Question Of Friends
( Originally Published 1918 )
IT is the natural impulse for two young people who feel that in each other they have found the whole universe, to be so satisfied with their new relationship of marriage that they both quite thoroughly neglect everybody else. Their relatives, of course, will probably refuse to be neglected. With the confidence which comes from the familiar life of the family, they will seek out bride and groom upon occasion and drag them forth to enjoy some of the family gatherings. Their friends, however, not feeling the same assurance, will probably keep away until they receive an indication that their love and friendship are still of value.
However happy the two may be in each other's society, the time will come when they must face the question as to what is to be their attitude toward each other's friends. In fact, they must even consider what is to be their own attitude in the future toward their own friends.
For example, the young wife has had men friends, as well as women friends. What, now, is to be her attitude toward them in the light of her new state. Is it necessary for her absolutely to cut herself off from any further friendly association with them, or is it possible for her to continue to look upon them as her friends without putting them or herself in a dangerous and undesired situation?
The answer to that question will depend in very large degree upon just what has been the relationship existing between her and her men friends. If their association has been on a more or less sentimental or flirtatious basis, it could not be considered wise for them to continue it in any save the most formal manner. They will meet socially, of course, and enjoy a few minutes' conversation together, or a dance upon occasion; but it would be best for all concerned if they no longer indulged in tete-a-tetes which might lead to foolishness on their part, or misunderstanding on the part of others.
If, however, their friendship has always been on the basis of frank comradeship, there is in all probability no reason why this might not be continued within limits. If the husband finds that these comrades of his wife are congenial to him, the question is practically solved. Admitted to his friendship, they belong to the intimate circle of the family life. If, however, any of them should prove to be distasteful to the husband, then, although their relationship to the wife may be absolutely correct, it would be the part of wisdom for her to deny herself the pleasure of seeing them upon occasions which might seem to her husband to come with too great frequency. This need not interfere with true friendliness, but simply will be a means of avoiding unnecessary friction with the one whose peace of mind means most to her.
It would be well, also, for the wife to ask her-self what is to be her relation to her girl friends. This may seem to her at first a strange question, but it is nevertheless a very practical one.
In the days of her carefree girlhood they were all chums together, sharing each other's most intimate experiences in the heartfelt, outspoken way of girlhood. Her impulse now is to continue the old relationship, to impart to them—in strictest confidence, of course,—the intimate happenings of her daily life, which is of such paramount importance in her own eyes. Innocent as this pleasure may be in the beginning, it is, nevertheless, a dangerous pastime. There will come a time when little jarring notes will creep into the domestic harmony. At first these impress her as very ludicrous, and she tells them to her dearest friends as the latest joke. Little by little, however, a rasping vibration may creep in. She begins to find these little tests of her good humor rather taxing, and, all unconsciously to herself, she passes this impression on to her confidantes. They, of course, are quick to note the change in her feelings, and begin, tentatively, it may be, to pity her just a little. She accepts their pity as a soothing ointment upon her rasped nerves. By and by she begins to think of herself as a martyr upon the altar of wifely devotion and self-sacrifice. Before she knows it, she begins to recount to her husband her deeds of devotion, stinging him probably, into some unfeeling retort that drives them still further apart. Thus, before she is aware of it, the young wife finds herself in the midst of a real domestic hurricane. In all probability, the greater part of this difficulty might have been avoided if she had not been imparting to her bosom friends the insignificant details of her daily life. In the mere telling, they have gained an importance that was not originally theirs.
It is for this reason that brides will find it very wise, while not changing at all the warmth of their affection, to maintain a certain amount of reserve in their association with even their most intimate friends.
It hardly seems necessary to point out to any young woman the extreme indiscretion of making a confidant of one of the young men whom she may have known more or less intimately be-fore her marriage. That would, indeed, be the height of disloyalty to her husband, and would probably be so regarded by the young man him-self.
Equally important is it for the young woman to consider what is to be her attitude toward her husband's friends.
In the first place, he doubtless has had many friends among the girls. What is to be her attitude toward his woman friends? Her first impulse, doubtless, will be to feel just a little jealous of them, not so much because she is afraid that they may take his regard away from her, but because they had a share in those early years before she knew him very well. She is even inclined to feel a little jealous of his mother, because of her intimate association with him during his infancy and childhood. She will smile at herself for the absurdity of her feelings as regards his mother, and she can well afford to do the same as regards his friends. The fact that, after knowing them, he chose her, proves her supremacy and should convince her that there is, therefore, no real cause for this absurd sense of injury. The probability is that she will bind him much more closely to her by taking an attitude of generosity toward his relation with other women than she could possibly do by any attempt to restrict his friendliness with them. His admiration for her will increase if he sees she has implicit confidence in him, and an unusual generosity toward those of her own sex.
This is acting on the assumption, of course, that his association with other women is purely on the basis of comradeship, and absolutely free from all sentimentality or leaning toward flirtation. Should this not be the case, however, she would then be justified in having a straightforward talk with him, pointing out how unfair it is both to her and to the other woman to keep up this sort of playing at love. She has a right to ask him to put aside all such imitations of love now that he has experienced the full intensity of. the real and lasting emotion. He owes it to his wife to show the whole world that she reigns supreme in his hear, and never, by any least act or word or look, to raise any doubt in her mind on this point, or in the mind of anyone else.
Then there are his men friends to be considered, his pals of former days. She may even have a little jealousy of his continued association with these chums of his. She feels, it may be, that every moment of his spare time belongs to her, and so she thinks she has a real grievance if he ventures to spend an occasional evening away from home with the boys. If these evenings come with too great frequency, and if they mean the indulgence in intoxicating liquors, or questionable forms of amusement, she is justified in her opposition to them on the basis of his own welfare. If, however, they come only semi-occasionally, and mean simply an evening of clean, manly sport, she should not deny her husband this opportunity to associate with those of his own sex.
Men need the sort of stimulus that comes from associating with other men. A loyal husband will not like to admit it, but life becomes more or less grey and monotonous if he never gets a change to bask in the stimulating atmosphere of masculine controversy. Men have a way of telling the brutal truth to each other which is most beneficial to all concerned, and it may be the wife will do well to let the husband get a little of his desire for this kind of mental relaxation out of his system in company with his fellows, who will understand him, instead of forcing him to make use of her in a way which may prove to be most upsetting to her nerves. Here, again, generosity on her part will bring its own reward, for an evening spent away from her side will doubtless bring him back with open expressions of the pleasure he finds in being able to spend most of his evenings in her society.
This same principle will apply to the question of vacations. The two who have started out in life together are apt, in the first year or two, to feel that it is impossible to live apart, even for two weeks. Yet, even in this period, it might not be amiss for them to endure a two weeks' separation, knowing that its only possible effect will be to make them rejoice more intensely in coming together again.
Many husbands and wives, take it for granted that their vacations must be spent together and maintain the practice throughout a lifetime. In this I am inclined to believe they are making a great mistake. One of the great dangers in married life is that the two, who have been drawn together by their unlikeness, shall in time be driven apart because they have absorbed so much of each other that they no longer seem mutually attractive. This being the case, the vacation period offers an opportunity for a temporary separation which will renew the freshness of their relation and contribute to its permanency.
Moreover, the thing which the husband most enjoys may not be that which will give the wife the most pleasure. He may prefer the joys of mountain climbing, with the opportunity it affords for hunting and fishing, while she longs for the sea-shore, with the bathing and aquatic sports. How foolish, therefore, for one or the other to be compelled to sacrifice his or her own natural inclinations for the fetish of spending their vacation period together ! Let each seek out that which will give each the greatest amount of pleasure, knowing that in this way only will they derive the greatest amount of benefit from this period of rebuilding.
Of course, it is riot intended to suggest that the wife should go away and leave her husband alone for the three months of the summer, unless it is an absolute necessity. If they live in a big city, and little ones have come into their lives whose welfare must be of paramount importance, this may become a necessary course of action. Little children need the outdoor life and activity, the closeness to nature, which only the country affords, and, for their lifelong benefit, it is most desirable that the summer time, at least, be spent by them in the country close to Mother Earth. This may call for sacrifices on the part of father and mother, but such sacrifices will bring a large return. It may not, however, be necessary for this sacrifice to be made, if the mother, during the summer, will take the time, day after day, to seek out those places where the children can play in the open.