This year marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s "Pride and Prejudice." According to the Wall Street Journal, “novelists, moviemakers and scholars are releasing a flood of new homages to cash in on the bottomless appetite for all things Austen.” This same appetite is no doubt the reason for "Downton Abbey’s" continued success. Women, in particular, inhale romance—especially when it results in a wedding.
That’s because women are born to bond. Literally.
The female body is steeped in oxytocin and estrogen, two chemicals that together produce an environment ripe for attachment. Oxytocin is known as the female reproductive hormone. It gets released whenever a woman has intimate contact with a man.
Men have oxytocin, too, but a smaller amount. They’re more favored with testosterone—which controls lust, not attachment. That’s why women, not men, wait by the phone the next day after a one-night stand. That’s why the movie "He’s Just Not That Into You" wasn’t titled "She’s Just Not That Into You."
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Women’s propensity to bond may seem counterintuitive in a culture where promiscuity—for both genders—is widely embraced. But as Lena Dunham of the hit HBO series "Girls" told Frank Bruni of The New York Times, “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal. There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and why men feel about sex the way they do. It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles.”
She’s right. For women, sex is an emotional experience—whether they intend it to be or not. The goal is to find lasting love, and that’s where "Pride and Prejudice" becomes so instructive. Jane Austen understood the male/female dance. When modern women read her stories, they absorb a message that sounds foreign to them. Yet good.
In the story, Wickham is the bad guy—a player, or nineteenth-century “bad boy.” Lydia, one of the younger of the five Bennett sisters, wants to get married but foolishly sets her sights on Wickham. She “lands” him; but he takes advantage of her, largely because Lydia makes herself so available.
Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, is considered a “catch.” He’s rich and handsome, yes; but he’s a very good man. Though he’s proud at first, his true character becomes apparent once Elizabeth enters his life to make him a better man.
The second oldest in the Bennett family, Elizabeth wants to get married as much as Lydia does—but she wants to marry a man of character. She’s attracted to Darcy, but she doesn’t throw herself at him the way other women do. She’s patient and reserved and busies herself with her own life and interests, which of course makes Darcy fall in love with her all the more.
Whenever I watch "Pride and Prejudice," I think about modern day films, where men and women take off their clothes at the first introduction. I reflect on how sad it is that women have been conditioned to believe that being “easy” brings any form of true fulfillment. It doesn’t work that way. And somewhere, deep down inside, I think women know that—and that’s why they flock to Jane Austen.
So if you’re a woman who’s looking for Mr. Right and getting nowhere, here are some things to consider -- things the culture won’t teach you:
1. Play hard to get. Don’t be so aggressive. When women make themselves so available to men, the thrill of the chase is gone. The harder you are to “catch,” the more interesting you become. It’s a message as old as the sun. But it works.
2. Wait for sex. I know it’s chic to think of yourself as a sex goddess. And maybe you are. But the truth is, if you present yourself this way to a man—in the way you dress and behave—he’ll respond in kind. If you want to be the one he brings home to mom, make him earn your love. And your body.
3. Make your guy feel important. Sure, you’re self-sufficient. And he is, too. But everybody wants to feel valued. Men in particular. What’s wrong with letting him take care of things every once and a while? After all, why would he keep coming around if you give him the impression he has nothing to offer?
4. Put down your sword. Despite what you’ve heard, men don’t love b*tches. They like nice women. Strong and confident women, yes. But nice. They can go hand in hand. Really.
Suzanne Venker is an author, a cultural critic. She tackles a range of subjects surrounding marriage and the family, including the infamous gender wars. Her most recent book is "The Two-Income Trap: Why Parents Are Choosing to Stay Home." To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website. Follow her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.com.