Friday, October 11, 2013

Jane Austen, Kissing, and Mate Selection

"What Jane Austen realised is that people are extremely good at assessing where they are in the 'mating market' and pitch their demands accordingly. It depends what kind of poker hand you've been dealt. If you have a strong bidding hand, you can afford to be much more demanding and choosy when it comes to prospective mates."

Here's the article. Ostensibly the article is about the role kissing plays in relationships.

But the extended metaphor relating mating practices to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a little off. At first, the description involves waiting on Darcy, trying to gamble down a line by holding open just long enough to survive the competitors without being defeated by any one of them and marry Darcy rather than Collins. But then the emphasis shifts: the person now discussed is the one who pitches demands accordingly. But in the case of Elizabeth, she is not the one who pitches. Darcy is the one who makes the pitch. And if the logic held from the paragraph before this one, then one concludes that Darcy's success in pitching for the most perfect or most fitting match—the match that meets the high or strong demands and is the most prospective—is Elizabeth. She is the one who is being won by the hand.

There is the downside that this turn Elizabeth into an object to be won, the chips standing in for some other wealth. The possible positive is Elizabeth is highly valued, above any young or attractive or wealthy or statused woman, for her independence, confidence, will, and intelligence. This works only because it adopts the logic of the possession of one's woman-beloved, but then pushes its logic to the limit of embracing the beloved as equal. It is as good as one gets, in that logic.

It is, though, curious how the shift in subject occurs.

Supposing the shift does not occur, and the logic is more broadly understood while ignoring the problem of the source material, then this logic retains agency for Elizabeth as the one who pitches to Darcy. She knows she is able to do so because she understands her high value amongst the rivals throwing themselves at Darcy; she knows Collins is worse than settling, and consideration undermines the confidence in her own assets, such confidence being a multiplier to her value (the logic dictates: high value people, as with any other people, are extremely good at assessing where they stand in the market, so they target their bids where they are most apt to benefit from winning. But then is Darcy a high value candidate because of his estate or his character—or as Lizzy slyly hints about how she started to lessen her doubts upon seeing Pemberley, is it both? And, what exactly is it that constitutes what Elizabeth is bidding? Is she putting down her self, her character?

The hook is supposed to be about how kissing is a way of selecting compatible mates. Digging deeper, we find emphases on kissing as a part of the relationship marry up for both long term and short term partners, who seem defined in the article to be on opposite ends of a spectrum of relationship styles. Long term, creative mutual reciprocity; short term, passionate and orgasmic indifference. They both highly value kissing in the time proceeding sex, but change in emphases the longer the sexual event happens, until in the period after sex the divide in preferences is there. Kissing, presumably in conjunction with other activities or behaviors or forms of communication, is one way we test our partners for fundamental compatibilities, because clearly kissing to test for kissing-compatibility purposes will hold true for the short term period prior to sexual activity. In this sense, the passion will be present for both ends of the spectrum so long as neither one has sex. This is why, prior to having sex, the kissing seems so much more amazing, involved, eager, and full of promise: from the standpoint of both ends, compatibility here strongly supports further compatibility.

But, once the partners do have sex, the desire or lack of desire to kiss indicates what end of the spectrum the partner is on. Stepping back, this is already seen in much of the cultural references to the fragility or impermanence of desire, the walk of shame, the regrets afterwards, the sudden changes of expectations after the deed. There isn't heartbreak when two people who are simply looking for casual encounters meet, fuck, and depart. There is only heartbreak when the partners have incompatible styles, and most immediately the day after—even the minutes after—is when the mismatch in desire for kissing kicks in and demonstrates the incompatibility. And, since the most immediate event in the mind of the long term person was the sex, then by simple association the long term relationship style comes to think of the sexual event as the cause of the incompatibility, in both senses of the precipitating agent and the necessary reason.

So, as long term people find more and more often their hearts broken, they also conclude more and more often that sexual events themselves are what cause heartbreaks. They then devalue the sexual event, build safeguards around it to prevent unintentional or inadvertent sexual events, build a larger structure around preserving the inability to separate from one another once the sexual event has occurred ("you played with me once now you always have to play with me or else I'll be lonely"), and identify any persons found inordinately interested in having many sexual events someone bad or shameful or awful. 

And since long term people tend to be the ones who raise and indoctrinate children into the cultural and social logics, then those same prejudices—ultimately just aspects of biological diversity—shape and frame the sexual experiences of the children.

If you combine these two thoughts together, then what you can also begin to do is demonstrate the reference to Austen points out the deep problem with the female bid: her sexual agency is every much a bidding process intermixed with social evaluation as it is for the male, a process built on accurate self-assessment. Restricting or in some way grossly misdirecting the capability of the female to place her bids alters bidding strength of lesser status males; high status males already know and understand their place, and they have no need to restrict or misdirect a woman into placing their bids with her—they do not need to control a woman's choice, for they are knowledgeable and confident about their status. 

This is the difference between Darcy being a gentleman and holding to rules without fostering contempt and Collins being religious and holding to rules in order to affect contempt for lessers. Choosing Collins, where women are controlled and prized and held as virtuous, is to settle either for knowing one cannot engage in high stakes bidding wars with rival women or for cashing out from greed or from apathy or from laziness. Choosing Darcy means owning one's status, one's self, and one's destiny.

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