Ask Jane: Advice for Lovers

Knightley, Macfadyen in "Pride and Prejudice"

Knightley, Macfadyen in “Pride and Prejudice”

Last Friday I suggested that the Elizabeth-Darcy union in Pride and Prejudice captures our imaginations because it represents the perfect archetype of marriage. My argument was that it fits Thomas Moore’s description in Soul Mates that marriage is

an opportunity to enter, explore, and fulfill essential notions of who we are and who we can be.  In this sense marriage is not fundamentally the relationship between two persons, but rather an entry into destiny, an opening to the potential life that lies hidden from view until evoked by the particular thoughts and feelings of marriage.

By marrying each other, I claimed, Elizabeth and Darcy each take significant steps towards fulfilling inner potential that before they only sensed.

In today’s post I’ve extrapolated a set of relationship guidelines from the Elizabeth-Darcy courtship to help you find your own soul mate (if that’s something you want). Think of it as using Jane Austen for self-help.

I pay particular attention to the friction between the couple after essayist Elizabeth Marcus, in a comment on last week’s post,  mentioned her interest in Elizabeth and Darcy’s initial antipathy. As you will see, I argue that the crisis points in the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship are moments of opportunity that point to transformational possibilities. These they can choose either to reject or embrace.

We all encounter such crisis points in our relationships, and they will be presented to us again and again until we deal with them.  It is with all of us as it is with Darcy and Elizabeth. Even were they to seek other partners, the same issues would come up because they are who they are.

In the following guidelines, you can check to see whether you recognize moments in your own relationship(s) and where, in the future, you can make changes. If anyone would be attuned to what it takes to find a soul-filled relationship, it would be Jane Austen. Think of this as the groundwork necessary for finding a soul mate. 

I. First Encounters

 –Initial resistance, even antagonism, towards a person who attracts you

In his first encounter, Darcy may shy away from Elizabeth because he intuitively senses that she represents an opportunity for painful growth.  If we take seriously the antagonism we feel, we may learn something important about ourselves.

–Reluctance to put yourself forward

Luckily for Elizabeth (as it eventually turns out), she has a Sir Lucas who forces her to meet Darcy.   Opportunities may present themselves, even against our will, to enter into a growth possibility.  We need to be aware that they will happen and note how we fight them. We should also be prepared to step forward without help from others, no matter how frightening it may be.

–Emotionally charged exchanges

Darcy refuses to dance with Elizabeth on the grounds that he is in no humor “to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men,” and Elizabeth at one point tells Darcy that his major defect is “a propensity to hate every body.”  Early conversations can go poorly, especially if there is a lot of potential in a relationship.  Again, the awkwardness may signal deeper attraction at work.

II. Retreats

–Rejection and mortification

Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy’s marriage proposal, and his refusal to apologize for his mortifying comments on her family, point to the hard work the two must undertake.  Conversations that, at first, lead to emotional devastation can be the first steps to a new honesty.  The intense psychic energy in the exchange (not to be found, say, in Elizabeth’s firm and rational rejection of Collins, which hurts his ego but not his heart) points to the great potential in the relationship.  In other words, we should not necessarily take rejection as the final word.

–Blaming the other person

Darcy and Elizabeth’s first inclination after the failed marriage proposal is to blame the other.  We need to move beyond this understandable reflex if we are to grow.

–Severe self-doubt

Coupled with blaming the other is blaming ourselves.  Darcy is mortified by Elizabeth’s rejection, Elizabeth by the contents of Darcy’s letter.  Again, in order to grow, we need to forgive ourselves, just as we must forgive the other.

–Reversion to previous behaviors

Each retreats to isolation.  Darcy returns to the insulated world of his friends while Elizabeth dreams of going to the Lake District, where she can laugh at humankind from a safe distance.  (“What are men to rocks and mountains?” she exclaims.)  When undergoing strain, we may retreat into our most characteristic behaviors, even if they haven’t served us well in the past.  A retreat can also be positive, however, if we use it to engage in honest and clear-headed self-assessment.

III. Process of Change

–Self-Assessment

Darcy and Elizabeth give each other an invaluable gift, albeit a very painful one: honest feedback.  After initial resistance, they then listen to what the other has to say and take an honest look at themselves.  Such self-assessment is imperative if we are to move beyond our wounded feelings.

–Taking Action

Darcy works to become less proud, Elizabeth to become less judgmental.  Each is prepared to treat the other differently should the occasion arise.  Past mortification and suffering can be a blessing if we learn from them and take steps to change.

–Coincidence

After they work on themselves, Darcy and Elizabeth coincidentally come together at Pemberley and recognize the changes.  If we improve ourselves, we will get second chances, although we cannot predict the form those chances will take.

–Tests

Just when Darcy and Elizabeth appear to be heading towards a second proposal, Lydia runs away and Darcy learns that marrying his love will also involve dirtying his hands in the world he has tried to avoid.  Then Lady Catherine shows up at Elizabeth’s doorstep, showing her the arrogance and contempt that Elizabeth will encounter if she marries the man she loves.   A relationship will not survive merely surface change, and the universe will invariably find ways to test our transformations.  We can use these challenges to further our growth.

IV. Happy Endings

–Strong sense of self worth 

Darcy and Elizabeth appreciate the new people they have become.  One of the deepest joys of partnership is the coaching you get to come into alignment with yourself.

–Union

Once Darcy and Elizabeth have worked on themselves, the romance novel can close with a convincing and compelling marriage.

V. Conclusion

If the courtship journey seems treacherous and fraught with emotional risk, well, that’s the call for us to become heroes in our own romance novel. We are all potential Darcys and Elizabeths, prone to missteps but also capable of breakthroughs.

What becomes clear from the novel is how much is at stake in our journey.  If we remind ourselves of that in our moments of doubt and draw strength from Austen’s protagonists, we will do all right.  It may not be a truth universally acknowledged, but when you take risks, learn from your mistakes, and work on self-transformation, you draw other worthy people to you.

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  • sue

    Wow, Robin. Lots of good stuff here. And I wonder if, outside of marriage relationships the same principles might apply with other people. Rumi says, ‘Be grateful for whomever comes, for each was sent as a guide from beyond.’ Maybe the people we feel resistance to are here to help us grow even more than those we immediately like.

  • Kelsey

    That Miss Austen knew her stuff. I’m grateful that you mentioned forgiving yourself, as I rather needed to read that. Thanks.


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