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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Great Expectations

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“Brynne, if you just lowered your standards, you’d get free pizza and sex.” This was the sage advice of my friend as we talked about relationships over salad at lunch. I balked at her suggestion, stared at the wilted baby spinach in embarrassment, and wondered if this is what the world had really come to: “relationships” purely for physical pleasure and free food.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure for many people the idea of a steamy cheese pizza and sex all in one night sounds like the dream. And for lots of college students, it seems, that’s the reality. Hookups, “Netflix and chill” sessions, eating Sayles Hill curly fries and then getting very intimate very quickly with that special someone might be the campus norm.

But that doesn’t sound all that appealing to me, and I have to wonder why. Is it because I’m a hopeless romantic? Probably. Do I have unrealistic, outdated notions of what it means to have a relationship? Almost definitely. Does that stop me from wanting those things? Not at all.

I grew up reading and believing in the beauty of classical literature, most of it British. I read and re-read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women every summer, adored every Jane Austen novel, and lost myself in the works of the Bronte sisters, namely Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Through my reading, I have been educated in, and fallen in love with, the art of romance. All the books I read taught me that grand, romantic love exists. Little Women, through the example of Teddy and Jo, taught me to not force something that just isn’t there. Sense and Sensibility reminded me to listen both my head and my heart. Jane Eyre taught me the difference between idolizing someone and truly loving them, and Wuthering Heights made me examine the way pride can defeat event the most passionate loves.

Yet the problem with dating in the real world lies in the fact that not everyone has been educated in romance. The sad truth is that Darcy doesn’t exist. And neither does Heathcliff or Edward Ferrars. (Hold back your tears, I know it’s hard.) In the real world, dating is awkward. It’s uncomfortable and confusing. There are so many questions raised, so many mixed signals sent and received. (What does it mean when he Snapchats you first but then doesn’t respond? What purpose do read receipts even have except to torture others with endless mind games?) Dating is a game that no one really knows the rules of.

And this is a problem for me because I’m a person who likes to plan, to know what’s coming, to know what the rules are. I’m a rule-follower. So pardon me for wanting explicit declarations of love in the rain/on the moors of England/in a rowboat on a picturesque lake. It just makes everything easier. Then, I have the opportunity to turn my suitor down because a) I believe he sabotaged my sister’s relationship, b) he is clandestinely engaged to someone else, c) he has a mad wife and I’m not about to be his mistress. Or, equally possible, I’ll gladly accept his declaration/proposal for a date because it turns out my reasons for turning him down were just a misunderstanding.

But is it just the problem of not knowing what a text of “hey” at 2:30 in the morning means that has me feeling sour about dating at college, or is it something more? Do I really have unrealistic expectations? And if so, why are they so unrealistic?

There is a common belief among Austen aficionados that her characters ruin all men for them. I mean, you can’t really beat someone saying “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” or “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and will always be yours.” Great, now I need someone to love me ardently and admire me while also asking permission to compliment me because consent is sexy. Furthermore, Austen’s Darcy exclaims “You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.” Really, it’s just unfair. The fictional heroines get all the perfect loves. But do I honestly expect a boy to walk with me through the misty morning in the Arb and use words like “bewitched” and “ardently”? Kind of, because we are at Carleton and I know this populace knows what those words mean, but also because it’s important to have great expectations for your love life.

Not every partner need be the equivalent of Darcy, but you should keep dating until you meet your personal equivalent. Because, at the end of the day, everyone deserves someone who thinks they are perfect and breathtaking just the way they are. But, if you don’t want a relationship and instead want the “free pizza and sex,” that’s cool, too. Jane Austen sums up my feelings the best: “I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.” We’re all just trying to survive the dating game, looking for happiness, and we can only do so the way that feels authentic to us individually.

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