“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” Mr Darcy, Pride and Prejudice.
For all our technological advances, it is still impossible to either plan or legislate for love: it just happens. The precursor of this, of course, is that you have to be in the right place at the right time to even have a chance. From that premise an entire dating industry has been born, most of which these days, perhaps somewhat ironically, takes place online.
If any of you saw the film “Bridget Jones’s Baby” you will remember the plot line of the company with allegedly infallible algorithm for a perfect match which had been created by the dating-website billionaire Jack Quant (played by Patrick Dempsey), who nevertheless had failed to find love himself. In real life, there are any number of such sites – Bumble, Coffee meets Bagel, Matchmakers, eHarmony, Hinge, Happn, Tinder, Inner Circle – all of whom insist that they can help you find true love and live happily ever after.
Whatever the route taken however, the quest to find the love of our life has not changed much since the time of Jane Austen, nor has our essential desire for romance, to love and be loved, to care and be cared for.
Underneath its commerciality, Valentine’s Day marks a time to stop and think about your love. To either propose, imagining the dream and the journey through life together, or to take time out with your partner away from the exhausting detail of everyday life to remember the inner strengths, kindness and romance you share. Jane Austen’s novels always left each couple at the altar whereas marriage is the journey forged together whilst navigating all life’s changes. Like the inevitably mis-matched socks which appear out of the washing machine, it is not smooth sailing and tumbles you around.
The success of any book or film depends on our emotional engagement with the characters: the highs and lows, the laughter, sadness and the fun. There is nothing wrong with seeing life or people through rose tinted glasses but that is not always how it is. The same is true with relationships but sometimes first impressions (Jane Austen’s original title for “Pride and Prejudice”) get in the way before we have time for a deepening appreciation.
The more pertinent question therefore perhaps ought to be how to meet “the one” in such a way as to be able to make a good first impression? In the past, the answer might be through walks and dances, coffee bars, theatre, playing tennis, a dance or a party, school, university or work. What these all have in common is that they involve doing something which is possibly what makes it so much harder in the two-dimensional world of online where you are searching for a hidden nuance or fleeting expression to get a handle on your “match”. Then, when you do meet, the time is spent either consciously or subconsciously watching how the person you have got to know on line interacts with other people. Falling in love is a test as well as a romance.
On line websites look for what a couple might have in common and ask for photographs and personal descriptions, not all of which necessarily bear much resemblance to reality. One only has to look at the historical example of Henry VIII’s rose tinted view of Anne of Cleves, provided by the painter Holbein before the lady herself arrived in England, to see how disastrous that can be. The marriage was over before it began, though fortunately without this wife losing her head.
This last weekend and today, Highclere has celebrated Valentine with special teas and tours. With small numbers of guests, roses and chocolate hearts, everyone has a chance to feel special. As with most years we hold this event, we have had a proposal which is always a special moment but primarily it is couples are sitting down to say thank you to each other, glad for a moment together.
Random, unpredictable, exciting and fortuitous, perhaps ultimately though the most important aspect of love is its reassuring steadfastness.
“Love is that condition in which the happiness of the other person is essential to your own.” Robert A. Heinlein.