Salvo 04.02.2024 4 minutes

There Is No Mr. Rochester

throwing a broken phone in the paper bin

Reject the fiction of perfection for the messiness of the world outside your head.

The internet has a lot to say about whom we should marry. From memes about the ideal woman to viral posts about how much money a man should spend on a first date and pseudo-scientific lectures about why women break up with their boyfriends, we are inundated with pronouncements about how to find (or be) the perfect mate. While it would be easy to dismiss all this as the shallow-minded mishigas of the very young, that misses the point: everyone is desperate for love, but no one seems able to find it.

The loneliness epidemic is real. According to a 2023 Meta-Gallup survey, nearly a quarter of the world’s population feels lonely. And the loneliest age category is young adults, with 27 percent reporting they feel “very” or “fairly” lonely. People in their twenties are longing for love, for connection, to be seen and truly, deeply known.

The young want to be loved the way that Mr. Rochester loves Jane in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It’s my favorite love story, and I’ve been rereading it lately. Every time I get to the proposal scene—that moment where Rochester tells Jane, “You—you strange, you almost unearthly thing!—I love as my own flesh,”—I feel an almost unbearable yearning. Happily married and settled as I am, I feel a heart-cracking ache that is both exquisite and devastating.

But the problem is, no one can see and know and love us the way Rochester loves Jane. Because Rochester is Jane. He’s a creation of the same mind that created her. This is true for any great fictional love story—Pride and Prejudice, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, take your pick. We look at these lovers and think, “Yes! That! That is what I want!” And then we look at our actual lover—or some potential lover—and think, “Why can’t you be that?”

We want to be seen and known and loved as if the other person could somehow fuse with all our cells and inhabit our very being—pulled out of our crushing loneliness so spectacularly that we become one. It isn’t enough to keep each other company, we want total fusion. We want to live as if we were created by the same mind. All the detailed lists and specific rules and deal breakers seem to me an attempt to weed out the dross in search of that person who’s perfectly created just for us. The person who somehow is us.

The truth, of course, is that we were all created by the same mind. He made us in his own image, and that yearning we feel is a yearning toward Him—the author who created us. But—and this is the important part—we can’t achieve that here on earth. That is the tragedy of a fallen world. Anyone who tells you otherwise is peddling fiction.

But that is exactly the problem—we are all peddling fiction. While it’s true that the urge to know each other more fully, more deeply, more completely has been with us since time immemorial, there’s something about the current moment that has allowed us to welcome in our fictions as if we could make them real. And it is this that is keeping us isolated and alone.

Since the pandemic, the amount of time we spend on screens has skyrocketed. A study conducted in 2021 found that people in their twenties—the loneliest demographic—were spending 28.5 hours a week looking at screens. According to the World Economic Forum, adults are spending an average of two hours and 27 minutes per day on social media alone.

It’s very possible that many of us feel so very lonely because so much of our “social” time takes place when we are all alone. A barrier has come between us that stands in the way of the messiness of actual human connection. All these work “meetings” on Zoom, “hang-outs” on video chat, and “flirtations” with guys on social media allow us to curate our own image in a way we never could before. But they allow us to fictionalize the people we are interacting with as well.

Online, the guy we like but have never met becomes a product of our own mind—the Rochester to our Jane. We fill in all the gaps with the traits we want. We create our list and mold our crush in its image. The real thing, should we ever meet him IRL, could never measure up. He doesn’t measure up. And we are disappointed and alone again, wondering what’s wrong with everyone. What’s wrong with us?

Is it any wonder the internet is filling up with lists of what our potential partners must be like? We believe in the men and women of our own creation. We will settle for nothing less.

But the truth is, we have to settle. We have to throw away “perfection” and wade into the beautiful messiness of real life. Compatibility is not measured by height, or fashion sense, or financial statements. It can’t be listed, painted, or chosen in advance. The man (or woman) for you will be the closest you can come on this earth to a mind created just for you. And your coming together will be born—in the immortal words of Sky Masterson—of “chance and chemistry.”

Which is why we have to drop the lists. We have to come out from behind our screens. We have to feel awkward, and unsure, and elated, and confused. We have to let love grow over time. We must meet a mind that isn’t us but speaks to us. And we have to learn to love that yearning—that sense there is something more than this. Because there is. But this is the closest we can get to it on this earth. We have to accept that. We have to live with imperfection. The only other choice is loneliness. And how’s that working out for you?

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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