Call me a sap, but I’m an absolute sucker for period films, especially English ones that deal with matters of the heart. Whenever there is a Jane Austen remake, I’m the first in line to buy a ticket.

My latest obsession is with the movie Far From the Madding Crowd (and trailer #2 here), an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, which I’ve yet to read but now may have to given how much I enjoyed the movie. This post isn’t a movie review, although I could wax on about the acting (Carrey Mulligan is superb!) and the cinematography (breathtaking!).

No, this is a post about about a common dating and relationship dilemma for women: the differences between lust, love, and settling. These differences are perfectly illustrated in Far From the Madding Crowd.

There are probably spoiler alerts in what I’ve written, but, frankly, it’s fairly obvious from the start of the film what the main character’s struggle will be and where she will end up. The delight for the viewer is in watching her get there.

Carrey Mulligan plays Bathsheba Everdene (yes, the inspiration for The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen’s last name), an independent, headstrong woman who is orphaned at a young age. Though poor for the first several years of her life, by the time she reaches young adulthood she comes into some money after an uncle passes away. He leaves her a home and a successful farm, the latter of which Bathsheba decides to operate on her own.

The storyline, though set in 1870, is a thoroughly modern one, perhaps a reason why it works so well for today’s audience. In Bathsheba, we have a fiercely strong, independent woman, a rarity back then to be sure, who is living in a man’s world but determined to buck the traditions of the day (marriage, babies, and a place in the home) by making her own way and running her own business. She refuses to fall victim to the day’s patriarchal social mores. She does not need a man to be complete; her life will be lived on her terms.

There are three men throughout this tale vying for Bethsheba’s heart, and, I would argue, each man represents a different type of relationship: lust, love, and settling.

Let’s start with Gabriel Oak: a proud but poor farmer attempting to raise himself out of his lowly social sphere. He is a strong man (as his last name suggests) of few words with an impeccable moral character. He proposes marriage early on to Bethsheba, who, despite liking him, rejects him because she doesn’t believe marriage is for her. Gabriel continues to stand by Bethsheba through thick and thin, even though she eventually makes it clear to him — once she comes into money — that her newfound social elevation would make it impossible for her to ever reconsider him as a marital prospect. Gabriel’s affections never waver, though. He is always looking after Bethsheba’s well-being. He challenges her, unafraid to speak up and voice his opinions. He is consistent. He follows his words with action. He is unswervingly reliable and trustworthy.

Next there is William Boldwood: a rich, older neighbor who falls for Bethsheba’s youthful spirit. He proposes marriage after he mistakenly believes her to be interested in him, explaining he wants to take care of her, that she can have all the dresses she wants, that she will have security and stability. His initial proposal is turned down without much consideration (her new life, convenient as it would be, would run counter to everything she’s built and stands for), but William reiterates his affections when Bethsheba has fallen on hard times, the farm on the cusp of being lost forever. It would be tempting, at this point, for her to settle for a life of comfort with William; after all, he is a good and honorable man. Will she say yes?

Finally, there is Sergeant Francis Troy (any reference to the Trojan War, I wonder?): the dashing and erotically-charged solider who manages to break down Bethsheba’s seemingly impenetrable walls through his flattery and sex appeal. Uncharacteristically, Bethsheba swoons. She falls hard, a victim to her lust, and, against the counsel of Gabriel, impulsively marries him. Over time, Francis shows his true colors, and Bethsheba realizes the dire mistake she’s made.

These three men exemplify the different types of relationships many modern-day women are confronted with over the course of their dating lives.

Lust/infatuation:

  • This type of relationship is about having a physical response to a man with not much substance behind the relationship. Typically, you are blinded to bad behavior or red flags, because you are operating from a place of sexual attraction. Common sense often goes out the window. You may tell yourself it’s love, but if you were to examine the bond between you and the man, you’d probably come to recognize there’s not much there aside from sex, fantasies, and drama.

Settling:

  • This is something many women fear. A common refrain I hear is “I’ll never settle. I’d rather be alone.” Ok, that’s good. Don’t settle for a relationship of convenience and mediocrity. But do examine what you mean by settling. Is it that you won’t settle for superficial things being absent in your partner (the right amount of hair, the perfect height, the sculpted abs, the right career or income), never giving the guy who isn’t your “type” a chance? Or is it that you’re not willing to settle for a man who treats you poorly, who doesn’t respond to your emotional needs, who doesn’t align with your fundamental values? If it’s the latter list, I applaud you for not settling.

Love:Picture of a heart with Love written inside

  • There are a gazillion things written about what love is and it’s difficult to encapsulate this feeling in a few sentences. But here are a few thoughts: Love is something that blossoms over time, as you get to know and trust someone with your heart. You feel at ease with this person, almost like a feeling of being home. You want to spend time with this person aside from just having sex together. You feel a desire to make the other person happy. You want to get to know people who are important to him or her, such as friends and family. You want to listen and be supportive and be there emotionally for this person. You want to share your feelings and internal world with him or her.

Far From the Madding Crowd isn’t the only novel/movie to explore this age-old dilemma (lust, love, or convenience?) for women. English novels, in particular, seem to do this so well. Emma and Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, all Austen novels, come to mind immediately as examples. In Pride and Prejudice, for instance, we see Elizabeth develop a lustful crush of sorts on George Wickham, the charming but devious soldier; the marriage of convenience between Charlotte and the ridiculous Mr. Collins (and perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Bennet); and, lastly, a deep, abiding love develop between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. Emma and Sense and Sensibility? Different faces and plot lines, same types of men and situations.

So if you’re ever confused about how to tell if what you’re experiencing is lust, love, or a feeling of settling, well, grab one of the classics and start reading!

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