Playing At Love
( Originally Published 1906 )
I CANNOT name all false sports, but only typical ones, and stop with them ; yet there is one more amusement, widely prevalent, about which I must say a word. Of all apologies for sport, the most mischievous is, I believe, flirting, playing at love. Do you not know that there are thousands of young men and women, and even—so contagious is any evil—even little boys and girls, in every part of our nation, whose sole amusement is this playing at love ?
There is nothing good, you know, for which Satan's mint has not turned out some counterfeit. Flirting is the devil's counterfeit of love. It is the nearest that Satan ever comes to that sacred joy; but it is not the nearest that the flirter comes to Satan, for the mischief of flirtation is the mischief of a spark of fire, that grows.
Good love, like the good wine of the old proverb, needs no bush ; that is, it needs no sign of its indwelling. You cannot hide it, any more than you can hide murder. But flirtation hangs out a sign in front of an empty inn, or worse, an inn filled with seven spirits of' evil. If flirtation is your recreation, then you seek recreation, renewing, in what is essentially destructive ; and as you sport with passion, and daily with light glances, and play with edged words that may mean very much or very little, you are gradually exiling your-self forever from all the love and happiness of honest-spoken men and loyal-hearted women.
For one of the meanest, most contemptible wretches on earth is the person who makes love with no intention of marrying. Play with fire, if you will. It won't hurt you so much as to play with a warm human heart. Fool with live wires, if you want to. It is not half so dangerous as to fool with the lightning flashes of admiring eyes and the electric touch of over-friendly hands. Waltz on the crumbling edge of Niagara, if you would like to. That is infinitely safer than dancing with heedless feet beside the whirling cataract of temptation.
Marriage is holy ; courtship, therefore, should be as holy ; is as holy, when it is genuine. But this miserable pretence of courtship is all unholy and devilish.
"But suppose the other party understands the game? Suppose we are sure that he—or she—is no more in love than we are, and is simply flirting, as we are, for a little amusement ?" I hear some one ask. To which question I have two replies to make :
1. You have no way of finding out whether the other party is in earnest or not. No one ever confessed to the person with whom he or she was making love that it was all a pretence. In fact, no one would flirt at all if the deception were not so close upon reality as to be hard to distinguish from it. Some of the greatest harm I have ever known to come from flirting has come from two flirters flirting together. You can never flirt—with any one—without running a risk of inspiring the passion you are imitating. And even if both of you are merely making believe, then,
2. There are two fools, and two rogues, in-stead of one. God is love. Flirting is a graven image of God, a travesty on the most sacred thing in all the universe. You have no. more right to pretend being in love than to pretend being honest, or good, or generous, when you are not. We all agree that an in-sincere Christian does more harm to Christianity than a hundred sincere infidels. So also an insincere lover does more harm to the great cause of love than a hundred sincere haters.
There is a language of friendship, and an-other quite different language of love. There is no excuse for confounding the two. Look brightly and merrily upon each other all you please, and sharply, too, with an eye to a possible future together ; but there are looks that in God's eyes are criminal unless you have made up your mind to seek that united future. Let your hand-shakes be frank and hearty, no cold, kid-glove abominations ; but there are hand-clasps that God's hand will avenge unless the heart goes with them. Talk to each other, young men and maidens, as long and earnestly as you will, and about the most serious matters ; in no better way can you learn who will most happily join you in the great life dialogue ; but there are words—yes, even light and jesting words—that if spoken by one who has no mind to speak the solemn words of the marriage service, are simply words of terrible guilt, recorded with tears on the great Book in heaven. Do not play at love-making.
With this I must close my catalogue of mischievous sports, though there are many other false amusements, if one only had time for the discussion. To some, dress is the sole amusement, and their one recreation a new necktie or cape or hat or ribbon. Others smoke to rest themselves, and thus play at weakening of muscles, shredding of nerves, and enfeeblement of brain. Still others sport with the impossible adventures of Dick Deadeye, the Detective, or the languid sentimentalities of Susy Silly, the Blue-eyed Beauty of Bellefontaine. Others get their enlivenment by leaning against the brick side of a store, watching people go by, and wondering what every one finds to do, or by infinitesimally minute discussions of everything around the grocery stove. There are false sports as numberless as fools and dandies and the shiftless.
A false sport is any amusement that may not be just as amusing for all as for one. A false sport is any amusement that develops bad habits or qualities, or fails to develop good ones. Let us learn to choose those recreations that create.