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Jun 25, 2020
| by | Dalayna Marji

'Emma.,' COVID and 'The Dating Project': What Can the Past and Present Teach Us About the Future of Finding Love?

With only half the year down, 2020 has been a fast, wild ride for most, filled to the brim with the good, the bad and the ugly.

In February, however, a much slower pace was met with the release of director Autumn de Wilde’s film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. The characters of Austen’s beloved work glide with high posture in tight corsets and thick trench coats through mannered exchanges in the decorated halls that mark the film’s Regency Period setting. There is an air of formality which marks this era, to which all the characters must, or at least try to, adhere, even in their less-than-poised moments.

Fans of the story won’t be surprised that Emma is a romantic comedy, but the early 19th-century setting may make it seem shockingly distant from today’s dating world. But, Jane Austen’s insight into human relations reflects the current age more than one might expect.

Matchmaking Emma functions in a very structured dating environment. Before even the first kiss, there are favors, gifts and oblique expressions of affection, leading, at length, to a formal declaration of love and then, at long last -- once all involved approved and sanctioned the match -- the actual proposal.

So what does this all have to do with today's (or at least the pre-pandemic) accelerated hookup culture? Now, we turn to a recent documentary that offers some suggestions regarding just that.

The Dating Project (hereinafter referred to as TDP), for which Family Theater Productions was a production partner, advocates for a revival of some of the structures and practices of Emma’s dating regimen.

There are far more lessons to be learned from Emma. than just formal etiquette or the line dance for your next local ball. The first lesson that screams from the screen is to make your feelings known.

Emma finds herself in uncomfortable situations because she has not done that with either Mr. Knightley or Mr. Elton, two single men in her orbit. TDP advocates being “open and honest,” to avoid the “dreaded acci-date.” This is when you’ve gone out, but you're unsure if it’s a date, or if your date -- or non-date -- thinks it’s a date. Through open and sometimes lengthy conversations, things like that come to light.

After seeing her longtime friend Mr. Knightley so kindly ask her crying friend to dance, Emma discovers her own feelings for him. When he asks whom she will dance with next, she quickly responds, “You... if you’ll have me.” This blatantly breaks the social construct of the man choosing his next dance partner. In doing so, it shows Emma’s confidence and forthcoming nature.

TDP also advocates for a similar confident break in social construct -- asking your prospective date out in person. This can be incredibly difficult, especially for nervous types, but this straightforward approach is the right move.

Clear intentions and courage alone would clear up so many modern relationship issues, though the movie and the documentary also expose many more benefits of the old, slower dating days. Paced dating not only keeps someone from being hurt by moving too fast in a relationship, but it also actually creates a greater likelihood of success.

Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who has spent some 40 years studying romantic love around the world, titled her New York Times story on the subject “How Coronavirus Is Changing the Dating Game for the Better.” Obviously, while stay-at-home orders are enacted, there is no physical contact.

Fisher says this enforced distancing lengthens the getting-to-know-you process, as it also did in Austen’s day (but for reasons of propriety, not public health). She calls this “slow love,” and goes on to say that from the “evolutionary perspective, slow love is adaptive — because the human brain is soft-wired to attach to a partner slowly.”

She concludes, “We were built for slow love.”

So, take your time, because, as Austen says in the book Emma, “It's such a happiness when good people get together.”

Here's the trailer for Emma., (which can be streamed from a variety of platforms; more information at



And here's a clip from The Dating Project, featuring participant Rasheeda Wilfield (note, the date at the end is from the original theatrical release; the film is available on DVD, and can be streamed at Amazon Prime Video and other sites. More information at


Images: Focus Features (Emma.)/PureFlix (The Dating Project)

Dalayna Marji is a student/journalist at the University of Dallas (click here) and a Family Theater Productions intern

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