Gentlemen Speak: 5 Things I Learned About Dating from Mr. Darcy

Jane Austen’s most popular hero has inspired me to overcome my dating fears.
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Jane Austen’s most popular hero has inspired me to overcome my dating fears.

Being the sports-crazy, competitive guy that I am, I’ve had plenty of coaches in my life. I was taught how to shoot, how to lift, how to box out. And outside the sports world, other mentors taught me the finer points of literature, public speaking, wine, whiskey, and so many other skills. But when it came to dating, I got nothing. No love coach. No romance guru. 

Now I know there is no easy “how-to” guide when it comes to romance, but I wish there had been someone who could have taught me what to expect in affairs of the heart. Needless to say, much of what I have learned about dating has come the hard way, through the ups and downs of personal experience. But I did get some dating advice from unlikely sources. In fact, perhaps my greatest wealth of dating knowledge has been gleaned from non-other than Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice. Back in January, I discussed the five things we can learn about men from P&P. But I think if we look at the example of Mr. Darcy more closely, his journey can in fact teach men (and women!) some amazing lessons about dating and relationships. 

01. Romance is not perfect.

“We all know him to be a proud, unpleasant sort of man; but this would be nothing if you really liked him.”

Romance is not perfect, neither am I, and neither is my future wife. It can be so easy to hold these romantic stories and movies up on a pedestal. They can become a fantasy, and we forget all the trials that happened along the way. But the first lesson that Mr. Darcy taught me is that real love is never a trial-free affair.

For the first half of the novel, even though Darcy’s love for Elizabeth is growing and growing, he succeeds only in frustrating her, pushing her away, and downright offending her. Who can forget the dance scene early on when Bingley suggests he dance with Elizabeth?

She overhears Darcy tell Bingley, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Ouch, Darcy, that was rude. Thankfully he makes up for it and reveals his true feelings. But it takes time. Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship goes through all its ups and downs, and in the end it fits.

They come to love each other, not because they fit some perfect mold and tick off all the boxes on their marriage checklist. They come to love each other because they discover the true quality of their romance beneath all the flaws and imperfections. Neither of them was perfect, but they were certainly perfect for each other.

02. Choose your friends well.

“Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him.”

While some people say clothes make the man, I lean towards the philosophy that it is in fact the friends that (help to) make the man. Ultimately, it will be the friendship of my wife that will challenge me to be the best man I can be, but my close guy friends will always have a role in that as well.

If you want to know the man, see what kind of men he surrounds himself with. Look at Mr. Darcy and who he chooses to keep as his closest pal. It’s not some flashy, gaudy, jerk of a man (yes, that includes you Mr. Wickham). No, it’s Mr. Bingley, someone who is defined by his amiability, his loyalty, and his kindness. Darcy even goes out of his way to reignite the relationship of his best friend Bingley and Jane Bennet.

Friendship is by far the most positive quality that defines Darcy throughout the novel, and it is something that men cannot do without if they wish to be the best version of themselves. We, as men, need the support of other men, their encouragement, and their understanding.

Hey, think of it this way: if Bingley had never pursued Jane, would Darcy and Elizabeth have ever seen each other again, let alone ended up together? Good friends are never to be underestimated.

03. Go outside your comfort zone.

“Come, Darcy,” said [Bingley]. . . . “You had much better dance.” “I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner.”

Getting back to the dance. I can personally attest, that as a man, I hate going outside my comfort zone, and dancing is certainly outside my comfort zone.

I have, I am ashamed to admit it, stood back against the wall at weddings or parties, when there were plenty of lovely women just waiting to be asked to dance. It’s scary, uncomfortable, and I feel vulnerable when I do it. And I know plenty of other men who feel the same way. Whether it is dancing, asking a girl out, or initiating a conversation at a social gathering, going outside our comfort zones can be very intimidating.

But here is the secret I learned from Darcy: Yes, it is scary, but she is worth it. It’s okay to be vulnerable, because without vulnerability there is no chance of authentic love. So now, thanks to Darcy, I try my best to move outside that comfort zone—and yes, even dance if necessary—because do I really want to miss out on my future wife because I refused to be vulnerable? More often than not, the very things we find most scary are the same things that turn out to be our greatest joys.

04. Love doesn’t count the cost.

“He had followed them purposely to town, he had taken on himself all the trouble and mortification attendant on such a research. . . . Her heart did whisper that he had done it for her.”

Speaking of love, when does Elizabeth realize Darcy truly, deeply, loves her? It is when she discovers that he has discreetly helped her entire family by finding Lydia and Wickham and paying for their wedding.

At this point in the novel, Elizabeth has rejected Darcy and told him there is no chance of her ever marrying him. So Darcy does this out of sheer love for her; there is no reward in it for him, and Elizabeth recognizes this.

I think this is the lesson: Love doesn’t count the cost.

Pay attention ladies, a true man will show his love for you, even when it does not benefit him. Good men do not count the cost of love. For them, love is never loss. If we truly love the women in our lives, then it is only gain to do the very thing that will make them happy. A good man knows: If we love only when it is easy, it becomes easy not to truly love.

05. Character matters.

“In essentials, I believe, [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.”

This is one of the best lessons Darcy has taught me: As a man, my character will define me. How I act, how I live, what I choose to do, these are the things that will reveal who I really am.

For Darcy, it is his character that ultimately convinces Elizabeth of the depth of his love for her. As she learns to understand him, to see how he lives and what he truly values, she sees his heart clearly and what kind of life would be possible with a man like him.

I don’t mean to overdramatize it or to be melodramatic, but these are the qualities that Mr. Darcy—fictional though he might be—has taught me.

So will I forgo watching the basketball game to go on a special date with the woman I love? Will I let her pick the movie on Friday nights? Will I love her when she is sick, or upset, or going through a tough time? What kind of man will I be?

I guess it is up to me and all the other men out there to make Mr. Darcy a reality—to learn what we can from him and put it into practice. In the meantime, I hope to meet women who, like Elizabeth Bennett, will see past my anxiety at a dance and afford me more than one chance to win her heart.

Photo Credit: BBC