Jane Austen brought to life such cherished characters as Emma (my own personal favorite), Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Willoughby (what a jerk!), and, of course, Mr. Darcy. In all their messy and romantic glory, these characters each revealed truths about courtship and lasting love. To Ms. Austen, we are eternally grateful for this.
For those of us who know and love Jane Austen novels, let’s take a moment to review a few of her lessons in love that are still pure gold today.
01. Make Sure He Knows You Like Him
Nothing kills romance quicker than lack of flirtation. We learned this first from the pages of Pride and Prejudice, as we suffered alongside Jane Bennet when Mr. Bingley ups and abandons Netherfield Park for London without even saying goodbye. Bingley was falling for Jane but was easily convinced by his conniving sister that Jane didn't return his affection—supported by the fact that Jane wasn't sending the right signals. A guy like Mr. Wickham might have an easy enough time believing a woman is in love with him. But humble men like Mr. Bingley will need a bit more persuasion. Don't believe Ms. Austen? Take it from real men today, guys look for specific hints that you’re into them.
02. Actions Speak Louder Than Words
It’s easy to be fooled by smooth operators, as a plethora of Austen characters show. The lesson here? Let a man’s actions be a guide to his true character more than his words. Take, for example, the notorious Mr. Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility. He knew all of the right things to say to win the beautiful Marianne Dashwood’s heart, but he was selfish and untrue. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, was awkward and never said the right things, but in the end he won Elizabeth Bennet over by letting his good deeds reveal his heart. Just like Marianne and Elizabeth, we might get closer to finding Mr. Right by reserving judgment until we have allowed some time to see our guy in action.
03. How He Treats Others Matters
The best way to get to know a guy is by getting to know those he is closest to. How he treats others matters, even those people from his past. Mr. Darcy is a great example of this tried and true dating rule. One of the things that first endeared Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet was how much his little sister and even his servants loved him. Not only that, the truth about his conduct toward Wickham and his sister revealed his history of justice and kindness. As for Mr. Wickham and even Mr. Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility? They both had a history of selfishness and deceit. Had our heroines known about these men's wicked pasts they wouldn't have been so easily taken in.
04. Know What You Want
There is something to be said for knowing yourself and what you want before you make any major relationship decisions, a point Austen drives home in Persuasion. Anne Eliot was young and unsure of herself when Frederick Wentworth proposed. She was in love but unsure and was convinced by her family that property and wealth was more important than her heart. Luckily Anne got a second chance at love, but not everybody has such good fortune. Get to know what it is you truly need and want from a partner. If you do this, you won't allow yourself to get mislead by the lure of wealth or situation.
05. Don’t Give Your Heart Away Too Quickly
It's easy to roll our eyes at the impulsive Marianne Dashwood, but how often have we jumped into a whirlwind romance only to realize it is all wrong? Hormones and chemistry can send a relationship in a direction that make healthy boundaries difficult. Taking a page out of Austen's book, setting up boundaries from the very start—like limiting the amount of time you spend together—can help you to give your heart away with intention and your eyes wide open.
06. Letters Have a Special Power
It's never been easier for scorned lovers to send lengthy emails full of vengeance and snarky text messages in the heat of the moment. As we witnessed in most of Austen's novels, but especially in Sense and Sensibility with Marianne's embarrassingly over the top letter to Willoughby, sometimes it's better to sit on it. Letter writing (or emailing and texting) can be great for communication, but it's better not to send messages in the heat of the moment lest you regret your words.
07. Your Dream Guy Could Be Right in Front of You
Much like the heroines of Austen's beloved novels, most of us look eagerly to the next ball (or party) for a chance to meet the man of our dreams. But, as we learned in Emma and Sense and Sensibility, sometimes the man of our dreams is that guy we never thought to look at in that way. Our good friend? Coworker? Or even the man who is not at all our "type"? Emma had to go through a lot to finally realize that the man for her was really her good friend, Mr. Knightly; and Marianne Dashwood had to go through heartbreak to finally open her heart to Col Brandon. Jane Austen's advice? Take a break from your dating app, and grab a drink with that guy who is "like a brother" to you. You may find out his kindness is not as brotherly as you think!
08. True Love Requires Humility
One of the most endearing things about Emma Woodhouse and Elizabeth Bennet is their humility in the face of their mistakes and their ability to change for the good for the sake of love. Emma heroically looked her errors in the face after Mr. Knightly chastised her for mocking Mrs. Bates. Likewise, Elizabeth was able to humbly acknowledge that she had been at fault in her initial judgment of Mr. Darcy. True love is challenging because it forces us to look our imperfections in the face and requires the best in us to love well. Love takes two people, and the more humble we can be, the more likely it is that we will grow and rise to the occasion.
Photo Credit: Alvin Mahmudov