Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 2
THE SOCIAL LIFE OF A GIRL
Y this I do not mean the society girl, that is, the girl whose whole life is given up to the claims of society, but I mean the girl who, having reached a suitable age, goes to places of amusement, entertains visitors, and no matter what her occupations may be during the day, is supposed to be in the social world. She is, very many times, troubled about how she shall act, how she shall speak, and what is her duty. I think if I were asked what her duty was I should say, "To get as much pleasure out of life as is possible without hurting anybody else, or doing anything that is wrong." The laws of conventionality were made, not that people should enjoy themselves less, but to protect them more, and no young girl can break these laws and be happy, for I can never be convinced that a girl enjoys being spoken of as "fast," or "free and easy," or different from the other girls.
The girl in society who is a bit shy may envy that other girl who is boisterous and rough, who laughs very loudly, who tells and listens to stories and jests that are not quite nice, and who is particularly at ease in the society of men. The shy girl may wish for her composure, but if the shy girl could look into the hearts of the men who are about this girl she would realize that she has no kingdom, and that never for a minute has she been a queen except in her own imagination. Men, when they want comrades, seek other men. What they desire in a young woman is a companion, and one who is totally different from themselves in her ideas and her manner of speech.
IN THE SOCIAL WORLD
You are just beginning to go out; you are twenty years old, and you would like, as is perfectly natural, not only to have the love of women, but the genuine admiration of men. The admiration of all men is not worth having. You believe that you are pleasant to look at, but when you meet strangers you are abashed, the blood rushes to your face, and you don't know what to say. Now a little bit of that is due to self-consciousness; more of it to inexperience. When a man is presented to you you need not expect to enter into an easy conversation with him, as does the woman of forty, but you can get your thoughts away from yourself and answer him as intelligently as possible. Make up your mind to be a little slow in your speech rather than to give a foolish answer, and after you have resolved to do this you will not find it difficult to overcome that silly giggle so peculiar to young women, and which is very often the result of great nervousness and an effort to speak quickly.
Don't be too perfectly certain about things. The positive girl who, the very minute a stranger speaks to her, gives him an answer which she announces is her opinion, and which she permits no one else to doubt, is quite as undesirable as the girl who is afraid to say anything. I think you will be most successful socially if you are willing to learn, and if you never permit yourself, from false shame, to tell an untruth and say you do know of things about which you are totally ignorant. Experience has taught most social leaders that men like to give information, consequently when a stranger has been presented to you, and after the first ordinary commonplaces, asks, "Did you meet the Spanish Princess?" answer yes, or no, as the truth may be, and supplement this by another question, "Did you? And what did you think of her?"
It is not difficult in this world to attract, if one is young and pleasing to look upon.
HOW TO RETAIN FRIENDS
It may be taken as a general rule that no woman can retain her friends who cannot control her temper. What she thinks may be right, but, because it is so, no excuse can be found for her going into a long, quarrelsome argument, raising her voice, and making her hostess and all the other guests uncomfortable. Then people must know that, socially, a girl is to be relied upon; that she is not going to bring the daily worries of her life into the social atmosphere, but that she is certain to bring her mite of agreeableness to add to all the other mites until the perfection of enjoyment is achieved, and the pleasant side of everybody is seen and enjoyed. The woman who wishes to keep her friends must steer clear of vital subjects on which they may differ, religion or politics being especially undesirable for discussion.
RESPECT FOR LITTLE THINGS
Be pleasant and agreeable to all men who may be in your own social world, but give no one man the right to especially claim you until the veritable Prince Charming appears. To retain one's friends one must also respect their social rights, and by this I mean that if their hospitality is accepted one must conform in the way of dress and manner to the standards of one's hostesses; and that girl shows wisdom, who, invited to a very elaborate affair and feeling that she cannot afford even a simple suitable dress, refuses the invitation rather than mortify the hostess by being out of tune in the general harmony.
One has achieved a great wisdom when one has learned how to say "no" in the social world without giving offence. Personally, I do not approve of general dancing, though I see no harm, in fact a great deal of good, in the home dance, but when a girl has a conscientious feeling about dancing she is wisest if she says "no" courteously to the invitation that includes dancing. She has no right to go to a dance and to make her hostess uncomfortable by refusing to do as the others are doing, and by so airing her honest convictions that she impresses those around her with doubts of her belief. What she does not approve of she should not look at. So it should be with any games, or any affair involving late hours, or at which she would meet undesirable people. The saying "no" is right, but it must be said at the right time, that is, it must be said before the temptation arises and before you would be forced to-appear as rude. You cannot accept an invitation and refuse to meet your hostess's friends. Once there, you are bound to be polite to them, though afterward you need only recognize them very faintly, and gradually the recognition may die away altogether. It is always permissible to refuse to have a man presented to you if another man offers to do it, but you can never do this to your hostess. You want a form of declination for those invitations which you are sure will place you either in disagreeable positions or among people whom you do not care to meet? Well, here is one that is always courteous and which is, at the same time, truthful:
"Miss Brown thanks Mrs. Charles Jones for her kind invitation for Wednesday evening, and regrets her inability to accept it."
That is a note that can never be questioned, and no hostess is ever supposed to ask one one's reason for declining her invitation.
SOME LITTLE SUGGESTIONS
I realize that in many small places the custom obtains for the young girl of the house to receive visitors alone and that it is very general, but still I do not think it is right. I believe implicitly in my girl, but I want her to make a change about this. Have the parlor the prettiest and most comfortable room in the house, but don't be alone there—have some, if not all the members of the family with you, and let whatever fun there is to the fore be enjoyed by everybody. The most popular girl I ever knew, and one who was most admired by men and women alike, told me that she never knew what it was to see visitors alone until after she was married. All the young men who were acquainted with her said they liked to visit her because they got a chance to have interesting conversation, or sing choruses, and two or three of them were quite used to helping her arrange a bit of supper for the rest. One of them said, "It is different from going to see the other girls; there you go right into the home; at another girl's house you sit in the parlor and after awhile she comes down, and the family stay away from that room as if the plague were there, and the girl acts half silly, and after a fellow goes home he thinks he has behaved like a fool." And he probably has.
If I were you I should arrange my parlor with a view of furnishing subjects for conversation. I'd have whatever illustrated magazines or papers I possessed in full view; any photographs of celebrities; the piano open and the music on it, and end by making everybody take an interest in everybody else. If you want to make the people about you, young men and young women with whom you associate, better and brighter, you must be the master spirit that substitutes that which is interesting and innocent for that which is, possibly, customary and not quite so innocent. It is in your power to obliterate the vulgar kissing games by offering instead interesting conversation, cheerful music, and even puzzling contests for them. Society does not approve of freedom, although it may laugh at innocent frivolity.
SOME OTHER SMALL POINTS
To the girl who wants to know, and who has asked me so many times if she must look after a man's coat and hat, I again answer by saying, "No, let him care for them himself." Neither is it necessary for her to follow him into the hall, unless, indeed, she should be seeing off a party, in which are included some girl friends. The girl in society, if she is a social success, soon learns the value of politeness as regards little affairs. She learns to ignore the using the wrong spoon or fork; I mean ignores the little mistake, and realizes that while it is desirable to fully understand all the minor points of etiquette, they do not absolutely comprise pure politeness, for this, my dear girl, must come from the heart. It is your duty, your social duty, to educate gently, and by example, the various young men who come around you, in the little ways of etiquette which they have ignored heretofore, but which have seemed so easy to you. A clever man once said that he could always tell from a young man's manners the sort of women with whom he associated, and really I think this was one of the best tributes ever paid to the influence of woman.
I do not believe in allowing men to conclude that because you know them well and like them, they can do as they please before you. I saw one man subdue a familiarity on the part of another one evening in a way that was a delight to my soul. There had been a good bit of fun and laughter, and the young man, who was rather lively, said, taking out his cigarette case and looking inquiringly at the young man who had brought him, "I don't suppose Miss Stuart would mind our smoking." Before the embarrassed hostess could do anything more than blush, the other man said, "I have known her for five years and I have never even had the impertinence to ask her." That was a friend in need. Months afterward the young man made his apology, and said that up to that time he had gone among women whom he had treated as if they were all good comrades. Again I repeat that if one wishes a friendship to last, a woman must be a man's companion and not his comrade.
HER QUESTION AND MY ANSWER
"But," says my young girl, "you talk about my being entertaining to young men, attracting them and retaining them as friends. What is their duty? And don't you think they are being considered a little too much?" Well, you see, my dear, I am not talking to young men, in the first place, and then I do not think they are being catered to too much.
Society is formed by the coming together in pleasant intercourse of women and men. Its mainspring is the family. And though our girls are not sold to the highest bidder, nor are they slaves in any sense of the word, still each one realizes that she wishes to marry, because her heart is full of love, and because it is natural to give that love to her opposite. Man, it is claimed, rules all the greater affairs of life, but it has never been claimed that he ever attempted to take away from woman her social prerogative, and this means a deal more than just deciding how to amuse one's self and how not to be bored, for it means building up a wall against wrong and showing the beauty and the sweetness of right.
My dear girl, you can do that. Society is good or bad as women make it, and about you, although you may spend your day behind the desk or be busied in household matters, you can collect the best of society and get the greatest amount of happiness out of it. Have a little confidence in yourself; don't be afraid to think out problems for yourself, and when you have worked them out in your mind don't be afraid to put them in practice, but always with courtesy. Society cannot exist without politeness, and politeness means consideration. The American girl has shown, all the world over, her adaptability. Now let her make the best society wherever she may be. She can do it, for she does not lack brains, she does not lack consideration, but just at times she does not see the value of conventionality. I want her to think over how it protects her; I want her to be the girl in society, popular and pleasant, whose greatest charm is that while she is courteous to everybody, she is always sincere and doesn't make blunders. That is the art of social life.