I fell in love with Mr. Darcy for the first time when I was a 14-year-old high school freshman. We were assigned Pride and Prejudice in English class, and there was a cute but pesky boy sitting near me. Up until then, I’d kinda had a crush on the boy (even though I knew he wasn’t worth the energy). He may have distracted me through other assigned readings but, this time, he — and, indeed, all of our fellow classmates in our little Wisconsin town — disappeared when I started reading about Lizzy and Darcy, the Netherfield Ball, the beautiful grounds at Pemberley, the unscrupulous deeds of Mr. Wickham and the full host of human behaviors Jane Austen laid out before us like platters at a feast.
By the 3rd chapter, I’d decided Jane was a genius. By the 33rd chapter, she’d already managed to become my favorite author, not to mention a guiding light of wisdom in my (frequently failing) teenage attempts at understanding my peers. Every person I knew in my high school class had suddenly been branded with a private but very apt, in my opinion, Austen label: I knew a sweet Jane Bennet or two…and far too many Wickhams. I could point fingers and wince at the mean-girl antics of those nasty Caroline Bingleys and spot a Lydia from the striking distance of half a football field. But where was my Mr. Darcy? He was not (I assure you!) at my high school. He was not — although I swear I conducted a thorough search — at my undergraduate university either.
However, I finished college and began teaching elementary schoolers in Illinois. My 23rd birthday — just a few weeks into the school year — was an event my friend Mary insisted upon celebrating. So, she and I went out for sodas and sandwiches on a mid-week night at a local restaurant. Mary, extravert that she was, started chatting it up with another woman at the next table. There were two men at that table as well. One of them left shortly thereafter to make a phone call, while the second one (and only because he was trying to be polite) got up to talk with me. It was clear neither of us really wanted to converse with some stranger just then. We were introverts who were enjoying our known companions and wanted to get back to our real conversations. Nevertheless, our friends left us with little choice.
I soon discovered that this man — a high school English and history teacher — had read my beloved Jane Austen on his own. FOR FUN, he told me! I was incredulous and squinted at him suspiciously. After a half hour of conversation, he asked for my phone number, then called me a few days later to formally ask me out. I accepted — still suspicious, but also curious now. After our first date, though, I had to admit (a little begrudgingly) that he was kind of cool. I came back from our evening together with the oddest sense of certainty that I had, in fact, met my Mr. Darcy at long last.
That night was 20 years ago this week. And while I always try to temper my doughy romantic heart with a clear-eyed view of relationships…I’m happy to say I wasn’t wrong about him. It was only fitting that he was one of the three men (along with my brother and son) to whom I dedicated my debut novel, According to Jane, the story of a modern women who has the ghost of Austen in her head, giving her dating advice. Boy, I could have used help like that back then! And in my new book, Friday Mornings at Nine, a tale of three 40-something moms who wonder if they married the right man, he was the one who helped me brainstorm plot ideas (along with a few good friends!), even when plotting turned to questions of infidelity and uncertainty. I’m thankful every day for him because, while there may be multiple Darcys sprinkled around the world — and, perhaps, some of you know one or two of them — I’m still so glad I found mine.