Monday, September 10, 2007

Blaming Mr. Darcy

Ah, it's a lovely rainy day, the kind that makes me want to curl up with a good book or write like a maniac. But as I don't currently have anything to write, I'll have to figure out how to spend the day.

Fortunately, I did seem to get over my reading slump, and it appears to in part have been caused by poor book selection. I managed to grab a couple of tragedies, the kind of books where nothing ends well for anyone, and not even in a triumph-over-tragedy way, and call me shallow, but I like at least a teeny bit of triumph for at least one character. They don't have to walk into the sunset holding hands and in love for all time, but I do like to get the sense that something was accomplished and that any sacrifices made were worthwhile. In these books, after the first few senseless tragedies, I skipped ahead, and after I realized that nothing good would happen, I had to put the books down.

So the next book I dug into was a funny, lighter book that was intended for the previous weekend's Austen-fest, only the library didn't get it to me in time. Austenland by Shannon Hale is the story of a young woman who's let herself get hung up on Mr. Darcy. Then her great aunt dies and leaves her a trip to what's essentially a Jane Austen amusement park -- you spend three weeks totally immersed in a Regency world, wearing the clothes, staying at the manor house, and generally living the life of a Jane Austen character, with costumed actors playing the roles of the various other people and setting up scenarios out of Austen's novels. Our heroine is rather surprised by just how little she gets into the whole thing -- she doesn't want to give up her cell phone, she finds Regency life incredibly boring, and she can never let herself forget that the men courting her are actually actors. But the experience does make her re-evaluate the way she approaches relationships, and she realizes that Mr. Darcy was never the real problem. I really liked this book, I think because the way the heroine approached all this felt very real, and there was a lot of humor, as well as a very nice romantic plot.

But it does seem like there's now a whole "It's all Mr. Darcy's fault" subgenre about women who let themselves get hung up on that one romantic ideal, and they then have to overcome that in order to be able to appreciate the real men they actually know. But really, was Mr. Darcy actually all that? I mean, to the point of not being willing to accept anything less? I think he's an interesting character, and it is fascinating seeing how Lizzie peels back the layers to discover who and what he really is, but it's her discovery that's the real story. Almost everything he does is off-stage. I guess there's also the Colin Firth factor, but while I do think he was the perfect Darcy, and the scene with the wet white shirt is a classic, I don't think that role was Colin Firth at his most appealing. My heart is more likely to flip-flop over the marriage proposal in halting Portuguese in Love, Actually or even the part in Bridget Jones's Diary when Mark Darcy helps salvage Bridget's disastrous attempt at a dinner party. There's one moment during the party when Mark really lets his guard down for the first time and just grins, and that makes me melt.

I've been trying to figure out if I have a Darcy equivalent, some fictional man I've idealized to the point that no real man stands a chance with me, but I can't think of any one man. I have a habit of falling in love with all of them -- almost every book I read, movie I see and TV series I watch, there's at least one person I get a minor crush on. Then I'm horribly fickle because the next thing to come along can totally replace my last obsession. I suppose it's possible that my problem is the cumulative effect of all these heroes over the years, and when you put together every fictional character into one, grand idealized man, then yeah, the real ones don't stand a chance. But I'm also pretty practical in my approach. I'm well aware that while I like these men in the context in which I encounter them, I probably wouldn't want them in my life in reality. Most of them have serious issues or baggage, because a totally emotionally healthy person can make for a pretty boring character, or else they're the kind of men who'd be bored and frustrated in my reality, while their reality isn't a place I'd want to live. The possible exceptions may be the sidekick characters I have a tendency to fall for. Most of them are more or less stable, and while they can deal with the situations their heroic friends are in, I'm not sure they'd mind the chance to live a normal life. Still, I doubt this array of wonderful fictional men is the reason I'm still single. I will admit to being on dates and catching myself thinking that I'd be having more fun at home watching or reading about my latest fave, but that has more to do with the enjoyment of the experience than about me comparing the actual man to the fictional character. And, in some cases, I'd be having more fun sitting at home and watching the Weather Channel.

And that brings me to another rant: Why must there be a reason I'm still single? Why is being single considered a problem that must be solved? Yet I get that question a lot. At least the spin on it seems to have become more favorable. I used to get it with the implication that there was something wrong with me -- that I wasn't getting out enough to meet men, that I was too picky, that I had somehow been ruined by writing romance novels so that I couldn't accept a man who didn't act like a romance hero. Now the implication is more "what is wrong with these men that no one has snapped up a treat like you?" I don't even think that's fair, as it's not as though there are all these men I desperately wished would notice me who couldn't appreciate my charms. Then the really annoying thing is that the male interest I've been getting lately has been of the "I can't believe you're still single, but since you are, hey, maybe you're desperate enough that I stand a chance" variety, or else the "I'm obviously smarter than those other idiot men because I can appreciate what a catch you are." Ugh.

No, the answer to why I'm still single is that I haven't met anyone I would want to spend my life with. Period. I suppose I've known some men who were already married that I think might possibly have been compatible with me, but because I have that filter in my brain that puts married men in a different category, I haven't even considered whether I'd have actual chemistry with them, and I've thought these men were very good fits with their wives, so I don't even have the sense that some other woman has stolen my destined husband. I don't have any men who got away -- men I really liked and wanted to be with who went off in other directions. I just plain haven't met the right person. According to the Myers-Briggs evaluation, I have one of the rarest personality types, which makes it very difficult to find compatible people, and that may have something to do with it. I also don't consider being single a "problem." I'm generally happy with my life, and I'm not willing to give up what I have just to be part of a couple unless I enjoy being with that other person more than I enjoy being alone. The only times I feel the singleness in a bad way are the Noah's Ark kind of events where everyone is invited with the dreaded "and guest" and I have no one to ask, but I know that because of the "and guest" that almost everyone there will have a date and I'll be the lone oddball. (I would like to point out that the "and guest" is a relatively recent development that isn't really proper according to etiquette. If you know someone well enough to invite to an event, you should know if they're part of a couple and invite the other person individually, or if they're married or live together, you address the invitation to both of them. Otherwise, you just invite the single person as his/herself without the implication that they're not good enough on their own that the "and guest" can create. And then there might be more than one single person there, so there's a chance of mingling and meeting people instead of everyone having scrambled to find a date. But then if people actually followed those guidelines, then the entire chick-lit publishing genre would implode more than it already has because there could no longer be all those books about desperately trying to find a date to be the "and guest" at some rival, relative or ex's wedding.)

And now Miss Manners will go make some tea and think of something to write or read.

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