Married Love/Chapter 7
"A person can therefore no more promise to love or not to love than he can promise to live long. What he can promise is to take good care of his life and of his love."
ARTISTS clearly, and poets in veiled language, have in all ages expressed the glory of the naked human body. Before the Venus of Milo in her Paris home, even the empty-headed and ridiculously dressed creatures of fashion stand for a moment with a catch in the throat and a sense that here is something full of divine secrets. One day, when I was doing my reverence before this ancient goddess, drinking in strength and happiness from the harmonies of her curves, a preposterously corseted doll came up to the statue, paused, and said with tears in her voice to the man beside her: "Hasn't she got the loveliest figure! "
If cold marble so stirs us, how much more the warmth and vitality of living beauty! Any well-formed young man or woman is immeasurably more graceful when free from the clinging follies of modern dress, while a beautiful woman's body has a supernal loveliness at which no words short of poetic rapture can even hint. What wonder then that one of the ecstasies of love should be the unveiling of the beloved?
A man or woman perfectly naked cannot be tawdry. The fripperies, the jagged curves and inharmonious lines and colors of the so-called "adornments" are surmounted, and the naked figure stepping from their scattered pile is seen in its utter simplicity. How charming even the raggedest little street urchins become when they leave their rags on the bank and plunge into the water!
It is therefore not surprising that one of the innumerable sweet impulses of love should be to reveal, each to each, this treasure of living beauty: To give each other the right to enter and enjoy the sight which most of all sights in the world draws and satisfies the artist's eyes.
This impulse, however, is, on the part of the woman, swayed by two at least of the natural results of her rhythmic tides. For some time during each month, age-long tradition that she is "unclean," coupled with her obvious requirements, have made her withdraw herself from even her husband's gaze. But, on the other hand, there regularly comes the time before menstruation when her body is raised to a higher point of loveliness than usual by the rounding and extra fullness of the breasts. (This is one of the regular physiological results of the processes going on within her, of which menstruation is only the outward sign.) Partly or wholly unconscious of the brilliance and full perfection of her beauty, she yet delights in its gentle promptings to reveal itself to her lover's eyes when he adores. This innocent, this goddess-like self-confidence retreats when the natural ebb of her vitality returns.
How fortunate for man when these sweet changes in his beloved are not coerced into uniformity! For man has still so much of the ancient hunter in his blood that beauty which is always at hand and ever upon its pedestal must inevitably attract him far less than the elusive and changing charms of rhythmic life. In the highly evolved and cultivated woman, who has wisdom enough not to restrict, but to give full play to the great rhythms of her being, man's polygamous instinct can be satisfied and charmed by the ever-changing aspects of herself which naturally come uppermost. And one of her natural phases is at times to retreat, to experience a profound sex indifference, and passionately to resent any encroachment on her solitude.
This is something woman too often forgets. She has been so thoroughly "domesticated" by man that she feels too readily that after marriage she is all his. And by her very docility to his perpetual demands she destroys for him the elation, the palpitating thrills and surprises, of the chase.
In the rather trivial terms of our sordid modern life, it works out in many marriages somewhat as follows: The married pair share a bed-room, often even a bed (though this detestable habit is fortunately rapidly decreasing) and so it comes about that the two are together not only at the times of delight and interest in each other, but during most of the unlovely and even ridiculous proceedings of the toilet. Now it may enchant a man once – perhaps even twice – or at long intervals – to watch his goddess screw her hair up into a tight and unbecoming knot and soap her ears. But it is inherently too unlovely a proceeding to retain indefinite enchantment. To see her floating in the deep, clear water of her bath – that may enchant for ever, for it is so lovely, but the unbeautiful trivialities essential to the cleaning processes of a bath, tend only to dim the picture and, if repeated, to dull the interest and attention that should be bestowed on the body of the loved one. Hence, ultimately, everyday association in the commonplace daily necessities tends to reduce the keen pleasure each takes in the sight of the other. And hence, inevitably and tragically though stealthily and unperceived, to reduce the keenness of stimulation the pair exert on each other, and thus to lower their intensity of pleasure in the sex act.
In short, the overcoming of her personal modesty which is generally looked on as an essential result in marriage where the woman becomes wholly the man's, has generated among our women a tradition that before their husbands they can perform any and all of the details of personal and domestic duties. Correspondingly, they allow the man to be neglectful of preserving some reticence before them. This mutual possession of the lower and more elementary experiences of life has been, in innumerable marriages, a factor in destroying the mutual possession of life's higher and more poetic charms.
In this respect I am inclined to think that man suffers more than woman. For man is still essentially the hunter, the one who experiences the desires and thrills of the chase, and dreams ever of coming unawares upon Diana in the woodlands. On the other hand, the married woman, having once yielded all, tends to remain passively in the man's companionship.
Though it may appear trivial beside the profound physiological factors considered in recent chapters, I think that, in the interest of husbands, an important piece of advice to wives is: Be always escaping. Escape the lower, the trivial, the sordid. So far as possible (and this is far more possible than appears at first, and requires only a little care and rearrangement in the habits of the household) ensure that you allow your husband to come upon you only when there is delight in the meeting. A fleeting glimpse of mutinous face as you lock yourself in the bathroom, is far kinder to a man than the wifely docility of sharing a toilet table and washstand.
- A quotation from W. J. Thomas, "Sex and Society," is here very apt, though he had been speaking not of man, but of the love-play and coyness shown by female birds and animals. "We must also recognize the fact that reproductive life must be connected with violent stimulation, or it would be neglected and the species would become extinct; and on the other hand if the conquest of the female were too easy, sexual life would be in danger of becoming a play interest and a dissipation, destructive of energy and fatal to the species. Working, we may assume, by a process of selection and survival, nature has both secured and safeguarded reproduction. The female will not submit to seizure except in a high state of nervous excitation (as is seen especially well in the wooing of birds), while the male must conduct himself in such a way as to manipulate the female and, as the more active agent, he develops a marvellous display of technique for this purpose. This is offset by the coyness and coquetry of the female, by which she equally attracts and fascinates the male, and practices upon him to induce a corresponding state of nervous excitation."