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


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


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


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



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


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


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

** 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.’


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


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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