5 things we can learn about modern dating from new film 'Emma'

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Jane Austen’s Emma is coming to cinemas with a brand new adaptation from director Autumn de Wilde – here’s how the story still has plenty to say about contemporary love lives…

For a tale first penned more than 200 years ago, it’s staggering how much Jane Austen’s Emma has to say about dating that still feels relatable today.

From meddling friends to infuriatingly mixed messages, many of the dramas and dilemmas faced by Emma Woodhouse and her contemporaries will feel massively recognisable to anyone currently swiping their way through the modern world of dating.

In fact, if you’re looking for a few pointers on navigating the choppy waters of modern romance, it’s the perfect story to turn to.

So with a new movie adaptation about to hit cinemas on Valentine’s Day, starring our favourite up-and-comer Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma alongside Miranda Hart and Bill Nighy, here are five ways in which the story can teach us plenty about present-day romance…

  • 1. Your friends don’t always know best

    We all like a second opinion every now and again.

    However, when it comes to working out whether or not you should be dating somebody, nobody ever knows what’s going to work for someone else relationship-wise.

    Emma can’t help but get involved in her friends’ love lives, but as she basically admits, she likes matchmaking because it’s an amusement – which maybe isn’t the best basis for giving good advice?

    From swiping on your behalf to telling you exactly how many kisses to put on the end of your messages, we’ve all got at least one mate who thinks they know what’s best for you.

    Chances are they haven’t got a clue. 

  • 2. Communication is key

    Already a competitor for this year’s Love Island slogan du jour, communication really is key.

    And to stretch the comparison to the islanders still further… nobody likes a triangle.

    In Emma, romantic confusions and love triangles abound as a direct result of people not fully revealing how they feel about each other.

    Emma thinks Mr. Elton is into Miss Smith. Mr. Elton thinks Emma is into him. Emma thinks Miss Smith has eyes for Mr. Churchill. Miss Smith then reveals she’s keen on Mr. Knightley.

    And round and round it goes.

    In a modern landscape where people are seeing multiple people, with nobody really wanting to commit to anything, it’s all too easy to drift into dating malaise.

    Say what you mean. Shoot your shot. Make something happen.

  • 3. Sometimes it’s right under your nose

    Sometimes people you’ve only ever seen as friends can surprise you.

    After a brief dalliance with an altogether unsuitable party, Emma comes to realise that true love may have been staring her in the face all along from a source a little closer to home.

    It’s a heartening story for anyone sick to the back teeth of running through the same old small-talk on yet another first date at a mini-golf bar.

    Because if you’re getting tired of a string of encounters with virtual strangers, maybe it’s time to take a look around in real life.

    That old mate you’ve always kind of suspected might be a thing? You just never know…

  • 4. Rejection is natural

    If you’ve even just dipped a toe into the world of dating apps, you’ll know that a thick skin is mandatory.

    From breadcrumbing to ghosting, the disposable nature of modern dating means that all manner of trash behaviour is par for the course.

    With that in mind, we’d all do well to take a leaf out of Emma’s book when it comes to rejection.

    When one potential romance doesn’t go her way, she’s understandably gutted, but offers an expert lesson in rolling with the punch.

    “I may have lost my heart, but not my self-control” she says, brushing her shoulders off and moving right along.

    Rejection is part of dating. Suck it up. It’s their loss.

  • 5. Kindness is underrated

    It’s quite hard to tell from a dating profile whether someone is kind or not.

    You can work out whether they’re handsome. You can get a sense for whether they’re funny. You can definitely find out whether “travelling the world” is an interest.

    But kindness? Often overlooked, even though it’s probably THE most important thing.

    It’s worth noting that while the more overtly charming Mr. Churchill and Mr. Elton draw plenty of swoons from the women of Highbury, neither of them are very… well… nice.

    After spending the whole film fretting over status, Emma begins to realise that kindness, paired with understanding and respect is worth far more in the long run.

    When your date keeps leaving you on read, maybe it’s time to start looking for someone who knows when to type.

Emma, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart, opens in cinemas nationwide this Valentine’s Day. Find out more here.

Illustrations by Ana Jarén.