Like many women, my love of Jane Austen began in my teen years but it wasn’t until my 20’s that the lessons of her heroines and their leading men started to affect the way I viewed dating in my own life.
A Little Backstory
Back in the 90’s when I was in college and began to date more seriously, I had fallen away from my faith and dated guys without much thought to the type of men they were. If I were to relate to any of Jane Austen’s characters, I would definitely have been Marianne Dashwood dating a string of wrong-for-me Willoughbys. I had a knack for falling in love with man-boys who were poetically trying to “find themselves” and didn’t have any direction in their lives.
In my early twenties, I came back to the faith in a strong way and narrowed the dating pool to Christian men. However, when it came down to getting more serious, our differing faiths always stopped us from continuing the relationships.
During this time, God was also working on my heart at a deeper level. Specifically, I was wondering if I had a religious vocation. Frankly, the thought seemed absurd at first. I was Marianne Dashwood destined for romance and love!
However, after two years of turning my life upside down and seriously discerning, I reached a point of total surrender to God and accepted a call to a religious vocation. It was a time of deep spiritual growth and God wanted my unreserved “Yes.” Ironically, once I reached that point God made it known to me (and my spiritual director) that I was called to the married life.
This put me back into the dating scene, which scared me a little since I hadn’t had the best of luck. I remember my mom making an observation that I always picked guys who needed to be “fixed” and never a guy who motivated me to better myself. She said I needed to find qualities in a man that lifted me up and challenged me to be the best version of myself, a man who was seeking the Kingdom of God and who would work alongside me on our journey of faith. This was exactly what God had been putting on my heart and hearing my mom say the words out loud confirmed it.
In Steps Mr. Knightly
During this time in the mid to late 90’s, there was a slew of Jane Austen movie adaptations, Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslette, Persuasion with Ciaron Hinds and Amanda Root, and Emma with Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong, to name a few. I loved those movies but the 1995 Emma really took hold of my heart.
A part of me didn’t like Mr. Knightly at first because he was so serious and judgmental of Emma. But another part of me admired him because he loved Emma enough to speak freely to her and to call her out when she was behaving badly. He loved her, faults and all, but challenged her to be a better version of herself. I watched the movie and read the book more than once and each time Mr. Knightly’s qualities shone brighter. There was a kindness and compassion in the way he cared for his tenants and rescued Jane Fairfax from her humiliation. He displayed quiet generosity in the way he did little things for his neighbors without fanfare. Plus, his maturity and wisdom allowed him to see beyond the obvious in situations, such as his suspicions of Jane and Frank.
I thought of all these things as I stared at the TV screen and thought, I need to find a Mr. Knightly!
It may sound like a joke, but the thought would not leave me. I was determined to break the cycle of dating the wrong kind of man. I knew I had a weakness for “needing” to be in a relationship even if it was a bad one. I knew I had to start dating with God and my faith in mind. I needed to understand that it was okay to be one my own and wait for the right kind of guy.
So I sat down at my desk and made a list of all the qualities I should be looking for in a man I dated. I crossed out all the superficial things I loved (like he wore Doc Martens or Converse and listened to alternative music) and instead thought of Godly things that mattered.
All these years later, I still have that list. It reads:
- God is #1 in his life.
- He is Catholic.
- He actually lives his faith and is seeing holiness.
- He has a job capable of supporting a family.
- He loves his family and respects his parents.
- He loves my family and mom likes him.
- He loves children and is open to life.
- He has a beautiful smile and a sense of humor.
- We have things in common to talk about and discuss.
- He has traits of Mr. Knightly that will inspire and encourage me to seek greater holiness.
I copied the list onto a piece of paper that I would use as a book marker in my planner. I added a photo of Mr. Knightly from the movie as a reminder to stand firm and not give into the next cute agnostic poet who was out of a job and living in his parent’s basement. I knew I may not find someone with ALL these qualities but I needed to at least start working towards that goal.
How Does the Story End?
I wish I could say that after this revelation I found Mr. Right immediately but I did not. However, every day when I saw my little Mr. Knightly list, I prayed for my future husband. I asked that God strengthen him in his faith and prepare both our hearts for our future marriage. It was difficult, sometimes really difficult, to be patient and to trust in God when I saw no answer in sight, but I persevered.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my future husband (Brian) was in the seminary and he was going through his own vocational discernment. He was praying to God for guidance. He eventually discerned that he was called to marriage and left the seminary to return home. He prayed a nine-day novena to Our Lord asking God to help him in finding his future wife. On the ninth and last day of his novena we happened to “meet” online. (Talk about answered prayer!)
There began a friendship that was to blossom into love. I had found a man who was unlike any other guy I had ever dated. (My mom still marvels over that!) No man is perfect, but Brian was a perfect match for me. He possessed the qualities I was looking for and challenged me and inspired me to be a better person. He gave me roots to tame my flightiness. In turn, I challenged him to love and laugh more and to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. We complimented one another. I had found my version of Mr. Knightly and I’m happy to say that 18 years later he still makes my heart skip a beat.
A Note to the Single Sisters
If you find yourself dating the wrong kind of men, maybe it’s time to quiet yourself before God and ask Him why. Is there a deeper reason you keep choosing the wrong kind of guys? Do you feel like you don’t deserve anyone better? Do you have the need to be a guy’s savior? Do you need healing from past hurts or bad habits? I’d recommend finding someone to discuss these concerns with you, a spiritual director, a therapist, or a friend who is knowledgeable and strong in the faith.
Maybe there is no deeper reason and you just need to be a little more discretionary in who you date. If it will help, make a list! Ask God what qualities you should be looking for in a man. Is he a Godly man? Does he take his faith seriously? Is he honest? Does he have integrity or are there red flags? Do you have things in common? Does he inspire you to love God more? These are the kind of qualities that will make a strong foundation for a relationship and eventually a marriage. No man is perfect (and you and I certainly aren’t) but you want someone willing to work towards holiness with you.
Or perhaps, you aren’t dating Mr. Wrong and you know what you are looking for in a man but you still haven’t found Mr. Right. When I was single, I hated when people told me to be patient and wait for God’s timing. It’s easy to say but sometimes it sucks to live it out.
However, I found that the waiting was less difficult when I, first, keep myself close to God and worked on my relationship with Christ. Second, when I kept myself busy with life and doing God’s will for me at that moment. Lastly, when I prayed for my future husband. When the heart ache came to me I offered it up to God for my future husband and whatever struggles he was going through at that moment. This helped keep hope in my heart, knowing that my prayers could help him even though we were separated at this time.
As someone who felt like the least likely to find true love, I say wholeheartedly, don’t lose hope. God is capable of doing amazing things when you follow His path and trust His timing.
Written by Bobbi Rol. Find out more about her here.
This post was originally published at Revolution of Love.com. Reprinted here with permission.