Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 17

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THAT'S the way I think it ought to be worded. Because, then, the trace of selfishness that suggests itself in "Me and My Sweetheart" is entirely lost. And there can be no real love where selfishness exists. You may smile at this, my dear girl, and think that then there must be very little love in the world; there is only a little bit, but you have a right to your share of it. Your sweetheart and you! I wonder if you know what that means to people whose sweethearts have drifted from them, whose sweethearts have forgotten them, or whose sweethearts have been taken away from them by that inexorable tyrant, Death? The days are long and sunshiny, and the knowledge that you possess a sweetheart, a real one, ought, it seems to me, make your heart dance with delight, every duty become a pleasure, and every pleasure seem tripled.

Perhaps you have known your sweetheart for years, perhaps you have only known him for a few months, but, nevertheless, he has discovered that you are the one woman for him, and the one whom he wishes to have walk beside him all his life, sharing his sorrows and his joys. And you? You are only too glad to be his companion. And thus being of one mind, it becomes necessary that you shall think out what are your duties toward each other, for life is not all love, though, as far as you two are concerned, you may make it so.


First of all it is necessary that your sweetheart should be your companion and your affectionate friend, as well as your lover. Indeed, unless you combine these two—the friend and the lover—the love will wear away, and the lover will grow weary. So, it seems good and right that you should think of the things which interest him, and also think out things which ought to interest him, and by pleasant talk make him aware of them. What I mean, my dear girl, is that while the expression of love is right and proper, and that it is quite right that the man who is to be your husband should greet you with a loving kiss and words that tell of his affection for you, still your hold on him will be greater if you make him interested in the books you have read and the plays you have seen, or if you talk to him about some question which has interested you and about which you have a decided opinion. In this way you will become companionable; and, let me tell you, that while it is the easiest thing in the world for a young girl to get a sweetheart, it is only by becoming his good friend that she can keep him.


"But," says some girl who has very independent ways, "why shouldn't he cater to my ideas; why should I cater to his?" Oh, my dear, what a mistake you are making. You are not catering to his ideas, you are only doing that which is right and womanly, and endeavoring to keep the love which you have gained. You may discuss nothing more serious than the difference between yellow and brown hair, and your sweetheart may say to you that brown locks are the loveliest in the world, and his eyes may tell you the reason why he thinks so. Then you may defend golden hair the evening through, and when you two part you have had a met little time, you have made your sweetheart forget the cares of life, and it has been entirely because you talked about something that each was interested in. Another evening it may be a book; another evening you may let him explain to you all about the politics of the country, and still another happy time you two may build castles in the air about the little home which is to be yours, which you both look forward to as a positive reality. Treat your sweetheart always as a friend; let him know of the great love that is at your heart, and let it find expression in words once and a while, but remember that a continued expression of it is like the giving of many teaspoonfuls of marmalade—the hungry one will tire of it, and yearn for plain bread and butter. Give plenty of the bread and butter of affectionate friendship, and every now and then add to it a spoonful of marmalade of love.

I like the old-fashioned word "sweethearting." But it, like all good things, has its written and unwritten laws, which must be strictly observed by the girl who wishes to retain her sweetheart's respect as well as love. I think the law that must be most closely observed is that of discretion.


But that one little word, discretion, covers a very wide ground. It means that not only must you be careful in what you say and think, but you must be wise in the giving of good things, and no matter how much your sweetheart may seem to long for your presence, you must not let him have too much of it. When he comes to see you in the evening let him come where all the rest are, mother and those bad boys, and the other girls—let him come right into your home-life, see what it is like and how you fill your place; in time your interests will become his. You hang your head when I say this—you think you would rather see him alone; well, it is not such a long time since mother was a girl herself, and she will manage, before he goes, that you shall have fifteen minutes, or half an hour, to talk over with him whatever seems of most importance to you. That half-hour will appear more to both of yon than all the rest of the evening, but do you think it would have been counted so valuable if you two had been alone all the time?

It is possible that your sweetheart is going to escort you to a concert; then let him take you from the very midst of your family, your mother wishing that you may have a good time, and, my dear girl, if he always thinks of you as surrounded by care and consideration, his self-respect, when he is honored with the charge of you, will keep him from doing or saying anything that would not be done or said in the home nest.


It is possible that your sweetheart may never have had any sisters to tell him of the little things that annoy women, and that he has never before cared enough for a girl to give her the right to make known to him what she thinks are odd little ways. Once or twice he has caught you by the arm in getting through a crowd, or when you were walking together in the evening; naturally you did not like that. Well, tell him so, but don't draw your arm away and be cross about it; instead, look him right straight in the face, and say: "Dear boy, I would so much rather lean on you than have you lean on me." Then slip your hand where it belongs, under his left arm, close to his heart. Suppose your sweetheart should incline to scarfs you don't admire. I once heard a girl tell a man she hated him because he wore a pale blue scarf. You needn't be as positive as that, but you can suggest to him that as a blonde he always looks better in an all-black scarf, while as a brunette he can wear the white ones all day and put on the black ones for very formal occasions. Men are very much what women make them, and it is the easiest thing in the world to teach your sweetheart how to act and dress according to the social laws, and he will never dream that he is being taught, but will believe that every suggestion has emanated from his own brain. Let him understand that he is never to be anything but respectful and considerate of your family, and make this an unwritten law by showing respect and consideration for his.

Never permit him to gossip over the affairs of his family with you. Their secrets are not yours, and you have no right to know them. If something is forced upon you, make up your mind to think the best of it. This is something you will never regret. Don't let your sweetheart, because you have told him you love him, neglect any of the little courtesies about which you were so careful before he had gotten this confession of your love. Set nothing down to lack of thought, but giving proper thought to all small politenesses yourself, exact the same from him. Never let that meanest of all things, jealousy, enter your heart. If the man is worth your love, if you have promised to trust and believe in him, you are wronging him when you permit suspicion to come to you, and it will injure you in every way. If, before you told him your love, you had not thought out whether the love he offered you was a good and true one, then it is possible you deserve to suffer from your carelessness, but if you believe in your sweetheart you are insulting him when you let yourself become a prey to jealousy. Politeness is one of the cardinal virtues, and its great value is never so much appreciated as when every one of its laws observed between people who care for each other. A slighting word, a rude gesture, or an impolite action has done more to break love than all the unfaithfulness or change of heart that ever existed. A great break can be healed, but a thousand little ones can only result in total destruction. I call on you, if you want to retain your sweetheart, to remember this.


It is undoubtedly pleasant to receive presents from those we love, and usually a girl's sweetheart enjoys giving to her. But many a young man has, because of his love, been more generous than just, by giving the girl he loved gifts that he could not afford. For this reason the wise maiden will refuse to accept, even from her sweetheart, gifts of great value, and when she comes to know all his affairs she may show greater wisdom by refusing to take anything of greater worth than a flower or a few sweets. Every girl loves a pretty ring, and for this reason many a man has gone into debt to give to the girl of his heart a diamond ring, which he could not afford, but which she seemed to yearn for. Personally, I think it in much better taste for a girl to have a very simple engagement ring, a gold loveknot or a blue enamelled one being really more appropriate for the engagement than a ring set with precious stones. There is a certain vulgarity in the wearing of jewels by young girls, and that it is an engagement ring does not excuse the assumption of an enormous diamond. A ring which has some sentiment attached to it, or one that has its own story for two, is a thousand times more to be desired than the kind of ring that can be bought by anybody. Certainly you do not want to begin your engagement with, as its souvenir, a ring that has caused your sweetheart to assume a debt, for that would be a very bad commencement.

If your sweetheart is away from you it goes without saying that you will write to each other. Now, I do not want to start a grain of suspicion in your mind, but I must say: do not write to him everything you would say. Men are proverbially careless, and you do not know whose eyes may rest upon your letters, and strangers might find in them a source of amusement that would be extremely mortifying to you. Then, too, while you may give your sweetheart, for his own special pleasure, one picture, do not let him decorate his rooms with innumerable photographs of you for strangers' eyes to rest upon and strangers' lips to criticise. Frenchmen say that if you are looking for the woman a man loves you will not find her picture in his room; that though there may be pictures of many other women there, the woman of his heart cannot be found. It is the woman who is not there whom he loves.


Sometimes you tell me that you and your sweetheart get into heated religious discussions. If I were you I wouldn't do this. No man was ever convinced of the beauty of religion by argument. You must make your faith a living one to impress your lover with its beauty and worth. Your religion must show itself in your every-day life, and by your works he will know how great and beautiful a thing it is. I do not think that happy marriages ensue when people have exactly opposite opinions, and very decided ones, about their beliefs, and for that reason I should not advise your acceptance of a man whose faith is different from your own. Many a girl will tell you that she knows of such marriages, but a happy marriage presupposes similarity of thought about matters of great importance, and certainly one's religion is the most important. Faiths in which people have been born and educated mean much to them, and a house divided against itself is certain to fall. Into the religious question about you and your sweetheart comes the consideration due to your father and mother, and I must say, in answer to many of my girls, that I cannot advise them to marry against the wishes of their parents. I believe that if a girl will tell her father that she believes she loves a certain man, and will ask why he objects to him, that she will be made to understand it all. Fathers are reasonable creatures, especially where the happiness of their daughters is concerned, for we all know that, though they may have a certain pride in their sons, it is their daughters who always get closest to their hearts.


To the girl who has a sweetheart I would say be as careful of your love as if it were the most fragile china, and do not let it ever be nicked in any way, for you want nothing less than a perfect love. This may be yours if you will guard your love. Your love may be as ideal as you please, and yet, because love itself is above the mere things of earth, it can yet govern your life practically, so that, for dear love's sake, the unkind word will not be spoken, and the cruel thought will never enter your heart. Sometimes, for dear love's sake, we suffer, but the love itself is so well worth having, that one can endure the pain. To you and your sweetheart I say be faithful, be true, be loving, have a great affection for the friend, with the great love that goes to the sweetheart, and you will attain that perfect union which, on the day when you two become one, will show itself in your lover's face, and the lookers-on will know that "the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her."