5 Love Lessons From Literary Classics

When you think of The Great Gatsby maybe you think about your high school literature class, or the new film coming out with Leonardo DiCaprio, or the 12-page paper you had to write freshman year on The American Dream. Chances are, you probably don’t think about how the story of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan can directly apply to your love life. Just because you’re not guzzling down champagne in a New York mansion like Gatsby and his crew or living in the English countryside a la Jane Austen’s Emma doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot form these classic books. It’s time to dust off that book you haven’t thought about since your AP Literature class and look at them in a whole new way.
The Great Gatsby: Look at people for how they are, not how you’d like them to be.

Have you ever found yourself calling the frat guy who never texted you back “the best guy ever” or your ex who you always fought with “the one who got away?” In The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby is obsessively in love with the beautiful (yet shallow and flighty) Daisy Buchanan. He spends so much time focusing on their glimmering past that he is completely blind to what she’s like in the present. It can be easy to exaggerate (or even completely make up) the good qualities in people. Take a look at this person for who they really are — the good, the bad, the charming, the ignoring your phone calls — and ask yourself if the qualities you like about them are really there. Gatsby’s love for Daisy destroyed him, but he could have prevented it if he had taken a long hard look at her actions in the present. If someone told you they’d wait for you when you came home from the war and then wound up marrying someone else, they’re probably not your soulmate. Okay, that’s probably not exactly applicable to your life, but if a guy told you he wasn’t ready for a girlfriend and is suddenly listed as “In a Relationship” a week later, he’s probably not the charming, perfect stud you’ve made him out to be.
Emma: Never say never, and mind your own business.
Emma, the title character in Jane Austen’s novel, claims that she’ll never get married. Instead, she prefers to play matchmaker to the people in her town. If you’ve sworn off getting in a relationship, it might be time to rethink your vow. When Emma meets Mr. Knightley, she begins to realize how intense her feelings are and lets down her guard. It’s important not to fall for every guy you meet, but when you say things like “I’ll never have a boyfriend in college,” you close yourself off from some amazing experiences. Does this mean you have to accept every dinner invite you receive? Definitely not, but if you get asked out by a guy who seems like he could actually be compatible with you, don’t let your promise to stay single keep you from getting into a happy, loving relationship.
That’s not the only love lesson in Emma. In the novel, Emma destroys the relationships of those around her when she tries to set Harriet up with Mr. Elton, the village vicar. She winds up offending Mr. Elton so much that he leaves the town of Bath all together. Sure, it can be fun to play matchmaker, but remember that your friends aren’t puppets and their hearts aren’t yours to play with. If you truly think two of your friends would hit it off, introduce them, but back off from there. When you meddle too much you run the risk of ruining not only a possible relationship, but your friendship with those involved as well. Why not leave playing Cupid to someone else?

Romeo and Juliet: Take it slow, even when the feelings are strong.

Now, I’m not knocking on one of the greatest love stories of all time, but how many times have you found yourself fantasizing about your wedding or three-year-anniversary with a guy you just started dating? These things can be fun to do when you’re zoning out in class, but don’t let the fantasy of love overwhelm your reality. Romeo and Juliet only knew each other for about 24-hours before they let their love literally kill them. It can be difficult to stay in the present when your feelings are super intense. A great love doesn’t come around often, so, when you feel you have one, it’s hard to stay levelheaded, but by focusing too much on the white-picket fence future, you run the risk of destroying your relationship with high expectations. Before you let things get too serious, get to know the guy a bit better. He may very well wind up being your soul mate, but, before you make that decision, focus on today, not what might happen fifteen years down the road. Remember to keep things in perspective. That doesn’t mean you have to be cynical (you can — and should — still be happy that you found someone who makes you so happy!), but it does mean you should think twice before calling a guy you’ve been dating for a month your future husband.
Wuthering Heights: Money can’t buy love.
Why is it so easy to fall for the guy who buys you five course dinners, gives you a Tiffany’s necklace, and takes you to his four-story house on the Cape? Okay, the answer to that question is a little obvious. Most collegiettes™ would love to receive these things from their guy, but they aren’t the only things that can hold a relationship together. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine had to choose between Heathcliff’s genuine love and Edgar’s more material-based love. She chose Edgar and soon realized that not all that glitters is gold. No, this doesn’t mean you have to return every nice gift your boyfriend gets you, but if your favorite thing about your relationship is the Michael Kors watch he got you after he ditched you at formal, it might be time to rethink your relationship.
Gone With the Wind: You’re not going to find love until your ex is actually exiled
Not even the strapping Rhett Butler could end Scarlett O’Hara’s obsessive attraction to her ex, Ashley. Do you wonder why you can’t keep a guy, but still have feelings for your ex? Until you’re able to be exclusive in your mind, there’s no way you can be exclusive physically. Unless you’re truly over your ex, every relationship you enter isn’t going to do well. Scarlett loved Ashley so much that when he married Melanie instead of her, she got married to Melanie’s brother. Clearly that marriage was totally doomed from the start. If you’re going after a guy only because he has some link to your ex, reconsider your actions. Dating your ex’s frat brother isn’t the best way to get over your breakup — it only adds another person to the equation. By the time Scarlett realizes she really does love Rhett, it’s too little, too late. Before you get other guys involved, make sure you’re truly over your ex. It’s okay to take some time off from the dating scene while you wait for your heart to heal. If you rush into something while you still have feelings for an old flame, you might hurt someone else or, like Scarlett, miss out on a truly amazing guy.

Michelle King is currently pursuing a Publishing degree from Emerson College. She was a web intern at Seventeen magazine this past summer and ultimately hopes to move to New York and go into web publishing. Her role models are Jane Pratt, Amy Poehler, Megan McCafferty, and her brother. She loves traveling (she's been to 14 countries), attending concerts (her dream is to see Florence + the Machine live), long distance running, and playing around with clothes and makeup. Women who can do lipliner perfectly are also her role models.

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