An open letter to George's Number Two: regal or not, second-borns can get a rotten deal
Dear Pending Prince or Princess:
First of all, the other seven billion of us are just thrilled to hear the happy news that you’re on the way—in a gender yet to be announced and with a name yet to be determined. I realize you’ll have your hands full for the next several months doing things like, well, growing hands, so I don’t want to burden you with too much right now. But before long you’ll emerge into the world and meet your royal Mum and Dad—and guess what? You’ll have a royal big brother too.
I know, I know, sorry to break it to you. You were kind of hoping you’d be the first and, if it were at all possible to arrange it, the only. Well, welcome to the club, kid. From one Number Two to another, here’s a frank admission: it’s a lousy gig—except when it’s great.
Every first child will always be a family’s crown prince or princess, which is all the more relevant in your family because the whole crown thing is for real. As a rule, first-borns are more serious than later-borns; they work harder, are better students and their IQ tends to be about three points higher than that of second-borns. They are also much more inclined than later-borns to go into the family business—which, yes, in your case is kind of the whole point. You should get accustomed to hearing your brother and you referred to as “an heir and a spare,” which is a term you won’t understand at first, then you will, and will go on to loathe for the rest of your natural life.
There’s a reason all this is true—and in commoner families too, not just yours. Think of your clan not so much as just Royal Family, but as Royal Family Inc. Moms and Dads have a finite supply of hours, energy and money—though in some families (we’re not pointing fingers here) there’s a little more of the latter than in others. The point is, your parents pour all their resources into the first product to come off the assembly line (let’s call it, for example, George v. 1.0). By the time the next one rolls along (let’s call this one You v. 2.0) there’s no getting that early investment back. This is what’s known to business people as sunk costs, which you’ll learn about at Eaton and Oxford and will later get to forget about because your exchequers and ministers will see to such things. The point is, in both a family and a company, sunk costs lead the board of directors (Mum and Dad in your case) to value the first product more than the second, whether they realize it or not.
This is an arrangement that suits that first product just fine, which is why big brothers and sisters tend to play by the rules. Your job—and the job of any littler royals who may come along after you—will be to try to upset that order. It’s why later-borns tend to be more rebellious and to take more risks than first-borns. You’ll be likelier to play extreme sports than big bro George. Even if you and he play the same sports, you’ll choose a more physical position—a baseball catcher, say, instead of an outfielder. (Baseball is…never mind. Ask someone in the royal court what the soccer and polo analogy are.) In the event you ever become Ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of other Realms and Territories around the world—and you’re fourth in line for the job, so don’t start getting measured for the cape yet—you’d be a more liberal, less conventional monarch than your big bro will be.
Later-borns are more inclined to be artists too, and if there is a comedian in the family, it’s likeliest to be the very last-born. This makes sense, since when you’re the smallest person in the nursery, you are in constant risk of getting clocked by someone bigger—sorry, no royal dispensation on that rule—so you learn to disarm with humor. You also may find you’re more empathic and intuitive than George, since you similarly have to know how to suss out what people are thinking in order to get your way—what scientists call a low-power strategy, rather than the big sib’s high-power one.
There are other perils that come with being a number two, not least figuring out ways to get yourself noticed, and it’s best to go about that one carefully. One day, ask your Uncle Andy about a special friend of his named Miss Stark—and if you really want to get a laugh, call her Auntie Koo. Ask Uncle Harry to show you pictures of his recent visit to a Las Vegas hotel. On second thought, don’t, but do remember that there is only a narrow window available to you for being photographed naked—you’ll get a grace period of about 12 months after you arrive. Uncle Harry exceeded that by a teensy bit.
The point is, you’ll have to figure out ways to be special, to make a difference, while staying off of TMZ and out of the tabs. The upside? Well, you know that thing about big sibs having a higher IQ? That’s because they mentor and look after the little sibs, which isn’t half bad (trust another Number Two’s word on this one too). And if more kids come along, you get to be the mentor, which is its own kind of wonderful. The downside? Then you’ll be a middle child. And I hate to tell you kid, but that gig stinks no matter who you are.
But all that comes later. For now, enjoy the quiet, brace for the noise, and travel safe.
–A Friend in the Colonies