Dating disasters of the Regency era

Confession: First Dates is my televisual jam. (For the uninitiated, in brief: strangers are set up on dates at a London restaurant by a suave Frenchman called Fred {above}, said date is filmed, & they are then subjected to having their dating style reviewed. It’s hugely high-brow.) From teenagers looking for their first love to roguish divorcees and widowed octogenarians, it lays bare the excitements/disappointments of the modern dating scene & reminds those of us still negotiating our way around it that we are NOT ALONE.

In the spirit of Fred, I would like to whisk you to Regency England and illustrate that attempting to convince someone they fancy you has always been pretty horrendous. Far from being a vision of Austen heroes and heroines accidentally and irrevocably falling in love, then as now it was an anxiety-addled mess.

Here, from James Beresford’s Miseries of Human Life (1806), 8 dating dilemmas that would strike a chord with any man today (but were probably only suffered by the less attractive chaps in Austen’s novels).

  1. When you spend ages getting excited about a social event because the girl you like is also going, and then she doesn’t even turn up

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  2. Having a bad hair / bad neck-cloth day just when you want to look absolutely ravishing

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3. Going into a particular pub because you fancy the barmaid but never catching her eye

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4. When three of you are chasing after the same girl… & she doesn’t choose you

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5. Nosey mates/family members/butlers hanging around & butting in when you’re trying to declare your passion

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6. Finding the name of the girl you fancy scrawled on the local inn windowpane (or, back of the toilet door)

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7. Being hopelessly awkward when you unexpectedly come across her in the street

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** Definition of ‘beau-trap’ from Grose’s Dictionary (1811): ‘A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damage of white stockings; also a sharper neatly dressed, lying in wait for raw country squires, or ignorant fops.’

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8. At the crucial point where maybe she *might* consider kissing you… you are struck down with a hideous disease

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The fact is, attracting someone’s romantic attention has never been easy, & for every great love story there are a thousand unsuccessful, painfully awkward encounters. Fortunately they are – let’s face it – sometimes much more entertaining than the Real Thing (for onlookers, if not for you). So, take a tip from Fred & embrace the dating scene, safe in the knowledge that you are participating in a long and proud tradition of opening your heart & embarrassing yourself utterly. It’s fun, honest.

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