Some time ago one of my friends shared an article with me, and I have given it a LOT of thought in the few years since I first got it from her. That article was called, Your Friendgirl Deserves Better. And it is really good. You should read it sometime, whoever you are. Boy or girl. But especially boys. And girls.
For some reason it re-surfaced in my pool of thought recently. And of course this made me think of Jane Austen.
I don’t really know why, except, hey, Jane Austen.
And once I started thinking about Jane Austen and Friendgirls, it seemed to me that she had plenty to say on the subject.
Except, in Austen, once someone points out to a guy that he has a Friendgirl, he either has to
A. Marry her, STAT, or
B. Look like a jerk. To put it politely.
I feel this is more clear in the books than the movies. The clearest one I thought of was in Persuasion: the Musgrove girls and Captain Wentworth.
If you have no exposure to Persuasion, I can’t vouch for the understandability of this particular blog post. Notwithstanding the fact that this is theeee most under-appreciated Austen and possibly therefore the one with which you are nawt familiar, we shall plunge ahead forthwith.
Before we plunge, one more note: if you have only seen a movie version of Persuasion and not read the book, yet still consider yourself familiar with the story…please excuse me while I express my humble opinion that you are suffering under a delusion. One cannot be familiar with Anne Elliot without reading the book. They never do her right in the movies. And Anne Elliot is My Very Favorite.
Now, plunging ahead.
As Jane Austen states in a different book of hers: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in posession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.” As this is universally acknowledged, the Musgroves know that when Captain Wentworth comes into the neighborhood of Uppercross, he probably will marry one of their daughters: Louisa or Henrietta. Not only is this initially assumed, but Captain Wentworth soon gives plenty of reasons for them to feel perfectly assured of it. He spends nearly all his free time with the family. He has intense, personal conversations with the girls. He spends one-on-one time with them. He has inside jokes with them. He gives warm personal praise. He encourages and helps to plan trips together. You could argue he’s just being a good friend…who just happens to be handsome and single. (Is this sounding famililar?)
There’s quite a bit of discussion among the Musgrove family about which sister he’ll end up with. Anne Elliot, while doing her best to avoid being drawn into these conversations, observes the following to herself:
“As to Captain Wentworth’s views, she deemed it of more consequence that he should know his own mind, early enough not to be endangering the happiness of either sister, or impeaching his own honor.”
What an idea nowadays, hmm? A man knowing his own mind BEFORE he endangers the happiness of a young woman. I believe this is what many Christian commentors have come to refer to as “being intentional.”
How many men do you know that you’d refer to as intentional? As “knowing their own minds”?
In my own experience, and observation of the experience of friends, the approach of young men now tends more towards, “So, uhm-uh, you wanna go for coffee sometime, and see where we end up?”
I mean, is that a date? Or is it not? Is that “hanging out”? Does hanging out mean he wants to be friends? Or, like, more than friends? How many coffees makes us friends? How many coffees makes me his girlfriend? How many coffees does it take before we go to dinner? Is dinner a date? Who’s paying? And what kind of places does he usually end up when he’s not sure “where we end up”?
I know guys who say that the above paragraph is exactly why they never ask girls out: “I take her to dinner and she’s wondering when we’re getting married.”
To paraphrase another Austen gem: a young lady’s mind jumps from admiration to love and from love to marriage in a single bound.
Girls, don’t be that girl. Guard your heart and all that good stuff that we Good Girls hear in our Christian bookstore books all the time. Don’t start planning whose nieces will be old enough to act as flower girl the moment he asks for your number. And do not start listening to T-Swift music when you get home after your first date. Please.
But also don’t beat yourself up for having a feminine heart. The feminine heart is designed by God to hope and dream and be a place of shelter and comfort for a hard-fighting knight.
I know it can be tempting to convince a man you can BE that shelter for him. Oh, so tempting. I know how it feels when you’ve been waiting and hoping a guy is going to get up the nerve to ask you out after you’ve been (oh-so-subtly) encouraging him and the moment comes and your breath catches waiting for him to ask you out to that romantic dinner you’ve been day-dreaming about and he opens his mouth and says: “So, uhhm-uhh…coffee sometime?”
And I know it’s easy to swallow your disappointment at the flat staleness of such a question, and promise yourself that a casual coffee will really be much less pressure and is a much better idea than a real-awkward first-date-type-thing, and eventually if you are enouraging enough at these coffee-deals he possibly will get up the nerve to ask you out on a for-real staight-up date, probably. Maybe.
Don’t do it.
And by “it,” I don’t mean coffee – I mean don’t settle for ambiguity.
Emotional bonding is a powerful thing. Sliding into these uncertain relationships because we’re craving the excitment that comes from even the possiblity of this being “the one” while our hearts ache with longing for marriage and a home is only asking for trouble in the Heart-land. As Anne Elliot considers in Persuasion: “She could not but think…that Captain Wentworth was not in love with either. They were more in love with him; yet there it was not love. It was a little fever of admiration; but it might, probably must, end in love with some.”
If he’s not pursuing and doing his best to win the love of your heart, do you really want to spend any amount of time wondering if you care more about him than he does about you? Vulnerability is a gift to be given, not a possibility to be passed over.
See, I have a theory (don’t I always?) and even though I’m not yet married myself, this theory has pretty good evidence to back it up. Theory runs as follows: the devil hates marriage. Current culture is not marriage-friendly. And even with all God’s help and the good Catholic sacramental grace juice flowing in a sound Catholic marrage, human nature makes marriage HARD. The world, the devil, and our own well-rooted selfishness will do everything in their power to rip you and your spouse apart. You will need to choose your husband over and over again every day.
Now, please hear me right on this: I’m not saying you decide your entire future based on the first impression, or even the first date. But I do believe casual/recreational dating is not healthy. Instead, be honest with each other about the direction a relationship is headed and whether or not it is marriage-minded. Don’t date somebody you know you’d never marry.
Your husband will need to choose you. He will need to romance you over and over again, because that’s how our hearts work. He will need to fight for you, win you, and cherish you every day for the rest of your lives.
If a guy can’t figure out how to ask you out on an actual date in the first place…does that inspire you with confidence for the long-term possibilities?
I am speaking from some experience here. I have had that awkward conversation where my response to the coffee question is: “Actually, I don’t spend time with guys alone unless it’s a date. If you want to hang out you can join a group event with my friends.”
More than once, I have had that conversation. I even had a conversation once where I explained to a guy what I considered to qualify as a date. I appreciated him wanting to clarify what I expected. Clarity is good. Doubt and anxiety are not a good way to start any relationship, whether you’re going to date or not.
Am I hard on guys? Sure. Happy to admit it. I mean, I’m polite, but I have expectations. Some people call them high. I call them reasonable. I prefer awkward up-front moments to long-drawn-out anxiety. I am convinced one is much healthier for our hearts than the other.
Please let me encourage you: it is possible for a man to do this asking thing well. The day I met my sweetheart Alex, he sought out a moment alone in a sizable group of friends and said, “I’ve been wanting to come up to Houston…could I drive up next weekend and take you to the ballet?”
After I squeaked out an affirmative response in a volume about a decibel higher than normal (I was so stunned. Pleasantly stunned) he smiled and went on, “Great! I’ll look up what’s being performed and get the tickets. May I have your phone number so I can call you with the details?”
Initiative, invitation, clarity.
Really, that has set the tone for our entire relationship. He reminds me all the time, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” “You don’t have to wonder – I’ll keep pursuing you.”
And he does.
Hold out for that, sweet friends. Don’t be a Friendgirl. I know well the days when hope is hard to find, much less hold on to. My prayer for you is that you are filled with confidence that fulfillment in God’s time is worth the wait in-between, and much sweeter than any temporary satisfaction we can get settling for less.