You learn a lot about dating from watching how your parents love. You can learn from their mistakes. After my parents’ divorce, my mother became a serial monogamist, as if she would float away without a guy around. The actual guy seemed almost impersonal somehow — as if his personality and his characteristics didn’t matter, just the fact that he existed. Rather than being single and having to do the hard work of dealing with yourself, it was easier to deal with someone else’s flaws and imperfections. Even if they weren’t right or the love of your life, at least they were there.
Something about that mentality always reminded me of Jane Austen, looking at love as transactional. In the 19th century, having a husband mattered in that you had to have one — and that was the end of the story. There was no real love or romance, just being cast off by your meddling mother to the highest bidder. You can even see this theme played out in her classic opening sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Note: It doesn’t say “his perfect match” or “a soulmate,” but a wife, as if he were purchasing her at an auction.
Pride and Prejudice is about balancing pragmatism and idealism — looking at love the way Charlotte does versus Elizabeth’s views on love, where she’s looking for her match just as much as she’s looking for a husband. It’s not about finding love in the abstract — like Kitty and Lydia, who will fall for the first guy who comes their way and bats an eye at them. It’s about waiting for the right person, a person that intrigues you, infuriates you and challenges you. It’s about finding someone you love so much that you hate them half of the time, someone you want to kiss and then throw in a lake.
When I see couples who have settled for a Charlotte kind of love, I always want to know what keeps them together at the end of the day. Woody Allen once posited that only stupidity and narcissism could lead to that kind of complacent happiness, but I think it’s fear. You are afraid to feel that kind of burning passion, the kind that makes you want to rip your heart out and throw it on the ground. You are afraid of loving someone so much and not being loved back, being rejected, being in a relationship where you love them too much or being dumped and left behind. Whoever said its better to have loved and lost has never eaten half a bucket of tear-stained ice cream in their underwear.
I don’t think its better necessarily, but I think we need those loves — even if they don’t work out in the end. We need to give ourselves over fully to another being or force, whether that’s God or love, to prove that we have the ability to have faith and take that leap. Waiting for the right person — when you are that heart-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach kind of in love takes patience, perseverance and more than a bit of stupidity. You have to be willing to look like a total fool and demand that they love you back. You have to demand that they love you back every single fucking day — and that takes strength, energy and courage.
Real love takes time. The great thing about getting into a relationship with someone you aren’t passionate about is that you don’t have to work for it. It’s as simple as updating your status or hitting the “four star” option on OKCupid. It’s not love, just poking. But actually falling in love with someone isn’t a decision you make once. There’s the first time you realize what’s happening and the second time you consent to the falling, but there’s also the thirtieth time where you have to keep trying, continuing to love them just as much as when they first set your heart on fire. There’s the sixtieth time you fall in love with them, when you let them surprise you and when you do the work of continuing to learn and grow.
You could probably have that feeling with anyone. You could walk up on the street and find some cute guy and say, “Hey, want to marry me?” and I bet some dude would take you up on it. He wasn’t doing anything today, so why not spend your life with a total stranger? I bet you could grow old together and not learn a real thing about each other, loving him like you love the socks on your feet, warm and comfortable. You love them because you know they’re still there in the morning and you think that’s what matters most.
There’s something to be said for this kind of love, but ask yourself: Is this what you really want? Do you want a love that’s like socks? Your love should be like the Trojan War, something for which you would risk the safety of an entire civilization. If love is sending all your ships into battle, you don’t do that for anyone or an everyday kind of love. Love should be the person you’d rather blow up the world than live without.
There’s nothing comfortable or easy about love. What could be less easy than building a life with someone? What could be harder than having this person who knows everything about you and is always around to expect better from you? When it comes down to it, love kind of sucks — the uncertainty, the learning to trust someone with all your neuroses, the opening up and the horrifying feeling it could all come crashing down at any second. Love sucks so much that you couldn’t possibly live without it — all of the drama, the heartache and the beautiful, beautiful bullshit.
Love sucks, but it sucks a lot less when you find the right person to be in love with. Actually, you might find that it doesn’t suck, not even a little bit, not even at all.