A 21st Century Person’s Guide to 18th Century Love

Let me share with you a couple of quotes. Here’s the first:

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

That, of course, is from Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite novels of all time. (I get teased about this a lot because I always seem to bring up Jane Austen in almost every conversation. And that’s true. I believe Austen has a lot to say about many aspects of life. But I digress.)

And here’s the second quote:

“You put the boom-boom into my heart. You send my soul sky high when your lovin’ starts. Jitterbug into my brain (yeah, yeah). Goes a bang-bang-bang ’til my feet do the same.”

And that, I’m sure you know (unless you were born in the 90s and onward), is from Wham, one of my favorite bands from the 80s.

As you can see, there’s a world of difference between these two quotes, in the quality of their language and in their method of expressing themselves toward the object of their affections. The first is more elegant, passionate, and profound, whereas the second seems, well, superficial, vapid, and inelegant, although it does sound funny and fun. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that both came from very different eras and milieus. Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy came from a more intelligent era, one with a lot of nuance, sophistication, and self-control, whereas George Michael and Wham came from a more, let us say, frivolous period.

But this essay won’t be about the difference between these two eras and how they approach love. Rather, this will be about how to win the heart of the object of your love in the manner in which Mr. Darcy, or Elizabeth Bennet, won theirs.

Let me start by making two bold assertions.

The first is this: A Gentleman wants and needs a Lady, and conversely, a Lady wants and needs a Gentleman.

The second is this: To deserve a Lady, a guy must first become a Gentleman, and conversely, to deserve a Gentleman, a girl must first become a Lady.

(Of course, there are exceptions to this. A Gentleman, although he may naturally want a Lady, may choose to devote his life to a vocation or calling, and vice versa.)

In Jane Austen’s novels, what attracts a man to a woman are her qualities as a Lady: the beauty of her mind and character, and not primarily her external qualities. And what attracts a woman to a man are his qualities as a Gentleman: the beauty of his mind and character, and not primarily his external attributes.

There is a wealth of wisdom in this idea. We, moderns, have a tendency to think that a way to a woman’s heart, for example, lies in appealing to her senses by advertising our external traits, such as the size of our biceps or the extent of our net worth. What Austen is saying is that these are not what women really want in a non-superficial way, although some do fall for that trap, which is a tragedy. What Austen’s heroines find irresistible is a man who is not just a man, but a Gentleman.

It follows, therefore, that in order to win the heart of a Lady, you must first become a Gentleman, or in order to win the affections of a Gentleman, you must first become a Lady.

So how does one become a Gentleman, or how does one become a Lady? I think we can answer these questions by taking a look at the Gentlemen and Ladies in Austen’s fiction and identifying their most common traits. And then we can decide whether we want to emulate them or not.

So here are the attributes of a Gentleman:

1. A Gentleman writes well. He has a good command of language and is able to express his thoughts in a careful, elegant, and articulate manner. He also takes time to write to friends and family.

2. A Gentleman reads well. He knows the importance of books and reading and takes time to read quality literature.

3. A Gentleman thinks well. He is careful, clear, and logical in his thinking.

4. A Gentleman dresses well. He is excellent in his person and appearance.

5. A Gentleman is punctual. He wakes up early and is always on time.

6. A Gentleman is polite, courteous, and respectful. Good manners are essential for him.

7. A Gentleman converses well. For him, conversation is an art, and while there is always a place for light banter in any chat, words should be taken seriously and used responsibly.

8. A Gentleman, whether alone or in the company of friends or strangers, behaves or conducts himself well. He knows the importance of good breeding.

9. A Gentleman works well. He is thorough and excellent in his work and is able to achieve great things in his profession or enterprise.

10. A Gentleman recognizes objective and universal values. He knows that values such as truth, goodness, and beauty are not merely subjective, and therefore he is able to appreciate them as objective realities of human experience.

11. A Gentleman lives out the virtues. He is prudent, just, temperate, and has fortitude.

12. A Gentleman is faithful to his duties and obligations. He is able to see things through and fulfill his promises and responsibilities.

13. A Gentleman loves well. He is faithful to his beau.

14. A Gentleman prays well. He starts and ends his day with a prayer. He is aware of the central importance of faith in his life and morals.

15. A Gentleman, whether married or not, is chaste and pure in his heart, thoughts, and actions. He is mortified by any impurity in his words or deeds.

16. A Gentleman is a modern-day knight. He is noble, valiant, and gallant, and is able to defend himself and his beloved from any figurative dragons in life.

And here are the qualities of a Lady, at least so far as I have observed them in Austen’s heroines:

1. A Lady writes well. She, too, has a great command of language and is able to express herself in words thoughtfully, delicately, intelligently, and with elegance and grace.

2. A Lady reads well. She also knows that books are important for a healthy intellectual life.

3. A Lady thinks well. She takes care to think clearly and rationally, even as she relies on her feelings, hunches, or instincts to arrive at the best decisions.

4. A Lady dresses well. For her, dressing well or beautifully is not a superficial nor trivial thing.

5. A Lady converses well. She is careful, clear, graceful, and elegant in her words and expressions.

6. A Lady conducts herself well. She knows the importance of propriety and good breeding in her behavior.

7. A Lady works well. She devotes herself to whatever endeavor she chooses to pursue with thoroughness and excellence.

8. A Lady lives out the virtues. She is prudent, just, temperate, and when the situation calls for it, her courage rises to meet any challenge.

9. A Lady is faithful to her duties. She is aware that she has obligations and fulfills them.

10. A Lady loves well. Loving well and being faithful towards the objects of her love are traits that come naturally to a Lady.

11. A Lady prays well. She also recognizes the centrality of faith in her life.

12. A Lady is pure and chaste in her thoughts and actions. This comes much more naturally to her.

These traits, taken together, are what makes a Gentleman attractive to a Lady, or a Lady attractive to a Gentlemen.

It follows that in order to deserve a Lady’s affections and win her heart, a man must first become a Gentleman. And in order to deserve a Gentleman, a girl must first become a Lady. Both always aim to be excellent in their mind, character, and person and are therefore irresistible to each other.

This Valentine’s, if you want to start winning the heart of anyone you admire, you must first become worthy of their regard.

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