In Mansfield Park, Maria Bertram has “Rushworth feelings, and Crawford feelings.” Maria is not the heroine. She does not even get a very happy ending, but I think that many people can relate to that feeling of being torn asunder between two options. Rushworth is the very practical option, the one which excites only the blandest of emotions, dull, stable, boring, and faintly ridiculous. The Crawford feelings are the irrational impulses. They call one irresistibly to do something without considering the consequences.
The Rushworth feelings and Crawford feelings swirl about, waiting for the right answer, but it all comes down to preference. Maria Bertram tries to choose both and as a result loses her reputation. It is not the wrong decision to act on Rushworth feelings, to marry the rich fool in order to gain social position and have fancy houses and carriages and such. On the other hand, that is not the right decision either. Fanny Price, the novel’s heroine, would not have picked such a choice. Neither would Jane Austen’s other heroines, particularly Elizabeth Bennet, who declines the ridiculous Mr. Collins and even the proud Mr. Darcy the first time around.
It is merely a decision, an act without distinctions between correct and incorrect.
When making a big decision, it seems easier to reduce every aspect into purely analytical terms. Make a pro/con list, add up the tally, and decide that way. Such processes can make it possible to assign each option with Right and Wrong. But it does not really work that way, does it? Even if it ticks off all of the right boxes, the list is more about fine tuning what it is you really want. The list is unique to you. It is not any more analytical than taking stock of your values and feelings and deciding that way.
I turn to works of fiction for advice more often than is good for me, but Jane Austen has taught me, more than any other writer, about the importance of following one’s inner guide. There is no universally acknowledged compass to follow. There is no glory in making a decision because another person thinks it is what you ought to do, because it is the most practical option, because you made a list and analyzed and reduced things to the coldest terms. Life is not a contest you can win. It is a series of episodes and choices and endless branching off, and your own ability to internally decide what is best for you.
Perhaps life is a multiple choice quiz where all of the questions are impossible and written in a language you do not know. There is no absolutely right option. There are simply a multitude of options without rank, the ability to take one option, and the resulting consequences, whatever those might be. Picking an option is all about personal preference and discovering which choice aligns best with one’s values. No decision is objectively worse or better than another. Each choice simply leads off to a separate path. There are no certainties, no matter the choice one makes.