Kitty and Lydia Bennet

"From all I can collect by your manner of talking, you must be two of the silliest girls in the country."
--Pride and Prejudice

Kitty and Lydia Bennet, the two youngest sisters from Pride and Prejudice, are the wildest, craziest flirts that Jane Austen ever created. They're mad for any man in uniform -- "they could talk of nothing but officers," Austen writes -- and spend all their free time in the village where the local militia is stationed, trying to meet as many soldiers as possible. Their behavior is so obvious and embarrassing that Mr. Darcy cites it, along with Mrs. Bennet's awful pushy manners, as a reason for his dissuading Bingley from proposing to Jane: "a total want of propriety," he calls it. And he has a point. When Lydia is invited to Brighton, a seaside resort, by the wife of a colonel in the regiment, she imagines herself "seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once."

Elizabeth is all too aware of how badly Kitty and Lydia behave. She even warns her father that if he doesn't rein them in now, Lydia will "be the most determined flirt that ever made herself and her family ridiculous. A flirt too, in the worst and meanest degree of flirtation; without any attraction beyond youth and a tolerable person; and from the ignorance and emptiness of her mind, wholly unable to ward off any portion of that universal contempt which her rage for admiration will excite. In this danger Kitty is also comprehended. She will follow wherever Lydia leads. Vain, ignorant, idle and absolutely uncontrolled!"

Elizabeth, as so often, is quite right. Lydia's complete inability to control her desperate need for attention leads her to run away with Wickham, a charming, unprincipled rake who has no intention of marrying her. Lydia would have been ruined for life if Mr. Darcy, out of love for Elizabeth, hadn't stepped in and bribed Wickham to make an honest woman of Lydia.

Lesson to be Learned
Self-Control

What Not to Do: Don't Throw Yourself at Men

Lydia and Kitty make idiots of themselves because they throw themselves at any vaguely good-looking officer in a red coat. They are indiscriminate; they have no self-control, no ability to pause and sum up the character of the latest man they have a crush on. Like them, Jennifer has a new crush every few weeks. She's barely met a man at a party before she's ringing up all her friends, telling them how wonderful he is and how right they are for each other. Jennifer -- much to the envy of some of her friends -- has no trouble meeting men. She's very attractive and seems a little vulnerable, and this combination means that men are initially very interested in her. But the romances always fizzle. Jennifer is so desperate to be in a relationship that she ignores all the warning signs. Her friends try to warn her, but to no avail. One man was rude to her and treated her badly; one insisted that she always come over to his place, and would never visit her apartment; one was so close to his ex-girlfriend that he would often suggest that he, Jennifer, and the ex all go out together in the evenings. Jennifer's friends pointed all these flaws out to her, but she wouldn't listen, and she still won't. It's never Jennifer who breaks up with the men, no matter how badly things are going; she's always the one to be dumped.

Jennifer simply throws herself at any available and eligible man, and, because she's so attractive, the men will catch her for a while, before chucking her away again. She has no self-control whatsoever when it comes to relationships. Although she complains about relationships going badly, she won't pause for the few minutes it would take to do the math and come to the conclusion that a man who's not treating her well isn't right for her. It's got to the point that her friends roll their eyes whenever Jennifer calls them to recount how she's met a new man. In the last year, she's dated at least ten men, and it hasn't worked out with any of them. It's as if Jennifer just doesn't factor herself into the equation -- her own likes and dislikes, her own need to be treated well. Her obsessive need to be in a relationship makes her ignore a more important, basic need -- to be treated well. It really seems as if Jennifer is incapable of saying no to a man: No, I don't want to go out with you and your ex-girlfriend. No, I don't want to come round to your place again tonight, when you never come round to mine. No, I don't want to see you anymore.

Not all of Jennifer's boyfriends treat her badly; some are nice guys, looking for something serious, who nevertheless are quickly put off by the overeagerness with which she rushes into a relationship. Remember the "Do" from Chapter One, Enjoy the moment? It's the perfect principle for Jennifer, but she doesn't have enough self-control to follow it. Though very successful in her career, romantically she's like a little child grabbing at candy, unable to wait for gratification. Jennifer never learned that delayed gratification is usually more satisfying and more profound than a quick greedy grab at what you want. If she doesn't develop some self-control, she is doomed to keep repeating her pattern, and she'll never find what she's looking for.

Just because you met a gorgeous prospect in a bar last night and gave him your phone number doesn't mean that you have to start getting stressed at lunchtime the next day because he hasn't called you yet. If you start building castles in the air too soon, a man will pick up on that and be put off by it. We all know how unattractive a desperate-seeming person is. Also, it's not really flattering to the man you are interested in. Because if you're that desperate, like Jennifer, you will just latch on to the next vaguely eligible man you meet, without taking the time to get to know him as a person. You're not seeing him for who he really is. A man naturally likes to feel that you want him for himself, not just as any old buffer against the loneliness of being single.

What to Do Instead: Let Him Breathe

When Matthew met Sally, he had recently finished a fling with another girl, and though he liked Sally, he wasn't sure yet about his true feelings: was she a rebound? He knew that he was still a little confused and shaken up by the fling, which hadn't ended well, and he didn't want to rush into anything until he felt that he had his emotions more under control. So he took things much more slowly than he usually would have. They went out a couple of nights a week, to the movies or to dinner, but Matthew didn't make a move on Sally for a month. He wanted to get to know her and to give himself time to figure out what was going on. It was the longest Matthew had ever waited before kissing a girl, but he wanted to be sure that he really liked Sally before he rushed into something with her, and then panicked because he wasn't ready.

Sally knew that Matthew had just broken up with someone, and she sensed that he wasn't ready yet. She also managed to keep her feelings under control and not push Matthew to make a move before he was ready -- though, of course, she was very much hoping that this would happen sooner rather than later! She had the harder task -- Matthew, due to his confusion about his attraction to Sally and the feelings he still had for his ex, was naturally able to go slower. Sally's job was to discipline herself, keep her growing feelings for him under wraps, and not pressure him.

She knew she had to leave it to Matthew to make the move, because if she were the one to take the first step, one way or another it would go wrong. Either Matthew would respond, they would end up in bed together, and it would be too early, causing him to get nervous and need some time out; or he would reject her. Sally naturally found this very difficult. Still, she had a couple of good friends to confide in, and she vented to them. Meanwhile, Matthew kept ringing her and they kept going out on lovely dates. Sally let Matthew do most of the work. And finally, when Matthew did make a pass at her, it went wonderfully. They were both more than ready and they acknowledged right away how much they liked each other. Sally and Matthew have been together ever since.

Summary

Do

Avoid giving more than you get. Don't let yourself get into a situation where the person you're dating is taking you for a ride and not really interested in a serious relationship with you. Don't throw yourself blindly at someone -- you'll lose yourself and forget what you really want and need.

Keep your self-control. You might fall head over heels for a man you meet at a party, but you know very little about someone you've only talked to for a couple of hours. Even if you fall into bed with him that very night, you still hardly know him! Which is why it's a good idea to take things slowly and maintain self-control so you can work out what kind of person he really is, and whether he can be trusted with your love.

Be discriminating. There are plenty of attractive people out there with whom you will be compatible. Just because someone is flirting with you and you are attracted to him doesn't mean that you shouldn't give yourself time to see how strong the compatibility is.

Don't

Overconfide in your friends. People -- even ones with the best intentions -- gossip terribly. In the early stages, play your cards close to your chest. Overconfiding can also make you obsessive about a man -- don't talk about someone new constantly. Remind yourself that you have a life!

Overindulge your feelings. The more Marianne dwells on her love for Willoughby, the sicker she makes herself. If your love is clearly hopeless, try not to think about it every hour of the day and night. Distract yourself as much as possible and put it from your mind. It will make your recovery much faster.

Get into a competition. Remember, you should be letting him chase you, not chasing him! And that means not putting your feelings more on display than his are. If a man is making you feel that you need to war against other potential prospects for his attentions, it's a big warning sign. Instead, he should make you feel that you are the only person he really wants to get to know. If he doesn't, you should cross him off your list immediately. Any relationship you have with him will always make you feel insecure.

Copyright © 2005 Lauren Henderson

Excerpted from the book Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson. Copyright © 2005 Lauren Henderson. (Published by Hyperion; January 2005; $12.00US/$17.00CAN; 1-4013-0117-7)

Author's Bio: 

Lauren Henderson is a founding voice of the "tart noir" mystery genre and is the author of numerous novels, including the Sam Jones detective series and three romantic comedies of modern love and manners: My Lurid Past, Don't Even Think About It, and Exes Anonymous. She was raised in London, educated at Cambridge, where she wrote her dissertation on courtship rituals in Jane Austen, and currently resides in New York, where she is happily dating a Henry Tilney.

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