In many ways, my life resembles a Jane Austen novel. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as I am quite fond of Jane Austen novels and they all tend to end at least nominally happily for the main characters. Jane Austen, not being the sort of novelist who felt free in commenting about areas of limited insight or expertise, focused her novels on the areas that she understood best, the sisterhood of women, dances, dinner parties, journeys to watering holes like Lyme or Bath, gossipy letters and conversations with friends and neighbors and relatives, and the behavior of gentry and house servants in their home estates. A great deal of the excellence of her art was because of her restraint, her understatement, and her extremely sardonic wit, which allows her novels to be interpreted a wide variety of ways depending on how someone takes her writing. It is unsurprising that even if my own writing does not ascend to the level of Austen’s dry wit, that my own writing and speaking should be similarly layered.
In determining that one’s life is part of a Jane Austen novel, one has to figure out exactly what kind of character one is. If one is the romantic hero (or heroine) of a romance novel, then no matter how stressful or anxious the feelings one has over the course of the plot of this particular period of our lives, we know things will end out right. After all, one of the reasons why so many people enjoy romance novels is precisely that happy ending. Almost anything can be endured if we know things will end up all right. It is the uncertainty and the fear that we are suffering pointlessly and indefinitely that makes life’s ups and downs so difficult to manage sometimes, the belief that we are subject to capricious and malign wills beyond our influence who work against our interests and well-being. If we are not the romantic hero or heroine in a Jane Austen novel, though, our happiness is less certain. Are we a minor character (like, say, a Mary Bennet) whose romantic longings are not of interest in the plot at all and are never even addressed, or are we foils and blocking characters (like a Mary Crawford or an Elizabeth Eliot) whose longings may be entirely frustrated, to the humor and approval of the reading (or viewing) audience? If so, we cannot look forward to happiness. It is hard to know exactly where we stand in the novel our lives are a part of, and so we play our roles with a certain degree of stress and anxiety over our fates in the dance of life.
One of the ways that my life painfully resembles a Jane Austen novel is the importance of dances. When I write about dances , I write about them from a point of view of someone who considers them of importance in getting to know people outside of my immediate social circle, and even in having a chance to carry on a conversation with someone who for one reason or another I may not be able to talk to on a regular basis. It offers a semi-private and semi-public way to get to know people, which is ideal in providing the chance to show friendliness and get to know others a little bit better while also being in a public setting where one’s conduct may be openly seen as above board by interested parties and witnesses. It can be used for social signaling and can provide a great deal of information for someone (like myself, and many others, no doubt) to overanalyze to our heart’s content as we seek to understand the motives and intents of the people around us, even if we are able to know our own, which is not always a given.
When we are young, most of the time we are simply interested in someone dancing with us, and are not always too picky about who we dance with, because we are simply looking to exercise and enjoy friendly social interaction. When we get a little older, though, and start thinking of courtship, or try to desperately avoid the thoughts of courtship that others may have, dancing becomes a much more anxiety-ridden task. If we did not care about such matters as showing ourselves available for courtship and romantic interest to available partners, then dancing would not be a matter of anxiety at all. We would simply be like children in dancing only for fun. It is the desire for something more, though, something which a good dance can influence by providing us with a chance to spend time with someone and see if they are gracious, if they are considerate and polite, if they can hold our interest in conversation and show attention for our lives and not only themselves, which causes us so much alarm and concern. Likewise, it is the fact that people, especially young women, are torn between an expectation of politeness to the requests of a man for a dance and the concern not to send the wrong signal, that one is available and potentially interested when one is most certainly not, that can make dances so stressful for ladies. For men it is no less stressful, especially as one considers how often it is polite to ask someone to dance, or what sort of people it is acceptable to dance with so that one does not ruin someone’s night by making them uncomfortable while not having one’s own night ruined by being overly timid and not asking for dances often enough. The balance is a difficult matter, and dancing is a small microcosm of the difficulties of courtship faced by so many of us, and most notably and publicly by me. Little wonder it is that dances are so stressful for us, or that we anticipate them and dread them in equal measure, seeing as how they are a place where our fears and longings intersect so closely.
 See, for example: