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Dating Advice from Novelist Jane Austen?

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Are American women — and some men, too — turning to Jane Austen for dating advice? If the spate of books recently released or coming out soon is any indication, the answer is “Yes.”

A recent Time article lists three of these books and summed up the necessity of the quest: “We’re no longer content to watch fictional characters find true love: we want Jane Austen to help us out, too.”

Perhaps the need for advice comes from our lack of relationship rules and structure in today’s society. If “reality” television accurately portrays today’s dating scene, morality is irrelevant and an “anything goes” attitude is prevalent.  Does that lack of values lead to compatibility, security, and commitment? (Hint: No, it doesn’t.)

The Washington Post runs a weekly column in their Sunday magazine called “Date Lab.” It is almost the same story each week: two people who were matched through the Post’s database of applicants go on a blind date; upon seeing the other person they each usually tell the interviewer the person isn’t their normal type but are cute/good-looking; the couple talks for several hours, finding common interests and experiences; the two usually remark separately that time flew by, they had a good time, rate the date pretty high and then say, “but there was no chemistry,” or “I didn’t feel a spark.” That’s the end of the story, on to the next date.

Jane Austen’s novels would be a pretty quick read if the characters based their future prospects on their initial reaction to someone. Judging compatibility after only one meeting would not have led to Mr. Darcy marrying Elizabeth Bennet. Almost 200 years after its publication, Pride and Prejudice still has women dreaming of finding their own Mr. Darcy, but they won’t find him if they follow current dating trends.

And that is perhaps because they are going out (sometimes not even on a “date,” just a “hook-up” with no supposed strings attached) without getting to know each other, much less view the other person or evaluate the other as a prospect for marriage. When a couple views each other as a potential life-long mate and companion, their perspective is necessarily deeper and more thoughtful than merely judging on appearance. Obviously, such deeper considerations are in stark contrast to couples eyeing each other only for a casual sexual encounter.

As I say in my new book, Marriage Matters, the truth is simple. To love deeply and with greater enthusiasm, we must be highly discriminating about our relationships with the opposite sex.

That’s a lesson that Jane Austen taught 200 years ago — and it is still useful today.