I Am Eight and Twenty Years of Age and Have Received Zero Offers of Marriage. What Am I Doing Wrong?

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Me running away to Gretna Green with my betrothed (we are posing in a fake marriage so that he can inherit a fortune from a distant and eccentric uncle). (Photo by Flora Westbrook)

I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was nineteen. It immediately became part of my soul. Its words run through my blood. It is always on my mind, just a little bit. This being the case, you can understand that I have spent a large portion of my twenties reflecting on Austen’s most popular masterpiece. Around the age of twenty-two, coinciding, as it so happens, with my first reading of North and South (but more on that in a hot minute), one of my many ruminations on the novel led me to realize that Elizabeth Bennet had a lot of suitors in a relatively short amount of time. This isn’t at all surprising, of course. Elizabeth Bennet is awesome. Elizabeth Bennet is who I strive to be, but tragically never will be. It makes total sense that the men in her life were charmed by her.

But really, think about it. There’s the marriage proposals from Mr. Collins (admittedly not a winner and mostly in it for family peace, but still) and the one and only Fitzwilliam Darcy. Then there’s the interest from Mr. Wickham (for what that’s worth, which is nothing) and Colonel Fitzwilliam (who is sadly a second son seeking a fortune, otherwise he probably would have been the romantic hero of this book). It’s safe to say that, had Wickham not been a greedy, ne’er-do-well rapscallion (this is a gross understatement), and had Colonel Fitzwilliam not been a gentleman in need of some dosh, they probably both would have proposed as well. Back in the day, marriage proposals were just flying around everywhere, after all.

The theme of an abundance of marriage proposals continues in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. Though it takes place about forty years after Pride and Prejudice, the novel’s heroine, Margaret Hale, also finds herself inundated with marriage proposals. Again, this is understandable. Margaret Hale, though very different from Elizabeth Bennet, also rules. It makes perfect sense that both Henry Lennox (doomed to be rejected, but he ensures that Margaret and Mr. Thornton get together in the end, thus making him A True Bro) and Mr. Thornton (broody and dreamy) would offer her marriage. As we’ve established, marriage was all the rage back in those days.

Recently, I’ve been slowly making my way through the works of Georgette Heyer. I’m still at the beginning of my Heyer journey, but many of her heroines also receive numerous offers of marriage. All of this, I must admit, has made me a bit self-conscious. Elizabeth Bennet is twenty years old, and Margaret Hale is eighteen. The heroines of the Heyer novels I have read so far have also all been in their twenties. And here they are, drowning in offers of marriage. And here I am, eight and twenty years of age, without a single marriage proposal from an eligible bachelor under my belt. I can’t help but ask myself: What am I doing wrong?

If the works of these (and many, many other) authors are to be believed, I should have had at least five proposals under my belt by the time I first read Pride and Prejudice. (You never, of course, accept the first proposal. That is akin to marrying your sixth grade boyfriend, something we can all agree is risky.) There are a few things that could explain my lack of marriage proposals. For one thing, I am not a young gentlewoman of fortune. And, unlike Elizabeth Bennet, I do not have the looks or charming personality to offset this lack of fortune. On the other hand, I am an only child! Unlike Elizabeth Bennet, my husband will not be expected to financially support four sisters with varying degrees of dubious dispositions. In fact, he will not even be expected to support me: I have a job! In fact, I’m not very inclined to combine finances for much of anything at all. Some might argue that, while both people in a relationship should certainly keep independent finances, there should also be at least one shared bank account for expenses such as the mortgage and the like. I would argue that married people shouldn’t even have to live together. Sounds like a chore, to be honest.

I also have to wonder if my lack of being “brought out,” as it were, has led to my lack of marriage offers. I must admit that, as a teen girl, I was never presented to the Queen. I never even went to the balls at Bath! I was and am, of course, an American in Chicago, but I know that that is no excuse. This, I recently decided, was a problem that needed to be rectified. My availability on the marriage market must be made known. So I did the obvious thing: I joined Tinder.

Some would say that I joined Tinder just to play the choose-your-own-adventure game Swipe Night, and they would be correct. But I also figured that, if there’s one place in the world where respectable gentlemen of fortune are looking to make offers of marriage, it’s Tinder. I was partly right. Despite my decided lack of standard beauty (I consider myself a solid midwestern 3) and the fact that most of my photos were pictures of my very handsome feline son Alfred, the eligible bachelors came running.

Making the acquaintance of the numerous eligible bachelors on Tinder. (From The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow, 1889)

The first gentleman I talked to was a lawyer! A lawyer! Very respectable! Not as respectable as a landowner, of course, but young women in my position cannot be too particular. He opened up his courtship by asking how I was doing and what I was up to. I told him that I had just been to the theatre to see the new Downton Abbey production, to which he responded with a very charming, “Haha, nice.” He then asked what I was looking to get out of my Tinder experience. I thought that this was a little presumptuous — we had just been introduced by the algorithm, after all — but I told him that I was a young woman who had never been properly brought out into society and that, now that I was nearing my dotage, I felt that it was time to rectify that error (more or less). He replied that he wasn’t looking for anything serious.

That’s right, ladies — he was a cad! A rake! A scoundrel! A rogue! Not looking for marriage at all! It goes without saying that I was completely scandalized. But, I reasoned, at least this Mr. Wickham had been honest. Had I read either Venetia or Arabella at that point (I had not), I might have compared him to the heroes of those fine novels: obscenely wealthy gentlemen with reputations as rakes who, at the very least, are always honest with their paramours about what they want. They both also, of course, eventually have their cold, horny hearts won over by their respective novel’s heroines. I, however, am not cut out to convert a ladykiller to love. I wished Mr. Lawyer well and continued swiping.

As the months progressed, I spoke to other gentlemen. Some were very kind, but wanted to talk every day (unnecessary). Others made ambiguous plans to continue our courtship in person, but chose to ghost me instead (as a fellow ghoster who was mostly there to play Swipe Night, I cannot be mad about this). Other gentlemen were, to put it simply, less than impressive. I am, of course, a young woman of little fortune, but I do think that I am permitted to have some standards.

In the end, none of the gentlemen made an offer of marriage. It was very vexing. Sure, I was mostly there to play a temporary game and did not actually put much effort into talking to the gentlemen, but I assumed that I would receive at least two or three offers of marriage just based on my pictures of Alfred alone. Have the eligible bachelors of today lost all appreciation for a fine feline?

But as the ancient poet Homer said, where Zeus closes a door, he opens a window. I am eight and twenty eight years of age and have received zero offers of marriage. This means, of course, that I have also accepted zero offers of marriage. This is fortuitous, as it has allowed me to discover some truths about myself. Namely, that I can never fall in love with someone unless we are posing in a fake marriage. The good news is that, this summer, I will be travelling to Italy. This, of course, is the perfect starting point for a fake marriage: me marrying an Italian citizen so that I can live with him in the EU and perhaps become an Italian citizen after a ludicrously short length of time. What will he get out of it? That is still to be decided. Maybe he cannot inherit a distant eccentric uncle’s large fortune until he is wed. But I digress. Had I accepted an offer of marriage from one of the many eligible gentlemen on Tinder, I would not be in this lucky position. I am eight and twenty years of age and have received zero offers of marriage but, as it turns out, I am doing nothing wrong at all.

Cat mom, librarian, and writer in Chicago.

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