It has been a long time since I’ve been to a ball. Er, dance. Whatever. From prom to the annual college Christmas swing dance (what up, late ’90s?) to the occasional Saturday night at a friend’s salsa club, my sashaying hips are…out of practice, to say the least. (By the way: Does anybody else associate the noun “dance” with the camp dance scene from the original The Parent Trap, where they cut off the back of the girl’s dress? No? Just me? No wonder I don’t go to these things.)
It’s not that I don’t like to dance. I love dancing, especially when there are prescribed steps. I do well with instructions. Not so much with just move to the music and do what feeeeeels right! Because what feels right? Is having steps to follow.
Which is why I would have made such a good Regency ball guest, or so Susannah Fullerton tells me in her awesome article on ball etiquette for The Lady. Such common sense: Don’t show up without an invitation! If you see a lady without a partner, dance with her! Only turn down an offer if you’re ready to gossip on the sidelines! It really is an excellent article, and you all should read it…and then impose its order the next time you’re out on a Saturday night. Right? LET’S BRING BACK THE REEL, YOU GUYS. Who’s with me?
I think I smell a book deal, guys. See, here’s the pitch: fanciful, independent single girl uses her favorite Austen novels as a dating Bible for one year, following the practices and advice therein in her search for her very own Mr. Darcy. Are you listening, Publishing? ‘Cause I think this is a hit.
Actually, I think I can predict what happens to Our Heroine at the end of the year: approximately nothing.
If we’re talking about the process of meeting, signaling interest in, and successfully navigating a social relationship with a man, there’s shockingly little about the Austenian courtship ritual that lends itself to great romantic success today—no matter how universal Jane’s themes are. Mutual love and respect? Yes and yes. Actually meeting a dude? Yeah…good luck with that, ‘kay?
I suspect a year of Austen Dating would involve a lot of the following:
- Lady pastimes: sketching flowers, embroidery, knitting, playing the ever-popular pianoforte, singing in preparation of any upcoming social gatherings (OBVIOUSLY). Probably not a lot of wearing halter tops to sports bars, hanging around the produce department in search of gentlemen with above-average pineapple-choosing skills, retooling the old OKCupid profile, or any other activities likely to attract, or, for that matter, come into the vaguest contact with, a straight and single man.
- Waiting for various gentlemen to visit unannounced, then pretending as if she were not waiting for various gentlemen to visit unannounced
- Casting suggestive glances in church
- Writing cordial, hopeful, but generally unspicy letters, which then take like three days to arrive, ONE WAY.
- Dancing? Dancing! Whether this kind of merriment/social scouting is permitted to take place in a modern setting—or at some kind of Regency event, which is where we meet ALL our men—would have to be in our heroine’s publishing contract. Either way, expect a lot of group social dances. Really, though, what club kid DOESN’T like a nice reel?
- Picnics, which actually sort of translates, depending on the number of J. Crew lobster pants our heroine owns. This, by the way, defies the odds of the previous five points and indicates a certain degree of success. This is like second base.
- Heartbreak when the picnicking partner turns out to be some kind of low-grade pedophile. How will we ever love again, except for that nice but unusual neighbor we keep seeing around?
- Walks in the countryside, which we all know is mostly code for “prime check-out time” and possibly more—depending on the level of sluttitude—but probably not a LOT more. By this time, you’re basically living together, so you’d better ask a lot of questions before you grab your bonnet and head out the door.
And…well, that’s it, unless we’re talking “morning wedding.” Top hats and tails! Which might make a really excellent end to our blog-to-book journey—beautifully photographed, of course—except for the part that now our heroine is contractually required to fire up the Regency mommy blog. On to the sequel!
You’re welcome, Books.
Readers, I don’t know whether I should be proud or disappointed: apparently, I’m the social equivalent of Fitzwilliam Darcy—and not the warm, friendly one at the end of the novel.
In an attempt to work around my introverted nature, I’ve decided that the more people I know in the group settings I frequent, the easier it will be to communicate like a non-alien species. As I was describing this to one of my friends, she said—and now you’ll see why we’re friends—”the whole ‘make yourself talk to people’ thing is so Mr. Darcy.”
Ain’t that the truth! One of my favorite exchanges in Pride and Prejudice is when Lizzy makes fun of Darcy and tattles to Colonel Fitzwilliam about his lack of dancing action—when there are ladies waiting to be asked! Darcy’s paltry excuse? “I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.” Really, I could learn a thing or two from Darcy about how to BS people.
Lizzy’s response: “True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.” She’s such a wise@ss, and that’s why we love her.
But then there’s Darcy’s explanation: “Perhaps . . . I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction, but I am ill qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”
I’m cutting off the quote here, as I don’t want to get mushy over Darcy getting mushy over Lizzy’s piano playing and singing. My point is simply that I understand Darcy—this is textbook introvert behavior, and I have read that particular textbook. Hell, I wrote that particular textbook. Should he have tried a little harder to get to know the people at the assembly, instead of being insulting and bored? Probably. But also, could he have been better approached by his sort-of friends? Definitely, especially if they’d gotten their hands on this helpful essay in The Atlantic. I blame the space-time continuum and a marked difference in printing technology—you know, minor details—but whatever.
Of course—and we say this looking pointedly at Mr. Darcy—”introvert” does not necessarily equal “social reject” . . . so don’t give the rest of us a bad name. Some introverts are perfectly capable of holding their own in group situations, as long as they can recuperate after doing so. Alternatively, a person who’s fun and conversational with his or her friends isn’t necessarily an extrovert. It takes energy, people! Believe it when someone claims introvert status, and be glad they’re talking to you at all. Seriously: we’re a picky bunch.
If you’re the introvert in question, you could, of course, also try my current experiment—see if you can get to know the people around you (coworkers, churchgoers, potential dance partners at the local assembly), and you never know what might happen! You might find a pair of fine eyes (with or without exercise), and you might find that your former nemesis is actually the love of your life. If nothing else, perhaps the next gathering might not be so hard—and you won’t get called out for stranding some girl on the sidelines.