The Buzzfeed style 10 lessons I’ve learnt from fictional love

I’m the type of person that gets way too emotionally invested in fictional romances. Bad Wolf Bay. Enough said.
Whether or not you’ve ever read the Poetic, you may be familiar with Aristotle’s concept of the catharsis, or the use of dramatic arts to deal with emotions. While the exact meaning is disputed, it speaks of the very human need to empathise with the other in storytelling, whether the story recounted is real or not. And what is reality anyway? But I digress.

As a bookish child, I’ve learnt how to live from fiction, pretty much. Here’s 10 things I have learnt about love {it contains spoilers and unrelated gifs}.

Depth of emotions does not equate depth of feelings
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility

I’m a Marianne. If love could kill, I would swear I’d have died a hundred times. And it would have been each time as dramatic as you’d expect to see on the stage of the Opera. Like Marianne, I have had high expectations for my own happiness. And like Marianne, at the end of the journey I discovered I had the wrong ones, too. Rather than love someone, I have loved the idea of love and epic romance and a dashing Prince Charming on a white horse making the world perfect just by existing. Such crushes are powerful and all-consuming passions, but are not love, and they can blind you to the real thing. Marianne has learnt from her sister by the end of the novel, and that’s when she started to see the prospect of her own unglamorous yet irresistible day to day happiness.

There is a fine line between friendship and love {and it doesn’t always end well…}
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

I belong to a generation of women who has never been able to understand why Jo turned Laurie down. He was a great guy, and they had a wonderful relationship. Sometimes people are different and look at the same things differently. I’m learning to be aware of that, as it keeps bringing me grief. I meet someone, things are great, I feel like this is going to go well, and then I get thrown icy water in the face as if the ice bucket challenge was still a thing. They don’t think I’m girlfriend material, and I’m heartbroken like Laurie. Maybe it’s a risk worth taking, or maybe I need to learn to stick to being a friend before I get hurt, and wait for my Amy.

Love will not be the same throughout your life
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

My paper for French at my high school last examinations was about a book that followed me throughout my life. It’s a children’s book, and like only children’s book can it speaks to the heart at every age, revealing a bit of truth every time in a different way. Realising that taught me that passion is not what to look for in a prospective husband. Of course it’s great if there is, but as a Catholic marriage is a sacrament that will bind me ’till death do us apart. And if that happens to be when we’re old and wrinkly and I do my hair up like the Dowager Countess of Grantham love will be different. It’ll be love that has seen bringing new life into the world (God willing), illness, loss, joy, grief, change. The romance of the first days, when you meet someone and the ping of the new text message on the phone sends your heart racing will be there in a different form. It’s like a caterpillar turned into a butterfly. Once you have found your rose, love will grow with you.

First impressions can be misleading, and feelings can develop unexpectedly
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is a universal story, it’s been repeated as a trope so many times, including in Downton Abbey. The lesson here is not just about finding someone unnerving and then falling in love with them (Lizzie and Darcy), it goes in all possible directions. It’s behind all the dynamics in the novel, and in the whole of her work too. You meet someone who seems wonderful but in fact isn’t so. You meet someone whom you think is nice but love doesn’t quite hit you like a storm for a very long time. First impression and snap judgement come in all shapes and sizes, and the lesson is that in matters of the heart we can only expect the unexpected.

True love is forever {and it isn’t as romantic as it sounds…}
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter

Hands up if you didn’t cry when Snape died. Some people think it’s creepy that he never let go, but I find it inevitable. Life hardly ever goes according to plan, and we have to deal with people remaining in our hearts even long after they have left our lives. Regret is especially powerful in gluing us to a person that is long gone. The fewer regrets we have, the easier it’d be to move on with our lives, even if our feelings remain unchanged. Having someone forever in our heart doesn’t necessarily mean we’d be tragic heroes holding on to memories and regret, which is beautiful in a novel but isn’t really that great in real life. It means we have been lucky to truly love someone. We should strive not to lose that, and treasure it when we face what the future has in store for us.

Love requires tough choices
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Hidden in Appendix A there’s the tale of Aragorn and Arwen. He was human, she was an elf, and she sacrificed her immortality for a life with him. It’s not the only time this literary trope appears in fantasy fiction, but it’s interesting how it comes up in what is to all effects a story of Catholicism. It’s not the main driver of this epic tale, and yet it was important enough to be a part of it. As a young single Catholic woman this is a great reminder that marriage, as everything else in the Church, is based on sacrificial love and hard choices, and that’s where beauty is found. If you are not a Catholic, or a Christian of any kind, the idea of our relationships mirroring the love of Christ for the Church will not be of your immediate concern, but sharing our journey with someone will always require hard choices to be made because well, that’s life.

Someone should love you for who you are
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

We would have never witnessed the magnificence of Gatsby’s parties in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation if Jay Gatsby followed this advice, but it’s to me an obvious lesson from Scott Fitzgerald’s magnus opus. Like a Greek tragedy in which roles are prescribed so the fatal events can unfold, Gatsby runs after Daisy’s attention building up this legendary figure in Long Island. Daisy is stuck in a loveless marriage with a man who owns her but has a mistress. Tragedy unfolds in the power struggle between two men, and Daisy is just a catalyst with a specific part to play. She isn’t granted the privilege of being herself. Let us be main characters of our own novels, instead.

Forgiveness is the most important gift we can give to someone {and ourselves}
Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

The central theme of the novel is the trauma of war, but what struck me the most is how the love Stephen had for Isabelle kept him, somehow, alive, and yet in the end she ended up with another man, and after she died he married her sister, who was a step-mother to her daughter, and somehow he was too shaken by the experience of the war to truly love Jeanne, who obviously must have loved him very much and have such a strength of character and resilience to go through all that with him. I believe the only way they could have grown old together was by forgiving Isabelle and themselves.

Beware of people who influence your decisions for the worst
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

We all have a dark side, and Dorian Gray was never entirely innocent, or he would have never been persuaded by Lord Wotton to follow him on his path of exaggerated dandyism, nor he would have managed to take it so much further than his patron would have ever imagined. However, the fall truly began we Dorian made Henry’s opinion so important it effectively shaped who he was and how he dealt with Sybil Vane. Sometimes people who subtly change us pose as our friends or even people who love us, and many relationships have been poisoned by trusting such an opinion which often turned out to be anything but genuine, disinterested concern.

There is more than appearances {and, sometimes, the more is a lot of pain that we don’t imagine}
Anthony Quinn, Half of the Human Race

Tomorrow (Feb 4th) is a day the UK mental health charity Mind will dedicate to discussing related issues, which is quite a coincidence. This is a lesson not from a love story, but from how a couple in love failed a common friend. This is a lesson from Tam’s story. Love can be all encompassing, and it’s easy to get lost in it. In this novel, the characters will run after each other for years, and it’s all very romantic. But love is familial and friendship too, and even in romantic love alone there is loneliness and suffering. Tam was such a sad character, and his story made me cry. It taught me how to never take happiness for granted just because to me it looks like the other person has it all.


This post is part of #LoveBlog, a daily blog link-up every day in February with daily prompts.
Today I’m co-hosting on the theme of Fictional Love.


Meet Brita Long: Christian feminist blissfully married to Dan Fleck for almost two years. Lover of Paris, pink sparkles, sensible shoes, manicures, and books. Fueled by hot tea and mimosas.

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  1. You hit the nail on the head with this one! Love hasn’t exactly benefited every aspect of my life. As Tina Turner put it, what’s love got to do with it? A lot of people think I’m bitter when I say similar things because I’m divorced. I’m not bitter. I just see things more clearly because my idealism hit the wall of reality hard.

    1. If you’re bitter then there’s two of us, I wrote this only days after a breakup. In fact the one about Little Women is about that specific breakup more than anything. But yes, I know what you mean. I’m sorry it was through such a big life-changing and usually stressful as complicated event as a divorce but I guess it was for the best that both of us got past the idealism and can see more clearly. It’s not that I don’t believe in love anymore but I definitely see it in a more down to earth way than many 🙂

    1. That’s very true, it’s a bit like when your friends just can’t see why you like someone that to you is self-evidently perfect (and him in the Pemberley Digital adaptation clearly is), your feelings make him who he is for you.
      Feelings are just so messy and impossible to rationalise.

    1. I think it’s a never enough appreciated novel, like all the others is often overshadowed by P&P but I could never take them all separately, they speak of the human experience as a whole.

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