Etiquette, romance, and grand gestures

by DGO Web Administrator

I feel anxious and tired.

I don’t have answers to folks going without physical touch or sex right now.

I feel lost when it comes to where my energy should be focused.

This month I suggest folks donate to or volunteer for RAICES — https://www.raicestexas.org/ an organization fighting for immigrants in communities, in detention, and beyond.

I also propose that you call your Representative and Senators in D.C. and ask them to fund and protect the United States Postal Service (USPS). Some of you may think I’m bringing politics into this column.

Yes. Yes, I am. The USPS delivers medications and paychecks, for fucks sake!

Contact information for Representatives: https://www.house.gov/representatives

Contact information for Senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact

After you’ve made some donations and phone calls, I want you to engage in some self-care. Feed your body, soul, mind, and heart.

I’m doing just that with this issue’s column. I’m writing my version of fluff. Enjoy!

There is something that calls to me about the latest film remake of “Pride and Prejudice” — the one with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen playing Mr. Darcy — so much so that I watched it twice today. I am a card-carrying, burn-my-bra, Cunt-by-Inga-Musico-is-my-bible, full-on feminist. My deep, dark secret is that I am also a hopeless romantic and regularly read/watch dramatic romance. This secret of mine, layered with my feminism, may be why I am captivated by this story. I have read Jane Austen’s book and the re-write by Seth Grahame-Smith — “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (highly recommended). However, it is the 2005 film that takes my breath away and stirs up my feminist.

Gender rolesI loathe the submissive roles required of women in most romance stories, but I still consume a lot of romance novels and films. “Pride and Prejudice” emphasizes these roles by highlighting what was most desirable in a woman — for them to be marriage-worthy (barf!). Elizabeth is an early example of a feminist — independent, well-read, strong-willed, and opinionated (yay!). And yet, they still participate in the cultural expectations of their time. Elizabeth is drawn into the love story of their sister and eventually their own advantageous marriage. Nowadays, women are not expected to embroider, draw, or play the piano in order to attract the attention of a partner. Instead, they are expected to work in an “appropriate” job, raise a family, manage the home, AND be sexually appealing.

There is hope that marriage is no longer the be-all and end-all of relationships (despite ongoing cultural norms decreed by powerful religious institutions). Mr. Darcy’s throwing off the norms of their day by falling in love and not marrying for financial or family connection is scandalous! This behavior of chasing down love perpetuates the mistaken belief that males must pursue relationships and capture what they want with wit, charm, or in some cases, force. I swoon as I watch Mr. Darcy stride across the field to tell Elizabeth that “she has bewitched him body and soul” annnnnnd I recognize how this perpetuates toxic masculinity. *Sigh.*

We have not and do not educate our young boys about their sexual selves and help them understand how to communicate their needs. Instead, we leave them guessing and fumbling around in the dark. It makes sense that there were specific rules because males could not control themselves. They still cannot but we no longer have rules — just boys will be boys.

Dating etiquette For Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, there were so many complex rules they had to abide by in social settings, such as the constant bowing, who sits where at the table, or dozens of more proper ways to share a space together. We can and should use these examples in the film as simple rules for 21st-century dating etiquette – asking for consent, being aware of physical bodies and space, communicating clearly, and showing our respect for others through our actions.

I say this, and my favorite parts of the film often include Elizabeth breaking the rules. I delight in Elizabeth’s rebellion.

Grand gesturesSome of the allure of a love story, like the one in “Pride and Prejudice”, is the rather complicated and grand gestures of love that Mr. Darcy does to woo Elizabeth. It is unlikely that we would pay for a wedding to save a sister from becoming a fallen woman and tarnishing the family’s image (*rolling my eyes*), but we can open the door for our date or pull their chair out for them. We could bring them flowers just because or write them a note and use snail mail to send it. These gestures, although typically gendered, do not have to be and I encourage grand gestures from everyone.

The grandest of gestures is listening to their wants and needs and following through with making it happen. Maybe a date has mentioned how much they enjoy helping people or maybe they have professed their love of animals. We could set up a date volunteering at a soup kitchen or walking dogs at a local animal shelter. These are concrete actions to show that we are listening and care about their interests.

Mr. Darcy clearly does this even after Elizabeth eviscerates the proposal and lays at their feet all the wrongdoings. Mr. Darcy takes a moment for honest communication through a handwritten letter, before leaving to bring Mr. Bingley back to Jane. This is my romantic side that sits up and pants; Mr. Darcy’s love is full of hope even after being sliced and diced into tiny pieces by Elizabeth’s prejudice. *swoon

Romance is not deadThe excitement and giddy feelings at the beginning of a relationship are directly connected to the fact that we have not had a physical connection with this new person. Yet another reason why 18th-century romance is so thrilling. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy dance around their attraction for months and the passions just keep building and building. Guess what!? Dating during a pandemic creates the same physical distance. Let that sexual tension build!

When they finally connect and admit their love for each other we are met with moody fog, early morning light, soaring orchestral music, and the poetry of love.

My heart swells and my intellect gags.

Stay safe, wear a mask, and ask for consent.

Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com.

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