I just read Eligible, a 2010s retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld, and it was just as delightful as I expected. Sittenfeld has been one of my favorite authors for years, since I first read Prep as a college freshman, because of her precise and incisive observations about social interactions and relationships. Back then, lines from Prep felt breathtakingly true: "I always worried someone would notice me, and then when no one did, I felt lonely."
Eligible is lighter and frothier; a lot of it revolves around real estate and reality TV. But Sittenfeld's details about social situations and complex emotions are perfectly matched with Jane Austen-like irony and awareness of class and money.
One thread in the book has to do with the fact that the Bennet family must sell their too-big, expensive, crumbling house in Cincinnati. Oldest Bennet sister Jane, in this version of the story a yoga teacher, holds a small ceremony in which she thanks the house for many years of happy memories and for being the place where the sisters grew up. Jane's sister Liz is more skeptical, but she sees the value in voicing the significance of the moment. Later, she mentions the mini-ceremony to Darcy's sister, saying that it helped her process the selling of her childhood home.
I was thinking about that as I wrote a blog post for work, about the fact that a fellow small business of ours holds a weekly yoga session for their (all-women) team of employees. (Side note: This is actually where I used to work, though they started the yoga practice after I left.) When I talked to the company's founder about their weekly sessions, she mentioned the value of setting aside time for calm and reflection, not only in general but sometimes in response to specific situations. For example, when an employee left the company recently, the yoga instructor led what they called a "compassionate healing session" for her last day.
I crave opportunities like that, chances to earnestly acknowledge the passing of time or tell someone why they're important to me. Before friends' weddings, I've mentally rehearsed toasts that I was not asked to give. In birthday messages, I try to ride the line of genuine gratitude for the relationship while still seeming cool and upbeat. Maybe it's the Catholic in me, or maybe it's because I'm shy, but I prefer having some kind of official ritual to make those moments of honesty possible. In daily life, I find it harder to give or receive compliments off the cuff. Hearing praise, I duck my head, mumbling unconvincing thanks or even less convincing deflection: "No, no, that nice thing about me couldn't possibly be true."
It can be easy to overemphasize (and then get exhausted by) the industrial-sized rituals in our culture, but I see more and more people using social media to push back against that: posting long, heartfelt Facebook or Instagram posts when they leave a job, get a major professional opportunity, celebrate an anniversary of meeting a close friend or of moving to a new city. Sometimes the pushback is even explicit and tongue-in-cheek, like this woman's engagement photo shoot for her new job. It's been said that secular society suffers from a lack of rituals, but I see people making an effort to honor the important things.
For me, then, maybe it shouldn't be so hard to give my own little speeches and celebrations, even if I fumble the delivery. A few days ago, my boyfriend and I returned from a vacation with his family — a trip during which his dad and brother had occasionally paused to note how lovely it was to have the whole family together. Coming back into the apartment, the two of us tiredly opened windows, watered plants, dropped our bags in corners, and I took out my laptop to catch up on a few tasks for work. After a few minutes, though, I remembered the house-selling ceremony from Eligible. I stood up and went over to my boyfriend, gave him a hug, and thanked him for a wonderful trip, and he thanked me, too. It was nice. I was glad we hadn't let the moment pass without marking it out loud. I hope I remember to do that with future milestones, too.