Sunday, 31 May 2015

Don't You Want Me Baby?


Depending on your place in the relationship jungle, that word will fill you with horror, anticipation or, to paraphrase When Harry Met Sally, sheer gratitude that you don’t have to go out there again.

I'm currently hooked on the American tv show The Last Man on Earth, a post-apocalyptic dating nightmare in which the (admittedly also pretty awful) last heroine would rather date (and then marry) a complete horror-fest than be single. 

Carol's determination to avoid singledom at all costs is almost enough to make Bridget Jones look like a balanced human being but Carol, at least, has the excuse that her choice is even more limited than the gene pool on offer for anyone over 40 whose hearing/dress-sense/self-esteem is a little bit past clubbing.

But, I hear you cry, nowadays no one needs to hang round clubs, we have unlimited choice through the wonders of the Internet! It's true that online dating has replaced more traditional ways of meeting people, hardly surprising given the way many people's work and lifestyles have changed, but the sites are hardly a great big candy-store of romantic goodies. What this woman was trying to express - this is her online profile picture - is beyond even my powers of imagination. 

Things get even crazier when you get to the profiles themselves: the woman who created the worst online profile ever did it deliberately and it's very funny but it's actually nowhere near as bad/hopeful/downright creepy as these genuine examples.
And don't get smug because you think you've found someone. An actual date is even more of a minefield than searching for an object for your affections. How to dress, what to drink that doesn’t make you look like a prude/an alcoholic/mad (pink or blue drinks basically), when to arrange the get-out-of-it call...  

Luckily there is plenty of help to get you through. Some of the more vintage advice may have lost its relevance – I don’t know about you but I’m not too worried about feeling a sudden urge to tug my girdle in public or entertain my date by knitting and what the hat has to do with anything, I dread to think. Is it the female equivalent of not removing your socks or a special bedroom hat?  Maybe that’s the subject of the mystery novel…
You could always turn to dating gurus for advice although this needs to be approached with great caution – google the term dating guru (surely not a real job) and the first site (I’m not referencing it, I go there so you don’t have to) is illustrated with a picture of a woman being smacked, presumably for not being feminine enough (that’s very important apparently). 

What is fascinating/frightening is that the basic advice for women has hardly changed even if the medium is more high-tech: if you took the year off the guru sites or these date rules from Marie Claire, you would be forgiven for thinking the content came from the 1950s.   

Obviously we all have our own standards when it comes to dating and our own comfort levels when it comes to guidance. I was personally delighted to find that both Karl Marx and Napoleon have proferred their wisdom so the question is who would you trust to find you the partner of your dreams? The Internet, your best-friend or, as in days of old, a matchmaking busy-body mother? Which is where the recast comes in because, if we're talking dating, where else should we look for help but Pride and Prejudice?

And where else to start but with that mother-from-Hell, Mrs Bennet? She surely has to be Austen’s finest creation - infuriating, opinionated, a little too recogniseable? We’ve all had moments of being mothered by her or, to our shame (and I'm including men here to) possibly being her. It isn’t easy to find an historical figure with 5 daughters but there is one obvious choice for the part: Queen Victoria. The marriages brokered by this formidable lady spun a web through the royal families of Europe – as well as hemophilia, a rather unfortunate by-product. Even more interestingly, Victoria may have had a Lydia of her own. The Queen's fourth daughter, Princess Louise, appears to have been something of a rebel who trained as a sculptor and married a commoner – there are even rumours of an illegitimate child and a right royal cover-up. Life imitating art rather neatly.

I was going to introduce Elizabeth with the shirt picture but that’s gratuitous, it’s probably burnt on every woman’s retina and anyway if you click on the link, it’ll take you to the video. Elizabeth Bennet is annoying, I’m sorry but it’s true – then again, so is Darcy so they truly deserve each other. I imagine them turning into Martha and George from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, elegantly flinging cut-glass tumblers and Regency insults at each other once the initial flush is over. If Mr Darcy is the tortured soul that women think they can unlock, perhaps the most fitting choice for Elizabeth is Anne Isabelle Byron, wife of the famously tempestuous Lord Byron. This time it was the wife – highly educated and known for being rather sensible – who was the heiress. I discovered a wonderful blog about Lady Byron which should cure even the most romantic reader of lusting after brooding, mercurial men.

I'm not going to recast the other daughters - Jane is insipid beyond belief, Mary is a caricature and I think even Miss Austen would be pushed to remember who Kitty was. So that leaves us with the rather fabulous Lady Catherine de Bourgh

There are a number of female termagents I could have chosen but I thought it might be more interesting to go for a very outspoken contemporary of Queen Victoria with diametrically opposed views - The Hon. Katherine Stanley, Viscountess Amberley. This is the woman who Victoria (who loathed anything to do with female suffrage) famously said ought to get a good whipping. The highly aristocratic Viscountess was a prominent campaigner for women's rights, advocating suffrage, equal pay, equality of education and birth control and lived life completely on her own terms (and woe betide anyone who argued with her). She was also the mother of Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher, political theorist and pacifist who makes Darcy look about as intelligent as Nigel Farage talking about immigration.

So if Darcy’s too miserable, Wykeham’s too naughty, Mr Collins is too preposterous and Mr Bingley is just a boring pretty boy, who is left to date? Perhaps the answer is to find yourself a Mr Bennet and remember, whatever happens on the dating journey, keep your sense of humour...


  1. oh lovely! I have a great book called 'Shap'ly ankle preferred' which is a kind of dating site manual 'dating' back to is such fun. Mainly coz all the men (and it is mainly men) want is money.Must say, OH and I often wonder if we submitted profiles to one of the many sites, would we get paired with each other. And oh the horror if we didn't!

  2. I must look that up. I actually met my husband on Match as did my friend but there were some oddities on the way - her philosophy was take the date, there's always a story and she was always proved right!

  3. Oops...dang. Got sidetracked by the Shirt link... yes, of course, you're right. Eventually, in a decade or six, we'd all get tired of being married to that. Where was I? Right. Very funny post, as usual. Even if you did take Colin Firth in vain.

    1. Colin Firth is one thing, Darcy is another, it would be like living with someone who is permanently pre-menstrual! Glad I rediscovered Lost in Austen though, that's a re-watch coming up.

  4. Oh the horrors of dating make me shudder, I was rubbish at it first time around and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that should my BH decide the grass is indeed greener elsewhere I shall be single for all eternity. Thanks for the early Monday laugh though!! :-)

  5. Ha ha, I feel your pain and am being nicer than ever to Mr H having written this piece!


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