( Originally Published 1892 )
What in the world is the matter with you, my fair, foolish dames? I mean you who read the title of this article, and know in your secret hearts that it applies to you.
By married flirts I do not refer to women who have committed a crime in breaking the Seventh Commandment. I speak to wives who have re tained chastity of the body, however much they have lost the chastity of mind, which must in a great measure be forfeited before they can become "Married Flirts."
A thoroughly chaste-minded woman, if single and heart-free, may enjoy the adoration of several men ; but when a woman once wholly belongs to a man and becomes his wife, if she is refined and noble by instinct, she must shrink from the idea of creating a passional emotion in the heart or blood of any other man.
And yet in city, village or country, in the highest, the middle and the lower classes, the married flirt abounds.
The married belle is quite often a distinct being from the married flirt. The married belle, who, by her wit, her charm of manner, her accomplishments and her agreeable qualities, has always a coterie of people of both sexes about her when in society, and whom all men declare "charming," is not of necessity the least bit of a flirt. I know several such women, whose husbands are proud of them, and who are proud to be worthy of such trust, and never betray it in the least degree.
The married flirt is, on the contrary, proud to make her husband jealous, or to adroitly deceive him in regard to the extent of her "flirtations." She is never satisfied with the sensible and respectable admiration of a man ; she wants to be complimented and flattered, and does not object to open lovemaking; she delights in having a man grow moody and tragic over her, and finds great entertainment in hearing him say "that she affects him differently from any other woman on earth," and "that he never knew what an influence a woman could have: over him until he had met her."
When he writes her or tells her that "he is going away because he is miserable to be near her, know ing he cannot claim her love," she is delirious with delight, and not infrequently sheds a tear or two over his absence, and remembers him fondly until she has found some one to replace him.
She is almost always a woman without strong physical emotions, as great vanity and passion seldom dwell together in one nature. She believes that each of her admirers give her an ideal sort of adoration, and that she inspires a feeling in their breasts wholly new to the masculine sex.
Such a woman has moved in prominent circles of two continents during the last few years. Handsome, rich and charming, the possessor of a kind husband and sweet children could not satisfy her cravings for adulation.
She was vain of her ability to fascinate the majority of men who came within her radius, and when her husband objected to their attentions she cried herself sick over his lack of " appreciation and sympathy," and as he was one of those men who "hated a row," he always ended in letting her do as she liked. She confided to some of her lady friends the hopeless passion which she inspired in the breasts of her lovers and sighed over their suffering.
This sort of folly has continued during several years, and no breath of scandal has ever assailed the lady's reputation.
But only a week ago I heard her name mentioned in a room full of people, and a gentleman remarked :
"I heard one of her love-letters read to a coterie of his friends by one of her admirers not long since, and it was really a beautiful composition. My friend was so proud of having inspired it, he could not refrain from sharing it with his chums."
A gentlemen is bound to respect the confidence of a single woman, however indiscreet she may he; he realizes that it may arise from ignorance of men as they are, or from lack of knowledge of the world. But they know that every woman who is a wife must fully understand the dangers and perils to which a familiar and encouraging manner towards other men exposes her.
If you have betrayed your husband's trust and pride by allowing another man to write or talk love to you, dear madam, how can you blame your admirer if he betrays,your trust?
Men enjoy getting the better of another man and nine out of every ten will, sooner or later, boast of any encouragement or favor they receive from another man's wife. Do not deceive yourself that your admirer is the tenth man who will adore you in sacred silence. Every other married flirt is making the same mistake, and the nine boasting men are showing your letters and bandying your name about town.
The admirers in whose breasts you imagine you have inspired a rare and holy flame, are in those same breasts accusing you of the most common and earthly emotions toward them. Men are material in their ideas of our sex, and they care very little about your ideal loves, however romantically they may talk to you about it; they are thinking about you in quite another way, remember that, and more than likely talking about you in the same way that they think.
Many of you who would be horrified to do a cheap or common thing, or wear a cheap or com • mon garment, will yet devote your lives to that most cheap and common of all amusements—married flirtations. You imagine you possess some especial charm and that you are a great sorceress. Why, my dear lady, it requires the smallest possible capital to be a married flirt.
Men who are not ready to marry, immature youths, or men who have not money to spend on theatres, carriages and flowers, often deny themselves the company of unmarried ladies whom they admire, because they do not want to compromise themselves or the lady to no purpose. But these men will eagerly kill time by flocking to the side of any married lady who will permit it.
All the most ordinary type of married woman needs to do is to flatter adroitly, listen well, look unutterable things and convey the impression that her heart is not quite full, and there she is, all equipped for a train of silly men, who will do their best or worst to make her forget her womanly pride, and wifely honor. And the moment they succeed they boast of their success.
Once in a century perhaps, seldom oftener, a great passion, worthy of the name of love, springs up in or swoops down upon the hearts of two people who are not free to wed each other. Such a love invariably brings misfortune, sorrow and devastation to one or both lives, and its consequences are like those of the cyclone to the harvest field.
Such a passion could not be inspired at will, and no woman capable of inspiring it would wish to do so ; for it means loss of reputation and peace of mind to its unhappy victims almost invariably.
Some of you who are surrounded by admirers look me in the eyes, and declare that you are innocent of any act which causes men to make fools of themselves.
"I don't do a thing to attract them. I make sport of them, but they will follow me about and write me notes and all that. I can't help it, can I?"
Yes, you can. No married woman on earth has lover-like admirers unless she wants them. It is the easiest and simplest thing in the world to make men understand that you do not want and will not receive those attentions, and you will very soon find these would-be lovers turned into admiring friends, who will sing the praises of your good sense.
You need to realize, too, that instead of "making fools of themselves" about you, it is always the married woman who is made the fool in the matter of flirtation, when you sift the subject to the bottom. The men who you imagine dying over your pretended coldness, are merely amusing themselves at your expense in their secret heart.
They will read this article aloud to you, perhaps, and declare that it is wholly wrong, so far as their love for you is concerned, but they will know all the time that it is true as truth.
You will urge as an excuse for your action that your husband does not appreciate you or sympathize with you; that he neglects you. Perhaps, my dear madam, he might be your devoted lover if you exercised upon him all the arts of fascination which you use toward your admirers. It might be worth your while to try.
I have seen the most peevish and tactless wife turn a beaming face towards a young man caller and compliment him on his appearance, before the echoes of an ill-natured speech to her husband had died.
But even those of you who do turn from neglectful and unkind husbands to other men for sympathy, out of pure hunger of heart, stop a moment and think of all the dangers to which such sympathy will expose you. If you are unhappily married I assure you another man's sympathy and attention can only increase your unhappiness and turn discontent into despair, and wreck all hopes of winning your husband' s heart back to you.
You certainly will not better matters, by bringing gossip on your name and his. There is no lasting pleasure to be found in married flirtations, and there is no trouble, sorrow, shame or misery which may not result from them. They are cheap, dangerous, vulgar, foolish and destructive of the best pleasures and the holiest relations of life.