Friday, January 29, 2010

A Gentleman's Imagination is Not So Rapid

At the bottom of my Blogger website, I have a quote that I consider to be both great insight and fair warning. Jane Austen wrote,

"A lady’s imagination is very rapid;

it jumps from admiration to love,

from love to matrimony, in a moment.”

That is to say, when a woman sees signs of admiration in a man, she imagines he is in love with his object of admiration and begins to plan what to wear to the wedding. This is true, though rather conceited, even of ourselves. To feel admired by a man suggests marriage to us. I don’t know why. And to confess the truth, we hear a woman admiring a man and think she is destined for him. Or we do imagine ourselves in love when we have experienced only the slightest flutter of respect or attraction.

Girls are like that. Jane Austen knew it. I have not found many girls who could refute it. In Fiddler on the Roof the eldest daughter sings, “There’s more to life than [happiness in marriage]… Don’t ask me what!” We’re a little obsessed, even when we are striving to focus on other things. We see the world in matches, even our forks and spoons are paired off into couples or families.

And even though this is just how things are, life is not made simple by these unfounded convictions. The rapidness of our imaginations does not only make it awkward for men to be around us (and more so when we act on these emotions or ideas without checking them against what we ought to do); it makes determining the actual sources of our emotions and regard rather difficult. With these expectations come frequent disappointments. Some people even teach that we ladies ought to quiet our hearts, to “guard them”

from feeling and hope and imagination.

I’m not talking about lust, but a way of sorting out and reacting to life. Most men and women will marry, and the origins often are something like admiration, then love, then commitment to marriage.

So we have this option, to prevent our rapid imaginations. We can go into a nunnery until the knight in shining armor rides by to select his bride. Or we can treat the world as though we consider ourselves nuns (often complete with vows of silence). I have, in the past, tended to be unwilling to do the work it takes to relate to men without assuming things about them that are not significant, or that are even untrue. Part of this was for my own sake, as I said: life is much simpler when you do not let yourself interact with or admire others.

Another part is that we presume men take similar imaginative leaps, and that they are not to be trusted with any them. And good little girls who are trying to be modest, well, we do not realize that men are not quite as rapid as we, and we assume that sparking admiration will make a man desperately in love… It goes something like this:

If I smile at him, he’ll think I like him. And if he thinks I like him, he will fall in love with me. When he falls in love with me, he’ll want to marry me. But I don’t want to marry him! I barely know him!

So the good little girls don’t smile. Never mind that if I smile at his compliment, courtesy, or joke he might think I was pleased – and I was, but I don’t want him to know. In the words of the “faultless” Mr. Darcy, “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.

I know it is risky, but wouldn’t it be better to be honest? I dare say that a woman can trust a man with a smile or a laugh. We need to stop trying to control the situation. What I have practiced, before I learned this, was rejecting people, not rejecting suitors. When someone is being themselves and meets with no response, or no attentive audience, his identity is being torn down. My heart has been my idol, so that I guarded it and exalted it at the expense of people.

What about this? If I don’t smile at him, he’ll think his joke wasn’t funny, and he’ll try something else or give up relating to us entirely. For a woman frustrated with the reluctance of men to marry, it is rather contradictory to be discouraging them from even interacting with us.

It is now my goal to be the woman of kindness and quietness that God has called me to be, to do the extra work it takes to contain the eager imaginations and assumptions that are my tendency as a female. I will trust God with the consequences of being myself – in modesty and discretion and humility – but also with being myself as a sister, an emissary of God sent to build up (even nurture) those around me. If I do fall in love, I will trust God. If a man falls in love with me, I will trust my good Lord Jesus. These situations are not impossible even when they are unwelcome. And I would rather suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

To God be all glory.


Hannah said...

You have such a way with words. God has been teaching me this lesson. Thank you for capturing it so well! It's a fine line to be walked with self control given by Him. If you don't mind I'm going to save a copy of this to reread often.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Oh! Thank you, Hannah. I have been praying to encourage people, even just a few.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn