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Wedding Blues: What would Jane Austen say about the common cupcake?

Vintage 40's Vogue Wedding Pattern

Tea:  Earl Grey with Milk

Music:  Antonin Dvorak: Russalka: Song to the Moon

Dear Erica,

I am planning my wedding for June, and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed.  We are paying for it ourselves, and cutting corners on the flowers, and the food, and any number of details.  I want the day to be memorable and special, but I fear that people are going to think it’s cheap(my mother-in-law has certainly implied as much).  Cupcakes just don’t cut it in her book.  Not that she’s helping out in any way of course. Any words of advice?

Engaged in England

Dear Engaged in England,

Has your mother-in-law ever tried a cupcake???  She sounds like she’s a miserable old boot, so I’d ignore anything she has to say and remind you what Jane Austen says about Emma’s wedding to Mr. Knightley.

“The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own.—”Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business!—Selina would stare when she heard of it.”—But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.”  Emma by Jane Austen

As wedding season approaches and new brides find themselves overwhelmed by the drama of the details, it is easy to forget that the wedding should be about you, the happy couple, and really that’s about it. Try and remember why you are getting married, and ignore the whinging on the part of cheap and miserable relatives and Mrs. Elton type guests.  None of that matters.  The people who truly love you and care for you will only be thinking about your future happiness, not gossiping about the satin, lace, or God forbid, cupcakes.

Best,

Erica

April 27, 2012   1 Comment

Ending an Engagement: Break Slowly or Snap Suddenly?

Promenade by Auguste Macke

Tea:  PG Tips with a splash of milk

Music:  Handel:  Alla Hornpipe, Suite in D Water Music

Dear Erica,

I’ve gotten engaged to my boyfriend of nearly five years, but after just a few short weeks, I’ve decided I can’t go through with it.  How can I end it as nicely as possibly?  Do I tell him I’m having doubts now and then later on break the news gently?  Or do I tell him right away?  I know I will hurt him, and I do care for him, but I also know I’d be miserable if I married him.  What should I do?

Distressed in Denver

Dear Distressed in Denver,

If you are certain you want to end your engagement, I advise you to do it right away.  Unfortunately, breaking off an engagement is never easy, as Helen tells her sister Margaret in Howard’s End.

“Can you break an engagement off slowly?”  Her eyes lit up.  ”What’s an engagement made of, do you suppose?  I think it’s made of some hard stuff, that may snap.  It is different to the other ties of life.  They stretch or bend.  They admit of degree.  They’re different.” Howard’s End by E.M Forster

In Howard’s End, Paul Wilcox and Helen Schlegel enter into a whirlwind engagement that they soon regret.  Once they had broken off their engagment, Paul and Helen never felt the same about each other, the spark of attraction disappeared, and an antipathy developed between their two families.  As I’m sure you are aware, your old relationship will never be the same.  However, as difficult as a broken engagement can be, it is more important to be true to yourself than to remain engaged.  If Helen and Paul had remained engaged, she would have been miserable and would not have lived the life she was meant to live. And as messy and dramatic as that life turned out to be, she was far happier being true to herself.

My only advice is that if you are sure you want to end your engagement, you should do it quickly, decisively, and with as much discretion as possible, i.e., try to keep the gossiping to a minimum.  In Howard’s End, different family members get the wrong end of the stick as letters are exchanged and gossip spreads.  As a sign of respect and affection, you must tell your fiance the news first, and avoid discussing the matter with too many people.  As hurt as he will be by your ending the engagement, he will be mortally wounded if he finds out from someone else that you are having doubts.  I wish I could give you more comforting words of advice, but just remember, that many women have found themselves in the same unfortunate situation as you, and some very remarkable heroines, and they all survived.  And you will too.

Best,

Erica

February 22, 2012   No Comments

The Steamy One Night Affair – Do you or Don’t you?

van-dongen-woman-on-a-sofa-19301

Tea: Earl Grey with a splash of Milk

Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme

Quote: “The fine flower of their intimacy was to her rather like an orchid, a bulb stuck parasitic on her tree of life, and producing, to her eyes, a rather shabby flower. She was aware only of the physical aversion. It rose up in her from her depths: and she realized how it had been eating her life away.” Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Question:

If the opportunity for the perfect, steamy, one-time affair came along, and you knew your partner wouldn’t find out, should you (1) take it because life is too short, OR (2) pass?

Best,

Torn in Temecula

My Response:

Dear Torn in Temecula,

As a hypothetical question, it is tricky because you are assuming the impossible, the perfect, steamy, one-time affair. If you are writing to me with this question, it shows that you are not the type to enter into a steamy, one-time affair lightly. Even if your partner won’t find out, you will most likely be overwhelmed with guilt, or develop impractical feelings for this new lover. Your perfect affair will seem not so perfect pretty quickly.

In romance, the imagined is often much better than the realized. Whatever you imagine this steamy, one-time affair to be, it is doubtful that it will be as good in reality as you think. I would only recommend an affair if your marriage or relationship is so unbearable that you are willing to risk losing it. Lady Chatterley’s affair with her gamekeeper would not have occurred if her husband wasn’t such a weak, selfish, and impotent snob. Their marriage was nothing more than “a shabby flower” and she felt nothing but “aversion” for him. In this case, one can understand what would drive her to embark on an affair. Especially when you have the virile and earthy Oliver Mellors residing in the nearby woods! Who can resist a “reckless devil”?

Affairs should always be the last resort. Even if you manage to turn your one time-affair into a stable relationship with your new lover, the guilt and baggage that comes with the affair is likely to haunt you -remember Anna Karenina? My advice is that unless you want your marriage or relationship to end, you should devote your energies to reminding yourself why you fell in love with your husband or lover to begin with. Unless your husband or lover is a weak, selfish, impotent snob. And then maybe you are better off with your steamy, one-time affair!

Good luck with your Decision!

Erica

January 11, 2012   4 Comments

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

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