Being Charlotte, Or, Why My Relationship Status is Not #WaitingforMrDarcy

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nothing like putting your new status in writing

Breakups are a fantastic time to think about relationship status. How soon are you ready to be back on the dating market? Have you revised your list of qualities you’re looking for in a mate? Are you more picky? Less? On the sliding scale between the worst-date-ever and prince-charming, where would you be content to land? At one point is a relationship not worth further investment? Ever ponder those thoughts?

Oddly enough, sometimes I turn to fiction to solve these questions for myself. And it’s an interesting conclusion I’ve landed for myself. I’ve discovered that unlike most single girls who are desiring marriage, I am not #waitingforMrDarcy. Surprised? Allow me to explain.

“Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza?—Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman’s good opinion, because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?”
— Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, chapter 12

Elizabeth Bennet is astonished to learn of the engagement of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, particularly because the fiance in question had asked her — Elizabeth — for her hand only the day before. That would be astonishing for any woman. No one likes to feel that they can be easily passed over, even if they so chose the rejection.

“Certainly not,” said Anne, who had no desire whatever to publish abroad the fact that Billy Andrews wanted to marry her, preferring her, when all was said and done, to Nettie Blewett. Nettie Blewett!”
— Anne Shirley, Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery, chapter 8

But Elizabeth’s reaction to Charlotte’s news is not merely the insult that Anne felt when she realizes she could be easily replaced with Nettie Blewett. Elizabeth’s shock comes from the notion that Charlotte could accept Mr. Collins’ proposal, particularly because she views Mr. Collins as insensible, arrogant, and a bore. How could Charlotte settle for that?

“When you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
— Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, chapter 12

I’ve thought about Elizabeth & Charlotte’s situation a lot… particularly when it’s come to the world of exchanging tales of dating with my close friends. It’s easy to view this conversation between Elizabeth and Charlotte as a straightforward dichotomy. Elizabeth had a higher standard and refused to compromise; in the end, she got Mr. Darcy, the man with the money, the love, and the intellect — the modern equivalent of Prince Charming, the man of our dreams. Charlotte was a desperate spinster who jumped at the opportunity to get married; she settled, and therefore, she had only herself to blame when she found her husband annoying and insipid.

But I think there’s a lot more depth to Austen’s characters. I don’t think Charlotte settled. I believe that Charlotte got exactly what she was looking for. Mr. Collins was the man who Charlotte needed. If she had married Mr. Darcy’s twin, she would have been incredibly unhappy. And that’s an important possibility to consider.

So what was Charlotte looking for? And what kind of person did she need?

Charlotte admitted right off the bat that she wanted a person who was settled in a career. She wanted someone who could provide her with financial stability, with an honorable reputation, with security in her social rank, and with a home of her own. She wanted to be able to raise a family in a stable environment, have a name to be proud of, and to be in a position to serve her community (rather than be served by them.) She wanted someone who was honest and attentive but also someone who let her be herself. She wanted someone who worshiped her without trying to change her and without drawing attention to herself.

Mr. Collins offered her all of these things in a partner. He had a respectable career in the clergy with a (nearly) guaranteed position for the rest of his life. He had a very eligible patron who would continue to provide for him. At some point, he would inherit the Bennett estate of Longbourne, which would provide a reasonable income for their family and would place her close to her own family in retirement. A clergyman’s wife would give her a position of respectability and allow her to visit the villagers and attend to people’s needs without attention being drawn to herself. Mr. Collins would always hold her in the highest esteem and praise her without end, but he would never pay too careful attention to exactly what she was doing or how she did it, which meant that she could run her own household freely. He would certainly always be proud of her accomplishments and their family.

Any person who married Mr. Collins would have to put up with his pompous attitude and his incessant need to hear the sound of his own voice. And certainly his wife would always be subservient to his patron since that was the source of their livelihood. But all relationships come with compromise, and Charlotte demonstrates an agility in this regard that is remarkable.

Just imagine that scenario if Charlotte had married Mr. Darcy’s identical twin (we’ll call him D’ for short): The wife of D’ would need to be well-read and engage with witty conversation with D’ and his friends on a regular basis. She would need to be able to challenge him and his long-held ideas. She would travel on a regular basis as D’ would own a substantial estate as well as a house in town; besides D’ would also visit his friends regularly, including the Darcys and the Bingleys. Furthermore, as the wife of the richest man in the county, Mrs. D’ would not only be the center of attention for D’, but she would also be admired by all the villagefolk who she no doubt visited on a regular basis to give alms and counsel. (Mrs. Collins the clergy’s wife could do this as a humble servant of God or a loving pastor’s wife who was a busybody or an unusually helpful soul. Mrs. D’ would be the wealthy mistress coming as the judgment police or as the wealthy benefactor bestowing her riches on the populace.) Mrs. D’ would have to entertain some groups of people on a regular basis, including but not limited to family members, friends, and business partners of D’. D’ would also expect his wife to have a working knowledge of his business and be able to converse with his business contacts’ spouses. Furthermore, as a collector of art and a lover of music and the theater, D’ and his wife would shop in the finest establishments and continue to build their fine collection of fine art to complete their exquisite and ever-growing library. Mrs. D’ would spend much quality time with her husband, following him in his travels and business affairs and engaging in deep intellectual conversations, leisure time made possible by the servants who would cook their meals, keep their house, clean their laundry, and look after their children.

All of the above would be work and a burden for Charlotte. Charlotte didn’t want a husband who would follow her every move and want to be involved in her daily living. She wanted to be able to send him outdoors to garden and for him to think that was a splendid idea without questioning her. She wanted to be able to entertain whoever she wanted in whatever way she felt possible. As the wife of Mr. Collins, she likely had a lot of freedom in how she raised her children. No need to consult the wisest of physicians or the latest baby-raising fad. Of course, Lady Catherine would always be present to give her own advice, but without servants, Mrs. Collins could no doubt stay home more often with her children and just roll her eyes at the rest of Lady Catherine’s advice/commands. Charlotte wouldn’t have been happy to spend her life collecting antiques or looking at fine sculpture. She wasn’t a showy person and didn’t like attention on herself. That’s why she was always analyzing Lizzie’s life rather than talking about her own.

I do believe that Charlotte settled in one critical area: she married a man who didn’t love her. If Mr. Collins had actually loved her, he would have been a more perfect spouse for her. She knew that he didn’t love her and that he probably never would, but she also knew that he thought that he loved her. Which counts for something. At least he wouldn’t be looking to replace her. She might not have loved him and might never love him, but she liked him and the opportunities that he gave her. And that was sufficient. It would sustain her.


It’s easy to read a story like Pride and Prejudice and walk away as an idealist, looking for the perfect fairy-tale romance where the princess always has blonde hair and the prince is always mounted on a white stallion. In that fantasy world, we know that the princess needs to keep waiting for the guy to ride up on that white stallion. Perfectly good guy on a brown horse? Pass. Perfectly adequate prince with long fancy title who twirls his mustache? Forget it. Parched and fatigued traveler on a white horse? Hmmmm, give him some soup and see if he sits and the table and eats like well-educated royalty. Yes? Marry him, no questions asked.

Real life isn’t like that. Marriage is not a one-size fits all package. We aren’t all looking for the same thing. The same way people go to college for different reasons. And pick different careers. And do different things on spring break. And have different priorities.

And you know what? It’s a good thing. Otherwise, there would be 10,000 girls all competing for the one man on the one white stallion. And, in that scenario, odds are that you’re going to be one of the 9,999 girls left behind. And no one needs to see that in their future.

Charlotte isn’t happy because she makes the best of a bad situation. This isn’t the lemonade out of lemons scenario that Elizabeth convinces herself has to be in place. (Remember that P&P is told in third-person limited narration from Elizabeth’s point of view. How do I know? Eleventh grade English class, and the fact that the narrator only visits the scenes that Elizabeth is in but also knows what she is thinking. E.g. We don’t get to witness Collins’ proposal to Charlotte but we do know what goes through Lizzie’s head when she finds out about it.) Charlotte is happy because she is where she’s meant to be. She wants a symbiotic relationship where someone finally values her and she can run her own home and boss someone around for a change without being the center of attention. As Mrs. Collins, she finally gets to host people for a change and manage someone else’s life for once. No one gives her any credit for it to be sure, but she doesn’t want credit; she just wants the space and the resources to do so. Which Lizzie doesn’t understand because Lizzie needs that verbalization; she needs Darcy to appreciate her intellect and to acknowledge it to himself, to her, and to his friends and relations. Because Lizzie doesn’t recognize that in Charlotte, she cannot understand that Charlotte’s engagement is an opportunity seized for Charlotte. Charlotte’s disappointment is less in Lizzie’s shock at the proposal but more in Lizzie’s insistence to understand Charlotte as someone who has needs just like Lizzie. For all his faults, Mr. Collins has very few expectations of anyone, mostly because he never looks to see if his expectations match real life. And that’s what Charlotte needs in order to flourish — someone who believes in her and in her potential and can give her the resources to flourish. And that’s beautiful. Even if Lizzie never has the capacity to understand it.

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not for Abigail

I’m just like the next girl in thinking that Mr. Darcy is pretty dreamy. He’s smart, he’s well-read, he’s wealthy, and he’s romantic. But I don’t think he’s meant for everyone. Certainly not for Charlotte and definitely not for Jane nor Lydia. And so that as why I am so bold to counter the tread and say that I’m #NOTwaitingforMrDarcy. I’m waiting for #MrAbigail and I’m not ashamed to say it.

Abigail Cashelle

You know you have a sustained lack of appetite if…

  • you forget what hunger feels like
  • you feel this deep pain in your body and your first response is to stop eating; after three to five days pass, you realize that what you feel is actually hunger and the correct solution is to eat; except now your body can only process small amounts of food at a time
  • after such a realization, you remember that this entire sequence has happened at least once, and one time, you and your psychiatrist just started laughing at the ridiculousness that is the observation that a person forgot what feeling hungry meant
  • you are best friends with your GI doctor whose number one metric is not your blood pressure nor your lab work but your weight, fair and simple
  • the best part about breaking up with the boy is that you no longer have to deal with his annoying habit of forgetting to eat lunch, which had meant that during several dates you had to sit in a cafe and watch him eat lunch while trying not to have a panic attack or throw stuff at him
  • when you were dating the boy, you let him take you out to eat a grand total of ONE time (in a two month period)… and you almost bailed from the ice cream shop because it was so overwhelming
  • your GI doctor found you formula to supplement your diet when you are in so much pain that thinking about food is off limits; it’s marketed for toddlers who suffer from “failure to thrive” (and you think it is a brilliant idea)
  • your GI doctor loves your teenage sister because when you lived at home, her favorite thing to do was knock on your door and ask you if you ate recently
  • your local friends know that you’re going through a hard time so they invite you over for dinner or take you out to eat; they let you ramble while they’re eating but they tell waiters to go away because it still looks like you haven’t eaten anything and part of being your friend means making sure you’re properly nourished
  • you go to church potlucks but half the time you just look at the food and don’t take anything
  • if you eat dinner at someone’s house and actually like the food, your friends hand you leftovers because it’s such a rare occurance
  • people ask you what your favorite dish is and you haven’t the slightest clue
  • eating is a chore like brushing your teeth; you’re supposed to do it on a regular basis, but technically it’s still optional
  • your doctors have categorized ice cream as a healthy food because it has calories and you need them
  • you make dinner but by the time it’s cooked it’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen and there’s no way you’re even eating it
  • you look at the clock and realize that it’s bedtime and you haven’t even thought about dinner
  • sometimes you start to eat dinner and after an hour and a half realize that you’re never going to eat the food in front of you and throw it away; then you realize that while you’ve accomplished something (throwing away the food that you were supposed to eat), you still haven’t accomplished the original thing you set out to do which was to eat dinner
  • when people ask you what kind of cake or food you’re going to serve at your wedding, you tell them that (a) you’re not getting married yet and (b) you would prefer to skip the food altogether
  • when you tell your GI doctor that you have a new boyfriend and that means you need his help because food comes up a LOT when you are dating, he thinks about it and says that while usually he would encourage you to just avoid encounters with food, he could see how figuring out how to deal with it might make social interactions easier so we can brainstorm. He also recommends that I give the boy time to adjust (aka this problem will not just go away.)
  • people feel bad when they learn that you have food sensitivities and can’t eat food with gluten or dairy in them because now nothing they’re serving for the party is friendly; no problem, you think, it wasn’t like you were about to eat anything anyways; plus, eating is a need, not a want
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays where you listen to older folks tell you their life stories and when you volunteer to do the dishes (not holidays where you cook or eat or otherwise think about food)
  • people ask you what you like to order at a coffee shop and after the longest time you answer: water
  • when people invite you to happy hour, you kindly explain to them that you can’t drink alcohol while in your mind you know that any activity that lasts for an hour and involves food is the opposite of happy and why would you want to spend your free time doing that anyway?
  • people ask you what restaurants are good in the area and you have no idea but can point them to the good gas station, the local library, the best shopping malls, the local bookstore, and even the ideal backdrop for photos
  • the bottom line is that you think about food as little as possible and only as a problem that has to be tackled

So, yeah, I suffer what medical professionals properly term as “anorexia”, that is, a sustained lack of appetite.* My body does not digest food properly (yay! functional GI disorder). Therefore, food often leads to more pain, which leads to an inclination to avoid food altogether. Eating is the opposite of relaxing and is simply something I do only because I have to. I’ve been dealing with this since 2007 at least.

Dr. Leo and I have put our heads together and decided that we can be a little bit more proactive about managing the situation. I’m already on an antispasm medication (dicyclomine) that’s specific to the GI tract. That’s helped a little bit. The formula has been a lifesaver for when I’m really busy or when I’m emotionally exhausted but still need to eat. But like the rest of my disease, there are seasons. Some months I struggle with one thing more than another. And food is currently a big issue for me. I can’t take more medication because I weigh so little to begin with, and my body doesn’t digest medication very well either.

Dr. Leo has given a big thumbs up to all my local friends who have been having me over for dinner and dropping off snacks and just generally making sure that I’m doing okay and that I’m still eating. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that sometimes that means that I’m using the formula, which isn’t ideal but will work for now. And he’s also enrolled me in a psychotherapy program specifically targeted to anxiety related to eating and digestion. It won’t make the underlying problem go away, but perhaps there are some techniques that I could learn that would help in those moments when it all gets overwhelming and I hit fight-or-flight mode.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m still not sure that I believe them. But I do want to gain a semblance of control over my life again. And not panicking because there’s an activity involving food would be a nice change. Dr. Leo calls it better quality of life. And as long as someone else is helping me fight, I can see myself taking this on.

With hope for what the future can bring,
Abigail Cashelle

*In medical parlance, “anorexia” refers to a sustained lack of appetite. A specific type of anorexia known as “anorexia nervosa” is commonly abbreviated as “anorexia” by lay persons. Anorexia nervosa specifically describes an eating disorder characterized by excessive weight loss and unusual concern for body image.

He said his hobby was walking…

Before I started talking to the boy, I actually went on a first date with someone from my university. That date can only be described as a total failure. He was late, and then he spent the entire date asking me questions about myself, so I felt like I was doing all the talking and that there wasn’t really a conversation. This guy didn’t understand having follow up questions. And he was totally clueless that the date was a failure; he thought it was a success. sigh.

My sisters and I have a running joke now about first dates. One of the questions I asked this guy was what he did in his free time. His answer? Nothing. After a long time, he added, Well, I suppose you could say that I like walking. So I followed up by asking him if he liked walking around Beaverville. His answer? No. After a pause, he added, I guess you could say that I only walk to and from school. In other words, even if you thought walking counted as a hobby, it still doesn’t really count here because it’s just something that he has to do as part of going to school/work every day. In other words, his only hobby is also a chore.

At the time, I figured that any walking was better than having no hobbies (although still pretty boring.) And then the boy came along, and we started talking. And want to know what one of his favorite hobbies was? That’s right, class; it was walking. Granted he liked walking in the park by his house, and he did quite a lot more walking than the average young adult. But still. Walking. He had other hobbies, but this was definitely one that he talked a lot about. Walking.

Now as I think back across the past couple of months, I think I might add walking as primary hobby to my list of red flags for potential boyfriends. If the most exciting thing in your life is walking and you can’t even identify anything else in your life that’s remotely interesting, you might be really boring. Or just plain lazy.

So next time you see me, I may introduce myself: Hello. My name is Abigail. And walking is not my hobby. And then you’ll know why.

All in a day’s work,
Abigail Cashelle

Writing… and taking risks

So the short version is that the boy and I parted ways earlier this week. We wanted different things out of life, so it didn’t make sense to continue pursuing a relationship together. Unfortunately, although we had closure in the breakup, it went down in a fashion that can only be properly described as mean. So I’ve been taking some time to recover, to process, and to heal.

Part of me regrets posting about him here because now it’s just another space where I have to explain what happened and let people down again. But I’m actually really glad that I did it. Because it helped me sort through some of the emotions that I was feeling. It gave me a space to write down how I was feeling as I was feeling those feelings, and then I was able to revisit them at critical moments later.

Some of the protected posts wound up being letters from me to the boy as reflections. And I’m not going to lie. In our last face-to-face conversation, I actually shoved my phone at him and told him to read two paragraphs from one of those letters. Because I didn’t know how to articulate what I was thinking. And writing it down made it more concrete for me… and also for him. I didn’t expect that that’s how I would show him this blog or even those letters. I don’t know that I really expected to even show him that particular one. But at that moment, it was perfect, and I’m glad that I had it in my pocket: both to look at myself to remind myself what I needed and also to show him what was going on in my head.

Relationships are risky. They involve being vulnerable and letting someone in to a part of your life where you’ve been self-sufficient before. It’s really scary. And that fear of rejection and shame can be paralyzing. There’s nothing like being told that you aren’t good enough for someone or that your faults overshadow any of your positive qualities. But there’s an interesting duality here: risk and reward. With great risk comes the potential for great reward and the possibility for significant hurt. As much as I wish that I could take back the past because I did not like the outcome, I realize that the person who I am and the choices that I’ve made have both provided an opportunity for such a scenario to unfold and give the potential for something else beautiful to blossom in the future.

Abigail Cashelle