Okay, sorry to be all harsh reality today, but I found out a dear, dear friend is getting a divorce after close to 20 years together. And although it’s devastating to her and her children, I got to thinking about how vital it must have been for the women–girls, usually–in our period to make the right choice when it came to marriage.
Can you imagine? You are courted by someone who waltzes with you a few times, escorts you to supper, gets you a glass of orgeat, and boom! you’re married. You barely know the guy, and now he has control over you, whatever fortune you might have, and whatever offspring the two of you have together.
Just thinking of it frightens me. It’s a very real aspect of women’s lives at that time that it is hard for a modern woman to comprehend. I know I always wonder why Jane Austen accepted an offer only to change her mind 24 hours later, but if Jane was as remarkable a person and a thinker as we all believe, it’s no wonder she didn’t want to leave her fate in some guy’s hands.
Making the importance of that decision resonate–and not seem like some woman’s unrealistic desire to be madly in love, even though that wasn’t the norm–is crucial to Regency authors, and something I struggle with as a modern woman. We’ve discussed birth control here before, and doubtless have talked about marriage and what it means, but my friend’s situation brought it all home again to me.
So what aspect of your life would you never wish to relinquish control of? Do you or your husband handle finances (in my family, it’s me)? Which of your former boyfriends’ habits were dealbreakers for long-term commitment?
As far as deal breakers go I really want a man who wants me as I am. My previous boyfriend was constantly telling me I was too fat even though I was a size 10/12. This really bothered me. Right now I’m bigger than that and know I should lose weight, but I don’t want a man who’s obsessed with my looks and such.
The same boyfriend also wanted me to dress more riske. I like to dress in a classic style not showing too much. He wanted a trophy wife.
I don’t want that. After five years we broke up. Actually I broke up with him after reading a book that showed me I was dating a Will when I wanted a Daniel.
At one point in the book Elisabeth calls Daniel after having a bad day. It’s 2AM. Daniel says “Are you at home? I’ll be right there.” That’s what I want.
Megan, I am so sorry to hear about your friend! Strangely, I was thinking about something similar last night. Thanks to your Netflix rec, I was watching the movie “Firelight” (which really was great, BTW, and I am still thinking about it!) and remember the scene where she finally shakes the bratty kid and tells her “Listen, you’re a woman and your life is going to belong to your husband and be crappy, unless you’re a governess which is even more crappy. But if you listen to me you’ll have an education and they can’t take away your mind” (something like that–I am not quoting exactly, LOL). I often feel extremely lucky to be a woman now and not in the Regency, or even in my grandmother’s time. I didn’t have to fight to go to college or make (and keep) my own money, or live by myself, or do anything I want to do. I’m not miserable living with some Mr. Collins-type just because I have no choice. It’s a tremendous change, and I feel fortunate to be alive now (even if the clothes aren;t quite as pretty!).
Jane/Rachel, I sympathize! I also once had a boyfriend in college who was constantly carping at me about weight and clothes (and I was a size 4 then! Sheesh! What jerks). The current sweetie is soooo much better–we’ve broken up once or twice, but seem to have hit our groove now, and it consists in just letting each other be ourselves and enjoying each other for what we are. (It also helps that he is a wee bit younger, and was thus raised in a more feminist world. A world where men are taught that male grooming is tres important, LOL!)
Megan, may your friend find that she has the strength to make her life even better in her future.
One of the best books I ever read about relationships (even though it was years after I was married happily) was The Rules. Its point was to value yourself highly and not settle for any man who was less than you deserve. By the woman valuing herself highly, men also valued her highly–what a concept! I could never convince my daughter to take this book seriously; she got stuck on the details and missed the point. But she learned the hard way and now has a boyfriend who thinks the world of her.
It is good that we women have options these days. We don’t have to stay in abusive relationships, we can earn enough to feed ourselves and our children, we can survive on our own, no matter what that man if our life decides to do. We can stay in a relationship with a man because we want to, not because we have no other choice.
How terribly difficult for your friend, Megan. Good thoughts and prayers to her.
With every single boyfriend, I realized they didn’t know me at all. Nor did they really want to know me. I’d been raised to be a pleaser, and I was very good at it. None were able to get me to the altar, and not one could understand why I ended the relationship.
Family has always been everything, until I realized that I could never have a family I would be happy in until I learned to be happy with myself, with who I am. Of course, that meant figuring out who I am, and it isn’t who I was expected to be. Some of the family are sure I’m “lost.” For myself, I feel like I’m finally found. There are worse things than being single, but I hope someday I’ll be able to share myself with someone and he with me.
I learned a lot about marriage from my sister’s failed one. It is sad that it failed, but I do think that it made me open my eyes to what marriage means. I am single, but I do know when I get married I will compromise. My sister always had to win everything. I will let my husband win half of the time. I will also let him know that I appreciate him even if I am angry with him and I will talk with him even when things are bad. I will agree to couples therapy to keep the marriage together.
My big fear is marrying the wrong guy. I do not want to get a divorce. So for now I am 29 and single and okay with it. The Ph. D. that I start next year will keep me busy and maybe I’ll meet a nice man when I move from where I currently am.
It is really sad when someone divorces I do hope things work out for your friend.
I really have only had one boyfriend and I married him we started going out with each other when I was 15 and he was 17 we married 5 years later and have been married for 32 years now and although we have had our ups and downs we are as happy now as we were all those years ago.We both accept each other for who we are. I tend to look after the finances and he is very OK with that but everything else we pretty much do together.
Although I love reading regency and historical romances I am glad I don’t live in those times because I certainly have more choices now than I would have back then.
Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. I am hoping to lure my friend to NY for a weekend of hanging with me, who loves her unconditionally.
(And Amanda, I loved that speech in Firelight, too! So glad you loved the movie as much as I did.)
Megan and Amanda, I saw Firelight, too. Very interesting concept. I remember thinking the ending was not entirely satisfying. It was a hard story problem to solve, though.
“(And Amanda, I loved that speech in Firelight, too! So glad you loved the movie as much as I did.”
Ooooh, I did! I can’t believe I never saw it before. It really had the same poignant emotional quality as “North and South,” I thought (though the stories were very different), and I always love that. I think I’ll watch it again before I send it back…
What I loved about Firelight was the moral ambiguity that perhaps was bothering Diane. I mean, it was happy, but not so much, either, like real life.
I would watch it again, but I seldom watch stuff again, ’cause there’s always new stuff to watch. Not enough time = singular viewings.
“Not enough time = singular viewings.”
That’s too true. I don’t watch many things twice, but have a few exceptions (P&P, 95 and 05, N&S, etc). Sometimes I need some inspiration. 🙂
And I do love some moral ambiguity! I definitely think the fact that Charles and Elisabeth were very complicated was one reason I enjoyed the movie so much, and I would love to see more books with characters and situations like theirs.
Hmmm-I may have to do a post about something like that. 🙂
I was once engaged to someone who didn’t want me to eat potatoes. For three whole years I did not eat potatoes. OMG. What an idiot I was.I’m lucky to be loved now as I am (having eaten more than my fair share of mashed, baked, au gratin and homefried.)
I too marvel at the urgency of Regency marriage—you’re 17, go to a few parties, and then you’re stuck for life with whomever your parents decide is right. I remember whom I dated at 17. Yikes. While my judgment may sometimes be flawed, at least I have relative autonomy to choose the way I want to live.
Good luck to your friend. She may find herself happier now than ever.
As to deal breakers…I still live with my first boyfriend who has now been my husband for 19 years…So, none so far. I feel grateful (don’t know to whom! God? Fate? Our own good-will?) but also lucky. I have never taken it for granted: a, marriage, a love relationship can end, any moment. If your partner falls in love with another, you can’t do much. So, again, I know it’s partly good-will and love but also …LUCK!
Finally, as for being married at Jane Austen’s time, I agree with you Megan. And this is why I must admit I like dreaming about living that time, but I’m glad I am a woman nowdays.
No potatoes, Maggie??? That is terrible–I’m absolutely sure I couldn’t handle that, with my terrible addiction to French fries. 🙂
My grandmother was married at 15, after knowing my grandfather for about two months (he was an older man–all of 18). I often think they were a sort of latter-day Austen story.
On Regency misses, no wonder so many of them married cousins, or the guy next door (that is, from the neighboring estate), whom they probably had known from childhood. Of course, sometimes your family connections are exactly the ones you want to escape, and then you’re back to judging by three walzes and a turn around the park.
I would like to comment on the freedom women have today. I agree that we have wonderful freedom and being alive in Regency times would not have been more constricting, but I’d like to point out that many of the freedoms we have today are very new. I recently graduated from grad school with a masters in library science and I had one woman tell me I had wasted my life. She could not fathom why I would want to be a librarian when I had so many options. When she was younger she had two options: teacher or librarian. She chose librarian. I think it’s great that I can be a librarian if I want to and don’t see it as me giving up my freedom. So while we can look back and see that Regency women had little freedom we must remember that our freedom has only recently been won and we still have far to go. There are still many countries where women do not have the freedoms we do. Some of those women might actually have preferred to live in Regency times.
I would also like to point out how the Welsh treated their women in Medieval Times. Woman did have rights. They could not own land because it was thought that they could not defend it, but they did have some control in their marriage. If their husband cheated on her under her roof he had to pay her money the first two times and the third time she could divorce him. She could also divorce him if he had bad breath. (I find that quite funny) and she could divorce him if he beat her. She was allowed to run to her family and her family could harm her husband and she could divorce him. That’s quite forward thinking for the time.
Tough one Megan. Really tough. Sorry for your friend. But in marriage is there ever any real control? I’ll be married 20 years this year and it’s always ups and downs. You have control over your mind and will. But the rest is a partnership and you have to alway think of someone else so there is no real “control” over anything anymore. Does that make sense on any level? Sure you can do what you want but there is alway the consideration.
As for the deal breaker, cheating I guess someone falling out of love. No control over that. Oh and taking down the other person’s self esteem why deal with it?
Great post Megan. I think you have to, in general, feel the relationship is equal and feel respected. But people def. change and your partner has to be able to respect and accept that change when it happens.
My problem is that I honestly don’t know of one marriage that I would consider great or romance novel worthy. And it’s hard for me to deal with that when I write romance novels.
When I met my husband, I knew I had a keeper because he knows how to (a) listen and (b) compromise. Those are the most important ingredients for a marriage, I think, because they’ll get you through your changes and crises.
Amen, Kate! He is a keeper!!
Lori, I think we would be wrong to expect our marriages to be like a romance novel, but I do think romance novels help women see that they deserve to be treated well by the men in their lives. They set the ideal… and the rest is listening and compromise, like Kate said.