix originals for our regular dose of on-screen drama, along came a lockdown, love-triangle drama worthy of author Nancy Mitford – in fact, the principal leading man could have written the script himself.


The Crown’s Peter Morgan suddenly ditched society beauty, Jemima Goldsmith, to rebound back to his former girlfriend, actress and Morgan’s colleague on the set of The Crown Gillian Anderson, with whom he spent four years prior to leaving her. Goldsmith has now been similarly blindsided – she is said to be “shocked and confused” – about Morgan’s boomerang back to Anderson. Which is all the more confusing, as Peter is said to have taken to referring to Goldsmith as “The One;” before seemingly performing a handbrake turn to get back with Anderson.

While onlookers gap slack-jawed at it all, in the new society – where aristocracy and celebrity seamlessly blend (and membership qualities are: gorgeous, glossy, rich and unbelievably well-connected) – relationships spin on different axes. Furious fallings-out are infra dig; everything is always tempered, because this social set is so intertwined, an awkward froideur would be terribly non-U.

When Morgan originally left Anderson and to get together with Goldsmith, there were no acid public comments or explosions of wrath – such is the emotional containment of this tribe. Their relationship and dating practices differ because they worship at the altar of appearance and they always consider the optics.

While we may feel intense sexual jealousy at the thought of our exes dating other people, let alone our friends, bred into this posse is a well-practiced gung-ho jollity. To admit to as pedestrian and visceral an emotion as jealousy would be to acknowledge insecurity, which is considered reprehensible. Instead, we see them steadfastly remaining friends with exes, having amicable divorces, being godparents to each other’s children and holidaying en masse. As evidence, journalists spotted Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriends Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas at his wedding to Meghan Markle.


As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The rich are different from you and me,” so, too, are their relationship mores. In the small, elite pool of the new society, it behooves members to always remain friendly and never to resort to anything as unbecoming as acrimony. By sweeping anything remotely negative under the giant Persian carpets, relations remain buoyant on the surface.

The Duchess of Rutland, Emma Manners, is a supreme example of how to manage an aristocratic break-up with aplomb. She may be separated from the Duke, but continues to live in Belvoir Castle, the Leicestershire landmark, which they run together. Both the Duke and Duchess have new partners. Manners is in a long-term relationship with the estate manager and lives in a separate wing from her ex-husband. Their five children happily drift between their parents’ individual apartments.

Even more progressively, when the Queen’s cousin, Lord Ivar Mountbatten, fell in love with a man, it was his ex-wife of 17 years, Penny, who gave him away at his same-sex marriage to new husband, James Coyle. Now Penny, James and Ivar, along with the Mountbatten’s three children, “Get on incredibly well,” according to Mountbatten. “When they first went to yoga together, the class assumed that he was Penny’s new man. She loved saying, ‘No, this is my ex-husband’s boyfriend…’ It’s fun to subvert expectations.”

Among the upper classes, with their bohemian attitudes, eyebrows are rarely raised at any unorthodox relationship dynamics. Hugely powerful and wealthy families have long interbred. Take Alice Goldsmith, Jemima’s brother Zac Goldsmith’s second wife. Alice is originally a Rothschild, which made it briefly awkward when she fell for Zac, because he happens to be the brother of her older sister Kate’s ex-husband, Ben. Two Rothschild sisters fell for two Goldsmith brothers – it’s like something out of an Edith Wharton novel about upper-class banking dynasties. They married in 2013 and now have three children together, making Zac a father of six. True to their tribe, they are all on good terms.

While it remains to be seen if Morgan and Anderson will get their happy ending, or if Goldsmith will find long-lasting love, what is certain in the elite world of new society dating, you never bleat about anything as banal as heartbreak or betrayal.