Seventeen and never been kissed - What's the real problem according to Jane Austen's Emma and Clueless's Cher?

May 17, 2021
Seventeen and never been kissed - What's the real problem according to Jane Austen's Emma and Clueless's Cher?
Ben White
PeppermintFrank Bridge: Sir Roger de Coverly

Dear Erica,

I am concerned about my younger cousin. She is seventeen years old, and has yet to be kissed! She is very pretty and smart, and I am unsure what the problem may be. My only clue is that when asked why she didn't like any of the boys at her school, she said she just didn’t have that “oh my god” moment about any of them. What advice do you have for someone who needs to jumpstart her love life, let go of this fictional idea of romance, and finally be kissed?!

Perplexed in Portland

Dear Perplexed in Portland,

Your cousin sounds an awful lot like Emma Woodhouse. Jane Austen’s classic heroine is entirely comfortable with her life, surrounded by her father, and her governess, and does not feel the urge to marry. As she tells her friend, “I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love...And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want.” And even when her friend argues, “But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!” Emma shrugs and does not feel anxiety at being an old maid.

And this attitude is smart, because it is only after after muddling through a series of romantic misunderstandings, Emma matures and comes to understand her true feelings, and by the end of the novel, we see her happily married to her old friend Mr. Knightley. If she had rushed into an earlier relationship out of fear of being an old maid, she might have made a terrible mistake.

If your cousin is longing to be in a relationship, I would advise her to beware of having an unrealistic expectation of love. As I have repeatedly emphasized on Teatime with Erica, a relationship is not all roses and romance. It may be easier for her to dream of romantic heroes who will make her swoon, than to navigate the difficulties inherent in a real relationship. This has become more and more of a problem with the advent of social media: Instagram, Snapchat, and Tinder, etc. There are so many options that we often become too picky as no one ticks every box.

On the other hand, it is possible that like Emma Woodhouse, she is happy in her situation and does not need or want a boyfriend. Much like Emma's contemporary inspiration, Cher from the 90's film Clueless, your cousin might think that "Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie." While some young women are ready at fifteen to be married and have babies, other women might not feel comfortable dating until they are in their twenties. Not every girl is a Juliet, madly in love and barely fourteen. Your cousin sounds like a late developer(a number of my favorite heroines were the same: Polly Shaw of An Old Fashioned Girl, as well as Margaret Hale of North and South). Don’t worry though! Like Emma, Cher, Margaret, and Polly, your cousin will eventually be ready, and then she will find her own Mr. Knightley.