Should A Girl Marry From A Sense Of Duty?
( Originally Published 1918 )
IN the days when women were looked upon as mere chattels, owned outright, first by father and later by husband, there would have been but one answer to the question which heads this chapter. A sense of duty was looked upon as practically her only reason for marrying. She was to marry the one whom her father chose, for whatever reasons seemed sufficient to him; she was not supposed to demur at his choice or to bemoan her fate.
As the idea of individual liberty has taken hold upon people's minds it has caused a change of attitude toward this question of the marriage of women. In this day and generation, no American father would think of commanding his daughter to marry the man of his choice, al-though without doubt there are instances in which fathers have besought their daughters to marry a certain man because it would be of assistance to them. Sometimes the girl sees for herself the situation in which her parent may be placed, and how her acceptance of a certain suitor may seem to promise amelioration of an unfortunate condition. So she may be tempted, out of the goodness of her heart, to sacrifice herself and her future upon the altar of duty.
There is a certain glamor about self-sacrifice which often makes it difficult for one who is contemplating such a noble course of action to see matters in their true light. It may seem heartless for one to attempt to dispel so beautiful a dream, and yet, as this is a world of hard fact, we attain our true end and aim only through facing and acknowledging the truth.
Let us consider this question for a woman first, we will say, from the standpoint of honesty. We will take it for granted that the man who has asked for the young woman's hand honestly loves her. He is seeking her happiness in his wish to marry her, and he is taking it for granted that if she says "Yes" it will mean a corresponding feeling upon her part. Suppose she accepts his proposal from a sense of duty. What does that mean? It means that she has started out upon the pathway of deception. If she does not tell him in so many words that she loves him, she at least allows him to think so, and, in the thought of what her sacrifice is going to mean to the welfare of others, she loses sight of what it may mean to him.
He is offering her all that he has—his love, his name, his home, his future and all that it contains. He is giving it whole-heartedly, trustingly, holding back nothing. What is she doing? She is giving him an acquiescence that is forced, a love that is feigned, a body without a soul. She gives him everything in name and nothing in reality, and by s odoing she will gradually stifle the very best that is in him. He gives all his soul to her and receives nothing of any value in return. She applauds herself for her noble self-sacrifice, never seeing that she is nothing but a walking lie.
And what of the children that are born of such a union? Defrauded of that happy harmony which comes from the union of two souls that are truly united in mutual love and esteem, they come into the world at odds with themselves, and with everyone about them. They may have everything in the external world which riches can afford, but they lack the very essence of life itself. There may be no quarreling and bickering in such a home, but oh! the cold heartlessness of it all.
Think of the supreme selfishness of a woman who would thus sacrifice a man's whole life for the greater eae, or comfort, or happiness, of those who belong to her! She thinks only of her own share in the transaction and never of his.
Such a marriage is an unholy mockery, and the woman who is responsible for it should hang her head in shame.
Here, if anywhere, the poet's words are ever-lastingly true :
"To thine own self be true,
The same statements apply to any young woman who contemplates marriage for financial advantages alone. In both instances, the young women are deliberately selling themselves for what they can get in return. Such a transaction should be beneath the consideration of any self-respecting woman.
Sometimes a young woman, in the early ardor of her adolescent years, may have bound herself in an engagement to a young man whom she finds later she does not truly love. With the old ideas of honor, she may think it incumbent upon her to keep her promise, no matter how her feelings may have changed. Let her consider for a moment, however, just what her actions will mean. To fulfill her promise now that her heart has changed, or has outgrown its former sentimental leanings, would be to act a falsehood. Let her not think that this fact will remain forever undisclosed. Actions speak louder than words, and, without doubt, the time of revelation will come when it is too late. Better a broken heart for a few months in one's youth, than a lifelong regret. The man himself will have cause to be grateful to her if she has the courage at this time to speak the truth, and bid him to seek elsewhere for one who can love him as he deserves to be loved.
It is no real kindness to marry a man who loves you and thinks that you honestly return his love, when your heart is already cold toward him. It is simply cheating him, giving him a poor imitation of the real thing which he proffers. No mat-ter what her motives, the woman who allows herself such a course should be branded as a cheat or a liar.
These are strong words, but when such priceless possessions as love and truth and honor are at stake, one cannot afford to be aught but out-spoken and emphatic.
There is another point which must be taken. into consideration. The wife who does not love her husband, as the years go by, and the loneliness of her true heart life weighs upon her more and more, stands in increasing danger of meeting some day an individual who may touch her slumbering emotions into life. Her condition is then indeed pitiable. At last she sees that she has sold her birthright for a mess of pottage. She understands now for the first time what this untrue relationship means. She may begin to perceive how cruelly unkind she has been to her husband through her mistaken idea of duty.
What, now, can she do? At last she perceives that she is living a lie, and yet so bound is she by life's responsibilities that she dare not break away. So long has dishonor clung to her that whichever course she chooses must seem to be tinged by it now. At last she sees that the time to have acted was when the choice lay in her hands. Had she then chosen to be true, her life might have been built upon the solid foundation of uprightness and sincerity.
For the sake of the man whom she is to marry, and the children who may be born of the union, no woman should enter the marriage state save where her own heart points out the way.