Saturday, November 18, 2006

At Last: a Jane Austen Reference

I started reading Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, just after the break up with the Evil Ex, while we continued to share a domicile for an excrutiating month before moving out from the house of hideous history. It may seem a little bizarre, but Jane Austen was of immeasurable comfort at a particularly nasty time.

All I had to preserve at that stage was whatever shreds of dignity I could imagine were still about me. I didn't want to collapse in front of the Evil Ex - it took me a few more encounters to truly understand the extent of the evil, so at that stage I was truly concerned about maintaining her respect for me (which wasn't at all evident in her behaviour) and not troubling her overly with guilt as a result of my grieving. Crappy reasons, as they were all about her and not at all about me. Eventually, however, my reasons for my dignity became more about my own self-respect and well being.

I needed to read heaps - even more than usual - at that time as I certainly wasn't sleeping well. So the classics it was. What emerged from Sense and Sensibility was a value system that said emotionally bleeding all over the shop and wallowing in self-pity would make you very ill, would set tongues wagging, ruin your reputation and your chances of catching yourself a husband; whereas maintaining self-composure, valuing other aspects of your life, such as friends and family and trying as much as possible to go about your daily activities was the path to contentment, inner peace and would create less regret in the long run.

I really connected with this stuff. Obviously, you have to put it all in the context of the era it was written. Unmarried women couldn't spend very much time with any man they weren't related to without causing comment, and couldn't express any interest in any man unless he had already proposed, without endangering their reputation. A lot of this seems like lunacy and is certainly wildly restrictive, and doesn't bode well for happy marriages, as it totally rests on male relatives being able to find out as much as they can about a guy's reputation and wealth, and basing the decision to marry on whether he has seemed to be respectable and has the means to support you. As Charlotte Lucas, from Pride and Prejudice thought, "Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantness preservative from want."

The idea of the lady has always revolted me. However much fun for dress ups and role play crinolines and corsetry are, the emotional equivalent - restricted range of movement, not having a voice, all helplessness and breathiness and no self-direction, no strength and no capacity for assertiveness - is just stifling and without the potential for erotisisation (for me anyway). However, the Austen-approved virtues of self control and not letting your stuff hang out in public makes a lot of sense to me. It may seem like a weird comment to post in a blog of all places, but the reality TV/ talk show culture of public confession is freaking me out just a little. I am increasingly disturbed by the celebration of messiness and careening out of control in public. I think women in particular lose respect and credibility by these displays.

By all means, I think life throws up extraordinarily painful episodes that really tax our ability to keep it all together. I think working through issues can take time and effort and sometimes going back over the same ground. the universe has a habit of repeating a lesson over and over until you finally get it. Crying on the shoulders of close and trusted friends is to be recommended, as is going into therapy, journaling and anything else that will get you through. I just don't think self-destructing in public is a great idea or doing it around the-one-that-broke-your-heart or others who clearly don't have your best interests at heart. I think doing all you can to examine where your own patterns have contributed is immensely dignified and rewarding. I also believe strongly in moving forward with your own day to day life and trusting that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other that it will get easier with time. Trying your absolute hardest to not continuously obsess about whatever is making you miserable - as impossible as it sounds - is worth persevering with. I have found saying affirmations such as, 'and this too will pass' and 'I am a strong, gorgeous, dynamic goddess who will live and breathe success and will continue making the world a better place by my awesome presence' while wearing particularly high stilettos and very red lipstick to be very helpful.

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