THE ethics of society have consigned this preparatory ceremony called courtship, which when literally defined, is as meaningless as unsuccessful when its purport is "man making love to woman." And here is a great mistake which has long been overlooked, for love-making should be mutual to be a great success; for, while man does the courting, women will not always marry the men they love most, and neither of them will be happy. Man has the privilege to seek companionship he may travel far and near until his ideal can be met; but woman must stay at home and wait; and wait until sometimes it is too late, and she does not get married at all; or else she marries the man who asks her, whether he is the one she loves or not.
A lady wished her character read; after reading it I described the husband she should have; at the conclusion she asked what I thought of the gentleman I had read in public the night before? I replied, that what I said I thought. "Would he suit me for a husband ?" she asked, and I enquired if she loved him? "No," she slowly said, but continued, "he is a very good man, a widower, and has a good home;" but, with animation, she remarked, "There is another gentleman whose character I would like read, a different looking man." This prompted the question, "Are you interested in him also?" "Yes," she timidly replied, "he has also proposed, and I scarcely know which to choose." I said, "Do you love this gentleman?" "No," she again acknowledged," although he, too, is very good and clever; he is a bachelor, and of a good family; both are very much respected." I said, "Perhaps you do not know what love is." She replied, "Oh yes, I do." "How do you know that you do?" I asked. "Because there is a man I do love." "Then why do you not marry him?" "Because he never asked me," she soon rejoined. "Well," I said, "would you be so unwise as to marry either of these when there is one that you love better?" "What shall I do? "she said. "Why do you not ask him?" The young woman almost gasped with utter astonishment; but before she left she said she would think upon the subject.
A young woman may never have more than three offers in a lifetime, particularly where women predominate over men in numbers to the extent we find in England; and she must marry one of the three or continue to be a maid a thought which is a terror to some.
Now, it is preposterous to suppose that out of three she must love one, when there are thousands from which to choose.
A young woman has a gentleman friend who calls on her, visits, sings and plays duets with her; after a time he proposes marriage; but she has never entertained a thought of love, so she briefly tells him, "No." He leaves her side and seeks some other, and now she sings alone. In a year or more another comes and fills the vacant place. He often calls; they visit; sing and play duets; are social and quite happy. Then he, ambitious for a wife, asks the favour of her hand; but she has no love for him, so peremptorily objects. He takes offence, and she but laughs to think how strange that both of these gentlemen wish to marry her. So she again is left alone, for a longer time, to sing her songs and play, and do the best to spend her time until a third presents himself, with whom she laughs and talks, a free light-hearted maiden, and after a few months have been passed in music and pleasant conversation, he believes that she would make him happy, and he proposes. Now, when he asks, in gentle tones, "Will you be my wife? "she hesitates, is not abrupt, but asks for time to think. Two weeks are given for her decision; he leaves, but hopes she will decide, by all means, in his favour. She is absorbed in meditation; she walks the floor, and soliloquizes thus: "Three gentlemen have proposed to me; two I have refused. I thought as much of either of them as I do of this, the third, and I don't love him!" She puts her hand upon her heart, "No, I do not love him; but time is passing, perhaps I had better not reject him. I am twenty-five years old there may be no other chance if I marry him he shall not know my heart. I will do my best to make him happy, he won't suspect that I do not love him. Yes, it may be the best thing I can do. Yes, I will risk my happiness I will be his wife."
The two weeks pass. He returns to hear his doom. Again he asks, "Will you be my wife?" She timidly replies, with eyes cast down, "Yes; I think it is the best thing I can do." Oh, how happy is that young man! how light his spirit! She has given her heart to him. Now there is nothing more to fear. He has won the lady he had set his heart upon. "She loves me; she is mine." Oh, no; he is mistaken. She does not love. She took him from necessity, to avoid the stigma of being a single woman at thirty. No other opportunity might appear. Thousands marry in this way, with as much misery as deception, due greatly to the time-honoured customs of society. Yet I would not advise young women to be forward nor imprudent, nor in any way unladylike. Never bow to strangers in the street, nor in public places. Be modest and discreet. But I do say that when a young women has met a gentleman whom she greatly admires, and whom she has no reason to believe to be engaged, she has just as good a right to propose to him as he has to propose to her.
But as popular opinion now declares, both in England and America, that gentlemen are the ones to court, let them understand how it can be accomplished upon rational principles. First, courting should be done in the day-time not at night, for reasons quite sufficient. You cannot see so well at night; you are not so clear-headed cannot study human nature with the same degree of accuracy as you can in broad daylight. But if you cannot go in the day-time on account of business or other engagements, go early in the evening, and go home early. Then go soon again rather than remain too late. Some stay until midnight, and even after. If ladies were to call upon their friends and stay so late, we are sure the hostess would weary of their company; she would yawn, and wish they would go home. And so they should. Short visits and more frequent would be more acceptable.
If a young man does not leave by half-past ten or eleven at night, the lady should give him a gentle hint, by opening the door or window, and while gazing out, remark, "It is a very pleasant evening!" Under such suggestions any young man would surely take up his walking-stick and hat, and, with a good-night, depart. But if he does not recognise the invitation, again open the door, and let it stand unclosed: speak more emphatically, "It is a very pleasant evening!" "Yes," he may reply. "A pleasant evening for travelling!" "Yes, if any person wants to go." The young woman would do well after this to invite him to take his hat and start, if he should still be so obtuse to the hint she offers. Gentlemen should be watchful for all such slight suggestions, and prevent a more stern command. There is no good arising from these long night visits; they are injurious to both health and morals. And parents should advise their daughters against such improprieties; and any well-meaning man would admire and love a girl the more for not permitting them, and would have more confidence in her mother.
Then it is not well to have special evenings set apart, and on those evenings always go. The lady knows just when to expect a visit, and she is prepared in her good dress, with her sweetest smiles, and is waiting. For the sake of a change, just step in any time, and you may see sights of which you never dreamed. One such occasional visit is worth more than a dozen when expected.
It is well to call on some morning through the week, and Monday is the best. Then, if you are a neat young man, and wish to have a wife to correspond, look about and see how things appear, and how her attire fits and harmonises with your ideas. If she is neatly clad in a plain, cheap gown, with tidy hair, that is as well as you need expect, and as neat as you would have your wife on a similar occasion. But if her hair had not been dressed, and one side held up by pins or papers and on the other falling on her shoulder; with no collar about her neck, nor substitute; her dress sleeve half ripped out; her boot-strings untied; and pardon, if I say the rest, stocking turned over the boot! why, propose to her then and there, for no one else will want her. And if she lives in deshabille, and keeps her house untidy, you never need find fault; you saw the index of her habits that fatal Monday morning.
Popular courtship, an institution so much esteemed by all as a safe means for securing matrimonial bliss, when analysed is found to consist principally of sighs and smiles, good clothes, promenades, carriage drives, presents, jealousies, fears and tears, all well seasoned with unwholesome flattery, and mystically adorned by the moonshine of deception.
It is a myth, a bubble, an air castle, great in appearance but in reality is nothing, and worse than nothing, a sand-bar, instead of a rock on which to build the matrimonial structure. It is so shallow and defective that it really affords but little opportunity for the accomplishment of the end in view.
After years of such frivolous courtship the parties often know as little of each other's true characters as they did before. Much that should have been learned is postponed until too late for a change of action.
The result is astonishment and disappointment, if not contempt, to be followed by sorrow and regrets which blight all future prospects, and change an aspiring, happy, hopeful nature into one of saddest gloom.
When men and women are wise enough to supplant the old by a new or rational courtship, based upon knowledge and common sense; and are willing to be known before marriage as they will be found to be after; when honesty takes the place of falsehood, and persons view these subjects from a rational standpoint marriage will no longer be a lottery, or a blind leap, but it will be a choice made in wisdom, and crowned with the success of true domestic happiness.
This time-honoured institution of courtship, like all co-existing ones, is susceptible of improvement, and until more thought is devoted to this subject, and more pains taken to teach the young a rational course, our prospects for more successful marriages will be based on nothing sure. And ages may pass, bringing the same results, while hopeful generations will be deprived of the sweet satisfaction to be found in those peaceful, happy homes which are enjoyed only by the few who by chance have secured compatible mates.
Time is not so much to be considered. Some court five years, some court ten, but one or two years of correct, common-sense courtship is quite enough; in fact, is more successful. I knew a couple once who courted seven long years, then married, after which, there were deep regrets, on the side of the wife at least; and many plans were devised by which release might be obtained; but all were thwarted. Then the wife prayed, although she was not remarkable for being a praying woman; but under these aggravating circumstances she did pray most fervently that they might be separated, even if death should part them. The husband died whether in answer to the petitions or from natural causes I do not know but the widow was happier than the wife; she had much less to perplex her, although left with four small children, and but a small income.
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