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Twenty and Never Been Kissed: Perplexed in Portland Wonders Why

Emma & Knightley

Emma & Knightley

Tea: Plantation Mint
Music: Frank Bridge: Sir Roger de Coverly

Quote: Emma argued, “I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want.”
Harriet responded: “But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!”
Jane Austen’s Emma

Question:

Dear Erica,

I am slightly concerned about my younger cousin. She is twenty years old, and has yet to go out on a first date! She is very pretty and smart, and I am unsure what the problem may be. My only clue is that when asked why she said no to a potential suitor, she said she just didn’t have that “oh my god” moment of wanting to throw her arms around him and kick up her back heel. What advice do you have for someone who needs to jumpstart her love life, let go of this fictional idea of romance, and finally be kissed?!

Perplexed in Portland

Response:

Dear Perplexed in Portland,

Your cousin sounds an awful lot like Emma Woodhouse. Jane Austen’s classic heroine is entirely comfortable with her life, surrounded by her father, her governess, and her friend Mr. Knightley, and she does not feel the urge to marry, even though it is customary among her friends. After muddling through a series of romantic misunderstandings, Emma matures and comes to understand her true feelings, and by the end of the novel, we see her happily married to her old friend Mr. Knightley.

If your cousin is longing to be in a relationship, I would advise her to beware of having an unrealistic expectation of love. As I have repeatedly emphasized on Teatime with Erica, a relationship is not all roses and romance(See Princes and Pomp and Should you Settle for Something Less than Perfect). Your cousin’s desire to find an “oh my god moment suggests that she may be immature and not ready for a meaningful adult relationship. It may be easier for her to dream of romantic heroes who will make her swoon, than to navigate the difficulties inherent in a real relationship.

On the other hand, it is possible that like Emma Woodhouse, she is happy in her situation and does not need or want a boyfriend. In our society, there is too much emphasis on dating in high school and youthful infatuations are often dressed up as love affairs. While some young women are ready at fifteen to be married and have babies, other women might not feel comfortable dating until they are in their twenties. Not every one is a Juliet, madly in love and barely fourteen. Your cousin sounds like a late developer(a number of my favorite heroines were the same: Polly Shaw of An Old Fashioned Girl, as well as Margaret Hale of North and South). Don’t worry though! Like Emma and Margaret and Polly, your cousin will eventually be ready, and then she will find her own Mr. Knightley.

Best,

Erica

May 18, 2011   No Comments

The 19th Century Frenemy: Lucy Steele Found in Florida

Erte

Erte

Tea:  Acai Blueberry White Tea
Music:  Arcangelo Corelli: Concerto Grosso No. 10


Quote:
Elinor was sorry to see them.  Their presence always gave her pain, and she hardly knew how to make a very gracious return to the overpowering delight of Lucy in finding her STILL in town.
“I should have been quite disappointed if I had not found you here STILL,” said she repeatedly, with a strong emphasis on the word.  ”But I was almost sure you would not leave London yet awhile; though you TOLD me, you know, at Barton, that you should not stay above a MONTH.  And now to be sure you will be in no hurry to be gone.  I am amazingly glad you did not keep to YOUR WORD.”
Elinor perfectly understood her, and was forced to use all her self-command to make it appear that she did NOT.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensiblity

Question:

Dear Erica,

I am a Freshman at FIU and I’m beginning to be suspicious of my roommate(let’s call her Nikki).  She doesn’t have that many female friends, but she has always been really sweet to me.  However, I started dating a guy six months ago, and Nikki always manages to flirt with him when we go out.  I thought I was just being crazy, but the other night, I noticed she sent him a text message about the new FIU basketball coach.  My boyfriend is obsessed with college basketball.  Not a big deal, but Nikki told me she thinks sports are totally boring.  What do you think?  Am I crazy or should I be concerned?

Frazzled in Florida

Dear Frazzled in Florida,

Talk about warning signs.  She sounds like the ultimate Frenemy.  Texting your boyfriend about the coach when she has told you she doesn’t like sports?  I think we have a modern day Lucy Steele on our hands.  Jane Austen’s novels are rife with frenemies, but none is more despicable than the inimitable Lucy Steele.  In Austen’s Sense and Sensiblity, Lucy epitomizes the 19th century Frenemy who repeatedly declares her immense affection for Elinor, while staking her claim on Elinor’s beau, the guileless Edward Ferrars.  Elinor has too much sense not to see through the shallow machinations of Lucy, and cleverly maintains her distance, ultimately winning Edwards affections.

It’s possible you are being unreasonably jealous, and a text message is not a cause for concern. However, the fact that Nikki doesn’t have many female friends should be a major warning sign.  Women can be judgmental, and cruel.  But if a woman doesn’t have any female friends, there is usually a reason.  And the sweeter she is to you, the more you should be concerned.  Lucy was never more manipulative than when she was offering her sweetest endearments to Elinor Dashwood.  Trust your instincts. If she is telling you that you are her dearest friend, but looking longingly at your boyfriend, remember Lucy Steele and keep your distance.

Best,

Erica

April 28, 2011   1 Comment

Is Passion Sustainable in a Healthy Relationship?

Doisneau, 1950.

Doisneau, 1950.

Tea: Pomegranate White Tea
Music: Jose Gonzalez: Heartbeats

Quote: Before long, Tom and Polly were sitting side by side, enjoying the blissful state of mind which usually follows the first step out of our work-a-day world, into the glorified region wherein lovers rapturously exist for a month or two. Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl

Or for some tough love:

Mortal lovers must not try to remain at the first step; for lasting passion is the dream of a harlot and from it we wake in despair. C.S. Lewis

Question:

Dear Erica,

In relationships, do you have to sacrifice passion for sustainability? Is it possible to settle down and have a healthy relationship with the same guy who makes you feel like the heroine in a romance novel?

Best,

Baffled in Brooklyn

My Response:

Dear Baffled in Brooklyn:

A tricky question. If you see my post Princes and Pomp from January, I advise my readers to be wary of missing out on the love of your life because you are looking for some idealized hero who does not exist. However, if there is no passion, it is hard to have a sustainable relationship. Sex and sustainability go hand in hand. Anne of Green Gables might not have thought that Gilbert was her romantic hero, but all that romantic tension made it clear to the reader they had some serious chemistry. Nearly all good relationships have that initial spark. However, romance novels deal with the first step of a courtship, and as both C.S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott reflect in the quotes above, that “glorified region” is a temporary state, and from it we must move forward.

Nearly all romance novels end with the courtship, which rarely lasts more than a few months.  We do not see a married Jane and Mr. Rochester arguing over who forgot to buy the butter, or Elizabeth nagging Darcy because the carriage is looking worn and she wants it to be replaced.  In a romance novel, one never sees the effect of the daily squabbles on a relationship.  It is one thing to deal with standard roadblocks during a courtship(disapproving relatives, crazy ex-girlfriends, or if you are Jane Eyre, a crazy wife living in the attic), it’s another thing to deal with your husband or lover never putting his socks in the hamper(Will they ever learn?).

The tension and drama of “Will he call? Does he like me? Can we make it work?”, all those agonizing moments contribute to the excitement of dating. And as you settle into a stable relationship, you will find not only the heartache, but also the excitement caused by those moments fades. Passion does not disappear, but it does take a different more sustainable shape, and if you hope to feel like a heroine in a romance novel for the entire relationship, you are guaranteed to be disappointed.  For a look at passion in an old married couple, you should read Anne Tyler’s Breathing Lessons. The middle-aged couple, Maggie and Ira, bicker over all the mundane affairs of married life, but still have enough passion to make love at a funeral. One can only imagine what sort of tea they were drinking.

Yours truly,

Erica

February 26, 2011   1 Comment

Princes & Pomp

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Tea: Mint Medley
Music: Pachelbel-Leppard: Canon

Quote: “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart it’s pages and betrayed the rhythm and the music; perhaps… perhaps… love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath. -L.M. Montgomery

or put bluntly,
“True love comes quietly, without banners or flashing lights. If you hear bells, get your ears checked.” Erich Segal

You may not find Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series next to Jane Eyre at the bookstore. In fact, it would most likely be relegated to the teen literature department. But, Anne’s prickly relationship with Gilbert has to be considered one of the best literary love stories, and provides a number of lessons for us modern day women. What true romantic was not intrigued by Anne’s feisty rivalry with Avonlea heartthrob Gilbert Blythe? Their initial bickering evolved into a warm and affectionate friendship that had you rooting for them from the the first time he called her “Carrots”. However, when he professed his love for her, she turned him away because he did not fit her romantic ideal. Dreaming of drama and adventure, she left home to find a romantic hero, only to find everything she wanted could be found in her small hometown and in the friend she had foolishly brushed aside.

As we look for love in the twenty first century, we should do our best to avoid looking for an unrealistic romantic hero outside of our everyday world (a prince on a white horse). Those princes do exist, but are few and far between. If you are not careful, you may miss out on the real love of your life because you are too busy chasing an illusion. Don’t overlook that childhood friend, that roommate, that colleague or old boyfriend who doesn’t fit into the romantic ideal you have foolishly created for yourself.

January 13, 2011   2 Comments