Passion, Prudence, & Regret: Would Jane Austen advise pursuing a long-distance relationship?

August 26, 2021
Passion, Prudence, & Regret:  Would Jane Austen advise pursuing a long-distance relationship?
Clem Onojeghuo
Lemon, Ginger, & EchinacaeEast Harlem by Beirut

Dear Erica,

I’ve been working and living in New York for the past few years and have just been accepted at business school at Stanford. Of course, now that I’m leaving New York, I finally got up the courage to flirt with my best-friend’s older brother, who to my complete surprise likes me back. I’m tempted to date him, even though I’ll be leaving soon and we’d have to do long-distance. What do you think? Is it worth it? Or am I likely to wind up hurt more than anything?


Nervous in New York

Dear Nervous in New York:

I think you should go for it, with the caveat that you need to think more like an Elinor and feel less like a Marianne if you want to avoid getting hurt. By Elinor and Marianne, I am referring to the very different Dashwood sisters in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Elinor handles her romantic troubles with a prudence and practicality that is completely missing in her passionate and dramatic sister. In exploring her feelings for Edward Ferrars, Elinor recognizes the difficulties their union faces and does not allow herself to run away with unrealistic expectations. Something her sister does often. Jane Austen writes, “Elinor knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next and that with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.”

Elinor wants to temper her sister's expectations, and explains, “I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him, that I greatly esteem, that I like him.” However, Elinor's reserved expressions infuriate her passionate and dramatic sister. Marianne exclaims, ““Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise.”

In contrast to her sensible sister, Marianne, falls passionately in love with the selfish but charming Willoughby and her impetuous choices lead her into a near breakdown when Willoughby’s true colors are revealed.

If you are able to look at the relationship lightheartedly, and let go a little bit(never easy for a woman, but it can be done), then you should be fine. But if you think you might develop deeper feelings, just be aware that long-distance and long-term relationships are never easy and be practical. That being said, you are more likely to regret not taking a chance than holding back. Though not one of the classic writers, I think Gothic romance novelist, Victoria Holt, says it best, “Never Regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience." And there's nothing like a good Gothic romance to make you realize that regret and romance go hand in hand.

And who knows? Maybe it will work out! Edward and Elinor managed to overcome a number of obstacles, from jealous ex-lovers, to disapproving relations, and find themselves very happy after a number of painful separations. And even if it winds up being a right mess, you are likely to learn from your mistakes. If Marianne had not had her tragic love-affair with the dastardly Willoughby, she might never have learned to appreciate and value the loyal and thoughtful Colonel Brandon with whom she lived happily ever after. Let us know whether passion or prudence wins out. And either way, never regret!