Much as I would like to think of myself as a Lizzie Bennet, I’m really a Jane. Granted, I have a few qualities that make me more Lizzie-esque, but when it comes to dating, I seem to follow a lot of the same patterns as Jane—for better or for worse.
Even though she ran in the social circles of the Regency Period, there’s actually a lot of crossover between the dating dynamics of today and of two hundred years ago. In the story, Jane is “shy and modest” about her interest in Charles Bingley—which, as Lizzie’s friend Charlotte points out, also means that Charles might think she’s not interested.
I think many women, like myself, sometimes fall into the “never let him know you like him” trap. I don’t know where we learned this tactic, but it could be due to many things, such as shyness, uncertainty, or being stuck in a "he should make the first move" mentality.
Either way, by taking a look at Jane Bennet’s romantic non-adventures we get a glimpse of the same kind of pitfalls many women fall into today today. So what’s a shy girl to do?
01. Affirm a man in his interests.
Jane makes the mistake of downplaying, or even hiding, her interest in Charles when she is around him. Sometimes I think we do this out of fear that the other person isn’t interested, we’re not sure what the outcome will be, or we aren’t sure how we feel. But this approach didn’t serve sweet Jane very well. Thank goodness she confided in her more confident and headstrong sister!
It’s okay to want to wait for someone or to want someone who will take initiative, but women actually have a unique power in being able to affirm men in their interest so that they can feel ready to pursue her. In fact, research as far back as the 1950s shows that women from across many different cultures are typically the ones to initiate courtship with signs of interest. Dr. Helen Fisher, anthropologist and author of Anatomy of Love, explains that this kind of obvious interest on the woman’s part is how most romances gets started. If you think a man is interested, he probably has a lot of the same questions about your interest level, so you can help him along a little and be more open about your feelings.
02. Ask your future self how you would feel.
Jane doesn’t make her interest known and then Charles moves on...without her. She feels like she missed a huge opportunity—and she did! Instead of getting to this point and despairing or feeling down or even asking “how could he not know?” or “maybe he didn’t actually like me,” Jane’s foible teaches us to think ahead and be proactive. Try to ask yourself how you would feel if this potential interest was suddenly out of your life.
This is actually a common reflection technique for making decisions. Picture yourself in the future where the possibility of dating this person is gone for some reason. How do you feel? Do you regret not saying something? Are you upset? If yes, then you should say something now. If you’re actually not that upset, then maybe wait to see if your feelings change or move on.
03. Live your life, and leave the door open.
Jane also teaches us to still live our lives even while wishing a guy would pursue us. Here at least is an area that Jane offers a positive example for the timid. After Bingley leaves, she doesn’t sit around and mope, she goes to London and “diverts” herself with other things. The people we are attracted to and want to get to know are usually people who have interests and passions that they are following. Think about this. Many of your friends and people you admire probably pursue what excites them and live their lives fully. When we focus on doing this for ourselves, we attract people naturally.
That being said, Jane doesn’t choose to visit Bath for diversion, she heads to London which also happens to be where Bingley and his sisters were staying. Smart girl! She enjoyed her time in London, but also created an opportunity for Bingley to make a move—even visiting the Bingley sisters to let her presence in town known. If a guy we are interested in doesn’t make a move, it’s tempting to write him off. But take a cue from Jane, and leave a door open for him for when he admits he has been “the most unmitigated ass.” Cute!
04. Ask friends for help.
If you’re not comfortable being bold or going right up to a guy and asking him out, just focus on finding the balance between living your life and waiting for the right moment. If the direct moves aren’t for you, ask your sisters or friends to help you out, like Lizzie and Darcy did for Jane. Although Jane didn’t ask, she probably should have.
There’s a beauty in vulnerability and an art in showing your heart to someone. Scary as it is, I think it’s worth it. Just watch Jane’s face when she finally says “yes” to Bingley when he comes back for her. You don’t want to miss that moment in your own life!
*This article has been updated to reflect a different period of England's history that Austen was affiliated with.
Photo Credit: The Kitcheners