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Matters of the Heart: Lessons From Downton Abbey

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As Valentine's Day approaches, love is in the air in all shapes and forms at Downton Abbey. When it comes to matters of the heart, Sunday night's episode reminds us that whether it is 1922 or 2014, certain truths about love are timeless.

Never Know You Love Him Till You Let Him Go:

Downstairs, Ivy's love story is as old as time. For months she has overlooked Alfred's romantic gazes and gentlemanly gestures, while pining for the suave and stuck-up Jimmy. Even when Jimmy took her out and encouraged her to get so drunk she could barely walk, she continued to chose him over Alfred. Suddenly, Alfred has a chance to move up in the world through training in London at The Ritz. It is not until Alfred says goodbye that Ivy realizes her mistake and all she has lost.

(As a minority watched this heartbreak play out at Downton, the modern day majority enjoyed the Super Bowl and a hilarious commercial mocking this common dating dynamic!)

Forbidden Love Can Make the Heart Grow Stronger:

Cousin Rose is bursting with excitement about a surprise concert she is planning for Lord Grantham's birthday celebration. It turns out that her enthusiasm is as much for the eloquent and elegant musician, Jack Ross, as it is for the music itself. While Rose does a wonderful job of helping Downton's upstairs and downstairs characters open their minds, her efforts seem somewhat contrived and immature. Mary catches Rose kissing Jack (Downton's first African American character) in the basement as viewers brace themselves for what is shaking up to be a classic tale of forbidden love. Given the various forums in which the provocative Rose has been pushing the envelope since she arrived at Downton, it seems possible that her passionate feelings for Jack are intensified by the taboos associated with their unfolding love story.

When Times are Tough, Commitment is Essential:

Anna and Mr. Bates are doing what they can to get through Anna's unspeakable tragedy. Like many who are traumatized by rape, both she and Mr. Bates express a wish to forget about it and enjoy each other. Unfortunately, no matter how much they may both want to develop amnesia and forget all about it, the pain is too great and the trauma too deep. What is striking about their relationship during this episode is their willingness to talk openly about a topic that is tough to discuss in modern times and seemed unspeakable in the days of Downton:

Anna: "I know it can't be the same as it used to be. I don't deceive myself about that. But I want to make some new memories. Some good memories. So it's not as if all our happiness was before."

Mr. Bates: "I'm happy whenever I look at you."

Anna: "But you're not, are you? Everything is shadowed. Every moment we share is shadowed."

Mr. Bates: "You're right. Let's have one evening when we don't think about it. We [will] leave it all behind."

Following the awful phase of the prior episodes in which Anna shut Mr. Bates out of her life, they seem to have figured out that the only way through their pain is together. Life throws all kinds of unexpected curve balls, and when times are tough in a marriage, commitment matters as much as love. Anna and Mr. Bates' dignified and deliberate efforts are both heartbreaking and inspirational.

Better to Have Loved and Lost:

Lady Mary, Tom Branson and Lady Isobel gather in the nursery to spend some time with the children. Their conversation recalling their deceased beloveds is a beautiful testament to Tennyson's assertion that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all:

Lady Isobel: "When I got engaged, I was so in love with Reginald, I felt sick. I was sick with love, literally. It seems so odd to think about it now it really does."

Tom: "It was the same for me. As if I'd gone mad or been hypnotized or something. For days, weeks. All I could think about was her."

Lady Mary: "And me. I was standing outside in the snow, and I didn't have a coat. But I wasn't cold, because all I kept thinking was, he's going to propose. He's going to propose!"

Lady Isobel: "Well, aren't we the lucky ones."