I have a confession to make: I really enjoy reading (and rereading) Pride & Prejudice. And I’m not ashamed to say it. The sports-loving, beer-drinking, man’s man that I am loves this Jane Austen classic.
I know many of you read Austen’s beautiful prose or watch the movie (the Keira Knightley version if you need a quick fix, but we all know the BBC version with Colin Firth is the best) and swoon over the romanticism, the heroism, and the triumph of true love. And I don’t blame you. What woman wouldn’t fancy herself ending up with a handsome, intelligent, passionate, devoted, wealthy man? (Looking at you, Darcy.) But from a guy’s perspective, I love what P & P teaches us all about relationships—more specifically, what it’s teaching women about us men.
“What can a 200-year-old book teach us about modern relationships?” you might ask.
The truth is, Darcy is sometimes placed so high on a pedestal that we forget the many ways he is very much like your modern everyday man today—full of his own flaws and far from perfect.
Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, even Charlotte and Mr. Collins—every relationship Austen portrays teaches us what it is to be devoted, selfless, authentic, and most of all open-minded to love. But especially as a man, I can tell you, I find it all extremely relatable. Here’s why.
01. He often needs a second chance.
“His character was decided. [Darcy] was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.”
Did you know that Austen’s original working title for Pride & Prejudice was First Impressions? Austen wanted the idea of initial impressions and how they can be quite misleading to be a central theme of the book. The first half of the book could really be seen as a series of impressions—some false, some true—while the second half works to correct many of those initial judgments and reveal true character of everyone.
I think the lesson here is that first impressions aren’t everything. When meeting a man for the first time, keep an open mind. He might be shy, like Mr. Bingley, because he is so awestruck by your beauty. He might seem proud and intimidating, like Mr. Darcy, because he is more introverted and doesn’t socialize easily.
Most men need time in a relationship before they can open up and show their true selves. Typically, men are not as practiced in expressing their feelings, and, let’s face it, I’m one of the few men who rereads Jane Austen novels to glean relationship advice (and admits to it). I’m not suggesting you put up with a perpetually disappointing dude, but if you feel like there might be something there, give him a little time and maybe a second chance if things aren’t perfect at first. Remember, ladies, even your beloved Bingley ghosted. Imagine if Jane gave up after Bingley failed to make the first move. Where would we be if Elizabeth refused to ever see Darcy again because of their disappointing first encounter? If Austen’s men got a second chance, maybe that guy from the party this weekend deserves a second chance, too.
02. He needs encouragement.
“Indeed, Jane, you ought to believe me. — No one who has ever seen you together can doubt his affection.”
Whether it is conveying their own romantic interest or picking up on a woman’s affection, most men find romantic feelings difficult territory—even the heroes from P & P.
Some (read: most) men need subtle (or not so subtle) communication of interest from you. Telling a man that you are looking forward to seeing him at a party or taking interest in what he is currently reading communicates to him that you could be interested in spending time together, and quality time at that.
Jane and Mr. Bingley’s is the marriage that almost didn’t happen, partly because Bingley was shy, and partly because Jane did not communicate that she was interested. Being reserved or introverted isn’t a character flaw, but it might mean putting a little more conscience effort into flirtation when you want a guy to make a move. So don’t be afraid to show interest. If you do, he’ll probably move a little faster than Charles Bingley.
03. He is at his best around those closest to him.
“[...] As a brother, a landlord, a master, she considered how many people’s happiness were in his guardianship!—how much of pleasure or pain was it in his power to bestow!—how much of good or evil must be done by him! Every idea that had been brought forward by the housekeeper was favourable to his character.”
For most of us, “meeting the family” is what we do when the relationship gets serious. But seeing how your man treats the women who are closest to him is something you might want to see sooner rather than later.
In Pride & Prejudice Elizabeth learns more and more about Darcy over the course of the novel, but her affections for him have a turning point when she visits Pemberley. There, in Darcy’s home, Elizabeth sees his love for his sister and is impressed by the way he cares for those closest to him.
The modern man is no different from Mr. Darcy in this regard. We show our most authentic self to our families and those we live with. We will naturally slip into “our way” with them, for the good or bad, as we integrate you into our family life. If you want to really see if a man is “marriage material,” notice how he treats his family. Is he frustrated with them, devoted, unpleasant, loving? Is his family a source of enjoyment and pleasure? Or stress and frustration? This will be a foreshadowing of how he will interact with his future family as a husband and father.
04. His character is everything.
“In essentials, I believe, he [Mr. Darcy] is very much what he ever was. . . . When I said that he improved on acquaintance, I did not mean that his mind or his manners were in a state of improvement, but that, from knowing him better, his disposition was better understood.”
Real men are defined by their character, not their looks, words, wealth, or even their uniform (yeah, I’m looking at you, Wickham). A man is defined by how he acts toward those he loves and also those he doesn’t love.
We see this early on when Mr. Bingley cares for Jane when she visits his home and falls ill. Bingley will not hear of Jane leaving before she is fully recovered. It takes much longer, but we also see this with Darcy.
By discreetly helping Elizabeth’s family when her sister Lydia runs off with Wickham, Darcy reveals true love for Elizabeth. Darcy’s actions prove he loves her to the point of acting, not out of pride but for her own happiness. This shows character, devotion, and sacrificial love. Darcy’s flaws and past mistakes pale in comparison to his true character, to how he chooses to act out of love for Elizabeth.
So take note, ladies. A true man will demonstrate this character over a long period of time, not just on one or two occasions or when it benefits him. Good men show their love in how they act and how they live.
05. He wants to be challenged by you.
“Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: ‘had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;—though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice.”
Elizabeth’s initial rejection of Darcy has forced him to prove his love to her, resulting in one of the most satisfying romantic climaxes in literary history (and certainly in the movies, too). While Elizabeth and Darcy are certainly well-matched in both intellect and passion, they first have to undergo the painful process of learning each other’s flaws, admitting their own errors, and learning to see matters through each other’s eyes. Even though the book ends with Darcy and Elizabeth’s happy union, we know that their strong minds and opinions will continue to challenge each other and make each other better.
Men want an opportunity to prove their love, to be challenged. It’s not that men want women to act coy or hard to get; it’s that men who wish to be the best versions of themselves find themselves drawn to women who expect and ask for the best from them.
A good man hopes to find a woman who loves him for who he is and whose love will challenge him to be worthy of her love. So, whether it’s pursuing you or just the everyday ins and outs of a relationship, don’t settle for a man who isn’t willing to put in the work.
Ladies, I hope that this has given you Austen-lovers some insight into a man’s perspective of a romantic classic. And I hope that you realize the Mr. Darcys and Mr. Bingleys aren’t just literary heroes; they exist in the real world, too. Fight for real love. And don’t let yourself settle for any Wickhams along the way.
Image Credit: Focus Features