Published: November 11, 2012 - 4:01AM
In Jane Austen's world, the date as we know it didn't really exist. Thanks to the violently enthusiastic chaperoning of unmarried women during every waking moment of their lives, they were barely allowed to be alone with a single man for an instant until they were suddenly mano a mano in the honeymoon suite. The mind, frankly, boggles.
Here in the not-so-new-millennium, we don't have to face up to this horror, for which we should be devoutly grateful. But to replace it, we have something else: First Date Horror. And just like the honeymoon suite, it's just you and the man, eyeball to eyeball, with nobody to hear you scream.
Not that you'd want anyone else there: the presence of a third party at a first date is, in almost every situation, a Very Bad Sign. I know this first hand, because I once went on a date with a bloke who brought his mate along, and to this day I have absolutely no idea what was going on. Was he there to protect the date from my voracious attentions? To signal that the whole thing was in fact not a date at all but some kind of platonic threesome? To signal his interest in an entirely non-platonic threesome? Who knows? But it was one of the weirdest 45-minute periods of my life.
Anyhow, in your own situation, as a Jane Austen heroine, you're (hopefully) going to be on your own with your potential Mr Darcy. This is a good thing.
There are essentially two possibilities for the first date: the drink date, and the dinner date.
The drink date
The drink date, clearly, is the less pressured of our two basic date situations. Both parties usually arrive at the drink date from work, so the potential problem of outfit stress is removed, though you should give some thought to the transitional outfit. The drink date eliminates the need to worry about hours of intense one-on-one conversation: it is just a low-key, getting-to-know-you arrangement that – all being well – leads on to the dinner date.
This does not mean it's not worthwhile, or that a man doesn't really like you if he asks you for a drink date. On the contrary, it may well be that he really likes you, and doesn't want to stuff it up by going too hard, too early. Many Jane Austen heroes like to take their time and consider their moves carefully - not everyone is as impulsive as Mr Bingley. In fact, nobody is. Mr Darcy, Mr Knightley, Captain Wentworth: these are all drink-date men. Consider, consolidate, commit.
The dinner date
Just because it's high intensity doesn't mean the dinner date needs to be a terrifying proposition. Depending on your man, the dinner date may be his natural inclination. Enthusiasts, like Bingley, often begin with the dinner date. I have a friend, Jonesy, who, during a ski trip with our mutual good friend Macca some years ago, agreed to what they called The Chamonix Declaration: a set of rules about their dating lives.
Point No. 3 of the declaration became known as the No More Coffees clause. This was formulated by Jonesy (a dinner-date man) to stop Macca (a drink-date guy) just going out for coffee and/or drinks with girls, which Jonesy regarded as "piss-weak and inconclusive". The full dinner commitment, he explained, is a necessary part of properly "giving a chick a go". If a girl's worth asking out, she's worth asking to dinner.
So, you may be dealing with a Jonesy (or a Macca influenced by a Jonesy) kind of guy – a modern-day Bingley, in other words – in which case there is no escaping dinner. But it's actually really lovely and flattering for you. Take it as a compliment, and don't freak out. Again, it often happens on a work night, so your office/transitional outfit is fine. Just be prepared to do a little more talking than on a drink date. Having some questions ready to go is good, and one drink as a warm-up before you get there is totally legit.
In both of these date scenarios, the most important thing for any Jane Austen heroine is just to stay calm. Keep breathing, keep smiling. If you really like the guy, bear in mind he has asked you here (provided you've been playing by Jane's basic rules: if you've asked him, you've gone totally off-task, but good for you!), so he must like you, and you can stop worrying about it. (And if you've asked him and he's agreed, the same applies.)
If you're not quite sure how you feel about him, don't worry. Think of it as an information-gathering exercise for both of you: no strings attached, no expectations involved. Remember that Jane doesn't believe in love at first sight: you don't have to hear bluebirds singing or see a rosy glow bathing the air around him, you just have to think he's nice. And if you actively know you're not interested, what are you doing there? Give the poor guy a break: let him spend his money where there's some chance of a return.
A note on this concept of return. No Jane Austen heroine ever feels she owes a man anything. (Well, Elizabeth feels she owes Darcy after he salvages her entire family from the brink of social ruin, but that's a special case.) It is a hero's prerogative to ask a girl out, make a fuss of her, spend some money on her. And it is a heroine's equal prerogative to stand up at the end of the evening, thank him sincerely, and walk alone into the night (where she will stay in well-lit areas, of course, and immediately get a taxi safely home). Nobody owes anybody anything in this transaction.
If you're worried about it, offer to go halves in the drinks and/or meal (lots of men seem to expect this these days as a matter of course, so you should be prepared for it). But never, never feel you have to agree to another meeting, or kiss a man or – God forbid – have sex with him simply because he's taken you on a date.
Or even several dates. Heaven forfend.
Whatever the date, wherever the dinner, however casual or exclusive or low-key or dramatic it is, the important thing is to focus on your basic heroine characteristics. Be kind, be generous, try to be a nice person. As already mentioned, stay calm. If you feel yourself in danger of freaking out, take a leaf out of Anne Elliot's book: go to the loo and take 10 deep breaths. Try to remember that, for many men, social situations are harder than they are for women – especially the one-on-one confessional dinner-conversation mode – so it's likely he's going out on a limb for you.
That being said, you should forgive him if he's nervous or awkward. Try to be gracious, even if it's not going well. If it is going well, show you're enjoying yourself. Laugh. Don't dumb yourself down. Let yourself be funny; if he doesn't get your sense of humour now, with the love light in his eyes, he never will.
Finally, do what all Jane's heroines always do, because they are constitutionally incapable of doing anything else. Be yourself.
The new relationship
Incredible as it may seem, sometimes everything works out. Sometimes you meet a man, and via whatever mysterious workings of fate and Jane and the universe (not to mention all the deathless wisdom contained in this book), you end up with a boyfriend. Someone fun, warm and sexy whom you really like, and who seems to really like you. Someone who even calls you his girlfriend, no less. The whole thing seems like proof that God exists, that the universe is benevolent, that all things do work together for good.
This is the Power Ballad Period in any new relationship – the period in which you feel you want to spend all day standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, the wind blowing your hair back and your silk ball gown floating behind you, belting out your incredulous joy to the world.
You should certainly do this. It's a great moment – thrilling, energising and wildly exciting – and you should make the most of it. Jane, despite always needing to slightly take the piss, was often very good at taking pleasure in other people's happiness and she would want you to enjoy it to the full. But she would also want you to exercise a little discretion, a little restraint, a little thought for those around you. When her heroines finally end up with their heroes, they are clearly delighted – actually, they're incandescent with happiness – but they don't shout it from the rooftops. Elizabeth Bennet battles manfully to make a joke out of it. Anne Elliot is filled with joy, but also quiet gratefulness and relief. Emma Woodhouse is humbled and - for her - surprisingly calm and serene.
Acting with a little decorum, at least in public (there is no limit to how many victory air punches or Beyoncé booty-shaking dance moves you can pull in the privacy of your own home), allows your still-single friends to be happy for you (or at least to manfully control their wild jealously and pretend to be happy), and your hooked-up friends (who inevitably had a huge fight with their long-term boyfriends last night) to welcome you to the club of coupledom. But remember: no one is ever as happy as someone in the first, honeymoon days of a relationship, and you don't want to rub anyone's nose in it.
The other thing Jane would want us to do in the early days of a relationship is to not freak out. In fact, if Jane's entire lexicon of advice about life and relationships could be boiled down to three words, they would be "Don't Freak Out". Or possibly "Always Stay Calm". But it's good advice, and surprisingly relevant, even in the honeymoon period.
It's natural to be tripping gaily along, awash with endorphins and the rosy glow of new love, and then to suddenly think, "Oh my God! I don't think he likes me! I think he's going off me. Panic panic panic!" Such thoughts can be prompted by him not ringing exactly when he said he would, or seeming distant one evening, or otherwise revealing that he may have the occasional thought entering his frontal lobes that is not connected to your jaw-dropping new relationship.
Take no notice of such thoughts. Keep laughing, breathing and going to work. Certainly do not raise your neuroses with him. If need be, ask yourself these questions as a means of calming yourself. Is he happy to spend time with you? Is he talking about things in the future for both of you to do? Is he making efforts on your behalf? Most of all, is he generally interested in you and your thoughts and what's happening in your life? If so, stop worrying.
A few further points. Heroes who love their heroines don't try to change them. As a heroine in a new relationship, you should feel like you can really be yourself, and that self will be celebrated by your hero. And though you might feel anxious some of the time, especially when you're apart, for the majority of your time together you should feel good and happy and relaxed; continuous anxiety, not resolved by being together, is a bad sign.
Finally, if you do get anxious, and if you do reveal this occasionally, that's okay. Heroes are braced for a bit of drama from their heroines. (Emphasis on "a bit"; bear in mind that a male's tolerance for emotional upheaval is far, far lower than the equivalent female's.) Relationships, even new relationships, are far more robust than you think.
Remember Edward Ferrars and Elinor Dashwood; remember Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney; remember Mr Darcy and Elizabeth; remember, indeed, every one of Jane Austen's couples. Misunderstandings, mutual offences given and received, anguish, drama – you name it, they go through it, but it all works out okay in the end. So take heart. If it's going to last, you won't destroy it.
Edited extract from Finding Mr Darcy by Amanda Hooton (Macmillan). Available November 20.
This story was found at: http://www.dailylife.com.au/lifestyle/how-to-date-like-jane-austen-20121109-292re.html