- - Sunday, April 15, 2012

Culture Challenge of the Week: Finding a Good Man

Call it the lament of the young single woman: There are no good men left. Or if there are, where are they? And how can a young woman pursue a healthy, marriage-minded relationship in a singles culture of casual sex and perpetual adolescence?

In her new book, “The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After” (Regnery Publishing, 2012), Elizabeth Kantor provides some answers. She writes, “Of course it’s no secret that modern mating rituals have gone badly wrong.”

Indeed they have: The number of cohabitating couples has doubled in the past 20 years, according to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, and the marriage rate has dropped precipitously. Many singles find themselves on a path to lifelong singlehood, not necessarily by choice.

Even within relationships, time-honored ideals - such as fidelity - increasingly fall by the wayside. (A recent Match.com survey found that just 62 percent of men believe that sexual fidelity is a “must have” in a relationship. In comparison, 80 percent of women say fidelity is a must.)

“Happily Ever After” offers a thought-provoking, encouraging and often witty take on what’s wrong with today’s dating patterns. Even better, Ms. Kantor draws on the wisdom and insights of Austen’s heroines to mark out a confident path for young women who want a good man and a relationship that will deliver a lifetime of happiness - and love - in marriage.

Ms. Kantor asks, “What is it that Jane Austen heroines do (that we’re not doing) that makes really satisfying happy endings possible for them, and not so likely for us?”

The author’s interpretation of Austen - whose old romantic novels became modern box-office hits - suggests a model for young women who want lasting, happy relationships. Modern-day Jane Austen “heroines” should cultivate “true elegance” instead of “hotness,” demand love without humiliation, develop competence about men, respect their own female psychology and take relationships seriously.

How to Save Your Family: Share “Happily Ever After”

Today’s singles often seem clueless about what makes a relationship work or even what they should hope it will include. For women, it’s even more confusing. Feminist thought urges women to plan their futures with a single-minded career focus, leaving little room for men, marriage and children.

Young women may fall into the trap of pursuing personal autonomy and career success with little thought about relationships, marriage and family - until they find themselves lonely and alone.

Ms. Kantor resists the notion that an Austen-style approach to relationships requires “a life of prefeminist misery and oppression.” She stresses that it’s reasonable for women to “spend significant intellectual and emotional capital on our relationships - but in the right way, not the wrong way.”

What’s the right way? Neither romantic illusions nor Victorian repression nor modern cynicism. Instead, Ms. Kantor writes, women need to understand the real meaning of love and happiness - and settle for nothing less.

Sprinkled throughout the book are tips for “Janeites,” little nuggets of good advice, like these:

• “Stop making the same old bad choices about men before those choices ‘fix’ your character, freezing you into habits you may not be able to break out of.”

• “Drama is not the same thing as love.” (Who really wants a Kardashian-style relationship?)

• “Keep your distance, not to increase his love by suspense - but so you can make up your mind about a man while you can still see him clearly.” (An important point for a generation that too easily moves from the bar to the bedroom to sharing an apartment.)

At the end of each chapter, Ms. Kantor frames questions to help readers assess their own relationships. In easy-to-read bullet points, she helps women probe the strengths and weaknesses of their current relationships. And in true Austen style, she urges them to have the boldness to “arrange” their own marriages - to choose wisely and decide fearlessly if a relationship is likely to secure a happy future.

And the Jane Austen promise? That love and happiness go together: Women can live “happily ever after” marriages if they recognize, expect and pursue true love.

Share “The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After” with your daughters - and all the single women you know.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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