I can confidently say I have high self-esteem. I don't know why I feel so odd declaring it bluntly like that, but I do. I have high self-esteem and confidence. (I now have "I Have Confidence" by Julie Andrews from the Sound of Music stuck in my head.) Don't get me wrong--having high self-esteem is great. But I do think that having high self-esteem can sometimes conflict and/or overinflate with our pride in really damaging ways.
For a moment, let's consider Elizabeth, Darcy, and Mr. Collins. (This must just be the month of Mr. Collins or something, because he keeps popping up.) Elizabeth Bennet is one of those incredibly admirable female leads who knows her worth; who knows she is not "barely tolerable;" who knows that she deserves to hold out for a real affection before marriage. Elizabeth Bennet had high self-esteem. I mean, the girl landed Mr. Darcy, and she didn't even have to play any of our stupid, modern "games" to get him. (I envy her. Obviously.) In fact, I think it's pretty safe to say Darcy was the one undeserving of her hand in the beginning--and they both knew it.
He spoke well, but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed, and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority -- of its being a degradation -- of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.
Of course, Darcy thought himself above her and her family's low connections. His self-esteem certainly got in the way of his pride. Darcy had a right to be confident in his proposal--he was handsome, rich, and intelligent; all the makings of an advantageous marriage. But his pride prompted him to feel entitled to Elizabeth's hand, as if she is what he deserved.
He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security.
And yet even with his fancy house and dapper attire, Elizabeth still refused him. It takes a very courageous, confident woman to reject the offer of such a man as Darcy, and she did so because she knew it wasn't right. (At least, when he proposed the first time.) Elizabeth was not like Liesel from The Sound of Music--she was neither timid nor shy about her feelings when dealing with the world of men. Elizabeth knew Darcy, his current state of pride and arrogance, his selfish disdain for the feelings of others, was not good enough.
Let's take ourselves out of Austen's world now. (Just for second guys, come on.)
Occasionally, a girl from Germany will reach out to me via Facebook, and we'll chat about boy drama and how Jane Austen's novels have ruined us for real relationships. (You know, normal stuff.) This past week, my German friend reached out again, and I was so struck by our conversation that I felt I needed to share a snipet or two with the rest of you. I won't go into too much detail as to the specifics of her own dilemma (for her privacy), but I think hers is a question that I should address.
Her message started off by asking me, "How much do you care about what other people think of your crush?"
I sat for a moment, my fingers resting on my keyboard. I really wanted to be able to respond and say that other people's opinions never factor into my decisions when it comes to guys. But I can't say that, because it's unrealistic and untrue. I rely on my friends to tell me what's what; to chastise me when I say something stupid; to console me when I inevitably say something I didn't entirely mean. Sometimes we just need those third party perspectives. That being said, even when our friends have good intentions, they can be a little bias--especially when they're judging a guy who they don't know all that well. They can be quick to tell you that he's not good enough for you, and that's when your pride and self-esteem become an enormous obstacle in the way of your happiness.
If Charlotte had discussed Mr. Collins' proposal with Elizabeth prior to accepting it, I think it's safe to say her story would've ended much differently. Elizabeth wanted someone who was good enough for Charlotte, and she didn't see Mr. Collins as being that man:
She had always felt that Charlotte's opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she could not have supposed it possible that when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins, was a most humiliating picture! - And the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.
It's easy to see why Charlotte never sought Lizzy's opinion on the subject. Lizzy surely would've advised Charlotte towards a refusal rather than an acceptance of Mr. Collins' offer. And that wouldn't have been the right choice for Charlotte. She had no desire to be a spinster, burdening her parents for the rest of her life. She knew that another offer would most likely never come, so she took advantage of the cards life dealt her. If Elizabeth had guided her away from her marriage with Mr. Collins, I don't believe Charlotte would've lived a very happy life. But was Mr. Collins good enough for Charlotte? That's a seemingly easy question to Elizabeth and most Pride & Prejudice readers, but the only person's opinion that truly matters on the subject is Charlotte's.
I personally fall into that trap a lot: Is he good enough? If I'm being honest, that's kind of been my problem with most of the guys I've dated. I tend to fixate on their flaws and exaggerate them, as though I myself am flawless--which God know, I'm not. I kind of love what my German friend's mom says: "A decision is good, and good is good enough." We certainly shouldn't be looking for "good enough," but there comes a point when being nitpicky is less about logical reasons not to date someone and more about your own fears and mental roadblocks to your own happiness.
Nitpicking is all the bullshit that keeps us from finding real intimacy and vulnerability with another person. It's obviously much easier to conclude, He's not good enough for me, and continue along looking for the guy that is "good enough". But if that becomes a pattern and you continue to do it, over and over, there comes a point when maybe you're the one that's not good enough. Because you're no longer giving these guys a chance. You're looking for their flaws from the beginning, and then holding them responsible for little nitpicky things that only bother you. Say what you want about the guys I date, but they don't deserve to be analyzed and critiqued like they're applying for a job. It should be simpler than that. (That's what my mom tells me anyways. What does she know? She hasn't dated in like 30 years.) If you enjoy spending time with someone, then keep seeing them. If not, or they treat you poorly, cut them loose. But don't go looking for reasons not to be with someone. Because that's a deeper rabbit hole than the one Alice fell into.
And it's honestly kind of hard to step back and stop wondering what else is out there, if there is someone who is "good enough"? The what if? vortex is a thing and it afflicts us all at some point or another. You have to step back and ask yourself, at what point is "good enough," good enough? And there's no harm in having expectations and standards--I'm chock full of them, believe me. It's also totally okay to daydream. It's fun to imagine a fictional future with the cute guy in the bookstore. But that will never make up for something real and tangible; something that is so much better than any fiction. And that's really something you should learn to do sooner rather than later. (Or else you may just end up like me!)