Rushworth feelings, and Crawford feelings

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.

Self-care

Craig: Has anyone ever told you that you’re a bit… weird?

The Doctor: They never really stop.

Doctor Who, “The Lodger” (Season 5, Episode 11)

Signs that you are a highly sensitive introvert:

  1. You hear, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” at least once per day.
  2. People are always trying to “get you out of your shell” at a big party, but the sounds and crowd make you feel too overwhelmed.
  3. In fact, you feel quite content within the rich inner life of your shell. No breaking out needed, thank you very much.
  4. You say that you have other plans when friends want to go out somewhere loud. Those plans involve ice cream and a new book. You do not regret it.
  5. Quiet time is not optional. It is a necessity for keeping you functioning properly.

Elaine Aron outlines more specifically what it means to be a highly sensitive person, including a test and reassurance that this is a perfectly normal personality trait, though it is not common enough to be well understood and appreciated.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, it is no longer necessary to feel alone or like an outsider because of your personality. There are enough resources to become self-aware, to understand what is going on inside, and to find more like-minded people who get you much better, sometimes, than those who think they know you well.

I have been fighting, for a while, the idea of categorizing myself, but sometimes it is necessary to stop myself from trying to fit into majority boxes like extrovert or into no boxes at all. Putting the components of yourself into neat little spaces is sometimes difficult, and, as a highly sensitive person, I become easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data available. And it is readily available. A quick search for “highly sensitive person” turns up over ten million results. Perhaps overwhelming is an understatement. It is an avalanche of information that buries me before I have time to begin processing it.

Some days, I wish life was as easy as jumping into the TARDIS with The Doctor. Instant adventure and personal growth, facilitated by someone wise, someone who has seen the future. But how can you really know that there aren’t Daleks on the other side of the jump? You can’t, of course, and that is part of being an adult. I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once said, “Only children think that grown-ups stop growing.” Sometimes, you have to move forward, even when you are afraid of what the future holds.

I am getting used to the idea of forcing myself to take a break. I am fine now with being occasionally overwhelmed, of needing to escape to a dark, quiet room after a party. I know this is what I need to do for myself.

So much of life becomes about self-care. As much as some of us (such as INFP me) want to dedicate our lives to the greater good, to help others, there has to remain a space for taking care of oneself. I can’t fully dedicate myself to anything unless I do things to make my mind as clear and capable as I can.

Spinning yarn

“Miss Tarabotti felt such rules did not entirely apply to her, as she was a spinster. Had been a spinster for as long as she could remember. In her more acerbic moments, she felt she had been born a spinster.” –Souless by Gail Carriger

During my first semester of college, I took a women authors course. The first assignment was to form groups, read a critical essay, and make a presentation about it. After reading the article, the three of us began discussing it. One of my group members was silent, her brow slightly furrowed, afraid to ask a stupid question. Finally, she lifted her eyes from the article and said, “Something confused me. What is a spinster? Is that, like, someone who spins yarn?”

Looking back on that, I feel like my classmate came from a privileged place. She had lived in a world where her own worth was reinforced, completely separate from a man’s, equality always assumed and never questioned. Where she came from, no one slighted a woman for being unmarried, no one told her that she had to be married or else face inevitable labeling with a negative word. What a world, I thought as I explained it to her, where I could find someone who was free from centuries of misogyny.

By that age, I was very familiar with the term spinster. With all of the wisdom and sureness of an eighteen-year-old, I knew that I never wanted to get married or have kids. My favorite time period of literature was nineteenth century, and I had worked my way across Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, Louisa May Alcott and George Eliot. I was quite familiar with the term spinster, what it meant, what it implied, what damage it could do, but I chose to reappropriate it and make it my own. At eighteen, I embraced the term and used it to describe myself and felt a fellowship with those women described in the article.

The term spinster is tricky because it implies a lack of value in the marriage marketplace. Women, especially in the early nineteenth century, were dependent on men when they did not have a fortune of their own. Jane Austen knew this all too well. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters would be left penniless if their father died, turned out of their house by a male relative. The Dashwood sisters meet that fate in Sense and Sensibility. Though Emma does not feel the pain of poverty in her self-titled novel, Jane Fairfax knows that she will need to sell herself into the governess trade if she does not marry well.

Jane Austen had at least one proposal of marriage, from a Harris Bigg-Wither, which she accepted one night then declined the next morning, having thought better of it. She did not marry from choice. Men have the privilege of being a happy bachelor. Women are thought to be a scorned spinster, whether they remain single from choice or not.

Will there ever be an age where the word spinster is thrown aside and forgotten? Perhaps not, but as my classmate showed, it is not such a silly thing to think may happen.