Jane Austen, We Need You Now!

Good news! “U.S. marriage rate stable”–researchers report that 56% of men and 52% of women are still married twenty years into their first marriages.

Don’t feel like breaking out the champagne? Wondering whether our expectations for long-term happiness in relationships can possibly go any lower?

There’s good reason to worry. It’s not just the hard data about divorce, or about how fewer and fewer people are even attempting long-term commitment in the first place.

There are also all the firsthand accounts–overwhelmingly by women, though men are frustrated too—-of how nearly impossible it seems to be, to get what we want out of relationships.

We have brilliant social scientists explaining the breakdown of marriage and brilliant cultural commentators warning about the toxic mess that modern relationships often descend into. But where can we go for a viable alternative?

May I suggest?–Jane Austen. The list of what she has to offer modern men and (especially) women practically writes itself. I’ll start, but please jump into the conversation!

What we find in Jane Austen, that’s too often missing from real life today:

  • Love lives with dignity, instead of humiliation–Emma and Lizzy make mistakes, but it’s all on a higher plane, somehow

  • An aesthetic of elegance, not hotness
  • Keen (and mostly forgotten) insights into male and female psychology
  • “Rules,” not for manipulating the opposite sex but for getting just close enough to the other person to know whether he’s the one for you–without getting so close you completely lose your perspective
  • Happily ever after as a live option