It’s the sort of dilemma Jane Austen would have appreciated. A 38-year-woman writes in the Daily Mail in the UK that she is contemplating Settling for Mr. Not Quite Right rather than being alone, and wonders if she is doing the right thing.
“The vast majority of us have been conditioned to crave the dream of falling in love, marrying The One and living happily ever after,” writes Lucy Taylor. “It has taken me 38 years to wake up to the fact that this is just a dream.”
Perhaps, she muses, the practical view of marriage taken in “The Dark Ages” (including Jane Austen’s era) wasn’t that far off the mark. People married to better their position in society, support themselves and their families, and give a home to the children they hoped to have. Many marriages were arranged by the families, as they still are today in many cultures.
It’s a thought-provoking piece (I do wonder if her boyfriend read it, and how he feels about it). Despite having been in love three or four times and married twice (#2 is going on 24 years), I wouldn’t dream of advising someone like Ms. Taylor. Every woman has to figure out these things for herself.
But anyone who has been in a marriage or other long-term relationship knows that the heady romance fades early on (except in rare cases). Long-term marital satisfaction is based on what psychologists call companionate love, the affection and tenderness you feel for someone with whom your life is deeply connected. There are many days when you love your partner for no other reason than the fact that he’s still there, even after dirty diapers and arguments over money and your daughter’s F in history and that crummy vacation when it rained all the time and the fact that he wants a dog and you don’t.
In fact, it is precisely this staying power that wins the women in Jane Austen’s novels. These ladies may be in love, but they’re not hopeless romantics. Mr. Knightley and Colonel Brandon and Mr. Darcy and Edmund Bertram are the guys who stick with the heroines through thick and thin. Some of the most romantic, charming men in Austen’s novels don’t make the grade as Mr. Right: Willoughby. Wickham. Crawford.
The Daily Mail chose photos from the 1995 movie “Sense and Sensibility” to illustrate Taylor’s blog piece, pointing out that Willoughby ditches Marianne (and romantic love) to marry for money. They forgot the flip side of that story. Once she is jilted, Marianne “settles” for Col. Brandon. She is not as head over heels in love with him as she was with Willoughby, but she learns to love him and to appreciate that he is indeed a man worth marrying.