Single Woman And The Married Man
( Originally Published 1892 )
However much of a flirt the average American girl may be, she confines her field of conquest to the single men.
I say the average flirt. But now and then, in country places, in lesser cities, and in the large metropolis, we come upon the exception to the rule, and find a girl who is not averse to numbering married men among her admirers, even among her victims. A good deal of study and observation of this order of girl has led me to the following conclusions regarding her:
The young women who get their names associated unpleasantly with married admirers can be divided into three classes: the spoiled girl, who is over-sentimental, conceited and gushing; the utterly selfish and vain girl; and the overripe girl.
I met one of the first type recently in the heart of the great metropolis. She was a beauty, an only child and motherless, and possessed wealth and position. She had gorged her naturally romantic mind on French novels, and she was utterly spoiled by adulation.
She loved to talk of herself, and she confessed to me that she had, at the age of twenty, grown quite base with the monotonous attentions of adoring swains, and that she found nothing so interesting now as the admiration of married men. "I suppose I like them because they are unattainable," she said quite nonchalantly; "and I confess the nearest sentiment I ever felt to love was inspired by a married man. His unhappy domestic life first drew me to him; he said he felt I had such a sympathetic nature from the very first. Poor fellow ! he is nearly crazy about me now; he fairly adores the ground I walk on."
"My dear girl, nothing is so uncertain as the impression a coquettish young woman makes on a married man," I replied. "Quite likely he is telling his wife that he pities the fool who marries you. He may flatter you and pay you compliments galore, and sigh over you just to see how much you know of human nature; but he is not respecting you, that is certain. He may feel the charm of your beauty, but he would not defend your good name if he heard it assailed; if he is sufficiently lacking in principle to lead you to receive his compromising attentions, he is lacking the honor to defend you from the tongue of gossip."
"He would defend me because he is in love with me,"she urged. "Did you never hear of an unhappily married man really feeling the love of a life. time for some one he met afterward?"
"Once in a while that occurs," I replied. "But you are scarcely the type of girl to inspire such a passion. A man would amuse himself with you, and try to lead you on, but he would not lose his head over you. Your position and wealth and beauty would flatter his masculine pride, and he would enjoy thinking he had power to lure you over convention's barriers; but he would feel a secret contempt for you all the same. You are a spoiled, sentimental girl, whose imagination has got the better of her judgment. You are wasting sympathy and jeopardizing happiness. Nothing will so effectually drive away desirable suitors from a young girl as the accepted attentions of a married man."
The most hopeless coquette is the heartless girl with an abnormal love of conquest and excitement, who finds with married men the adventure and reckless element necessary to her happiness. Such a girl is seldom morally vicious in the generally accepted use of that term ; she is superficial in her emotions, cold, vain and selfish. She likes her freedom and the opportunities of conquest and adventure it affords her. She has no idea of going wrong, but loves to play about the brink of danger. Having no deep emotions of her own to control, she tempts and arouses those of men, scarcely conscious of her evil influence; she flies laughing, mocking, and more amused than terrified out of danger's reach as soon as it menaces her. She enjoys the tragedy of the situation, and has complete control of herself. She has a cruel element in her nature, and enjoys the power to cause pain. She prides herself on being able to make wives jealous. Both she and the sentimental girl are given to boasting of their conquests, and of their ability to attract men from their wives. The former feels a romantic sorrow for the wife, but her vanity is pleased with her own success where the wife failed, while the more heartless coquette merely despises the neglected wife. Fortunately it is a shallow, weak, and selfish type of man only who is bewitched by her ; men who lack moral balance and who seek constantly for some new diversion, and who regard women as their lawful prey. These men are amused, teased and momentarily aroused by the elusive coquette, but they seldom feel a deep passion for her, as their natures are too shallow for more than a passing excitement and desire, which ends in resentment and anger when she escapes them.
People usually accuse the girl flirt of being far more depraved than she is. Her's is the depravity of mind without the corresponding depravity of body. But the public is slow to believe this. She loses her good name without having committed sin and without having inspired a great love. Her most persistent pursuers forget her quickly, or think of her without regret.
The third and most to be pitied type of girl, whose name is marred by association with a married man, is the overripe girl! She has lived to pass her twenty-fifth birthday without having loved or married. With more than ordinary mind, with a high ideal of manhood, with strong emotions and intense longing for love, she sees her girlhood's companions mated one by one, while her own dreams and hopes slip farther and farther back into the past with her first youth. Such a girl is liable to be superior to her early admirers, and as she reaches ripe womanhood she finds mental comradeship in married men only. Then comes the dangerous association with some man whose domestic life is a disappointment, and who discovers in her what he misses at home.
It may be her pastor, it may be her family physician, it may be the husband of some old schoolmate whom she visits; but as a streak of lightning sets fire to dry buildings, his glance and touch influence her ripened and craving emotions She is capable of feeling and inspiring a great passion; and, unlike either of the types already described, she attracts and is attracted by men strong in their emotions and of no mean mental endowments; men who have grown beyond their wives, and who have perhaps lived through years of brain solitude and heart hunger before they met this girl.
We speak of a young woman of twenty-five or thirty as old enough to be sensible and well behaved ; but, in fact, that is the very time of life when it is most difficult for an unanchored girl to be prudent and reasonable. From fourteen to seventeen a healthy, vigorous girl is in danger of imprudence or folly from ignorance of her emotions; from twenty-five to thirty she is in danger from her knowledge of them.
The blind and cruel judgment of Christian communities on this subject is inconsistent with the spirit of Christ, or with the scientific enlightenment of the present day in other matters.
When I hear of a girl in that period of life who has wrecked her future and lost her good name through some great act of folly, I am moved with the deepest pity and sorrow. She is like the ungathered dead-ripe fruit that bursts in the sun and falls into the dust below.
It is all very well for you, with your satisfied lives, to' sit in judgment and say : "But she should have spurned the first approach; she should have been indignant at such a thought; she should have shown womanly pride and strength." It is not so easy to call all those qualities to your aid when, with youth slipping behind, with loneliness before, with a heart breaking for sympathy, a brain on fire with feeling, and veins bursting with unused vitality, you encounter a beautiful and alluring temptation. It is so easy to believe at such a time that the world is well lost for love; that one hour of possession will be worth a lifetime of disgrace. But no more fallacious idea ever dazzled the eyes of the soul. Time has yet to show us the pair of lawless lovers who, having given up the world for love's sake, did not repent it if the world took them at their word. Love is the light from God's eyes; unless He smiles approval upon an earthly passion it never brings happiness or content.
The weak and tortured girl who thinks she cannot endure life without the companionship of a man who is not free to claim her before all the world would find she could not be happy with his companionship. One or both would regret the step which barred them from the respect of their kind, so dear to the human heart.
Love of approbation is very strong in most of us, and it is well that it is so. I believe more lives have been saved from wreck on the rocks of passion through love of approbation than through principle. It may not be the best motive for right-doing, but it gives better motives an opportunity to gain the ascendency later.
One would think the unhappily married man ought to have strength enough to protect the overripe girl against herself; that his wider knowledge of human emotions and temptations should fill him with pity for her. But it never does. Men have not been taught self-control is necessary to them in these matters. The whole tendency of the world has been toward masculine freedom and self-indul gence, and it is not to be wondered at that he is the tempter instead of the protector.
But it does seem a wonder that he invariably blames the woman when he falls. Such is the fact, however; and many a passion-blinded girl, who has believed that the world was well lost for the love of a married man, lives to hear him recriminate her for leading him astray. It is the man who first and most keenly feels the lash of public blame. Many a case has come under my observation where the husband has returned to the wife who was never able to make him happy, leaving the girl who was in every way endowed to be his companion,so powerful a factor in human happiness was public respect.
It is well for the overripe girl to recall such cases before she yields to the fascinating illusion held out to her by her emotions and her lover. Nothing else in all the range of human experience is so overpoweringly alluring as the attraction of the sexes; and when the imagination and the senses are both on fire, reason lends but little light.
But alas for those who live to sit by the ashes of the burned-out senses, among the ruins of imagination! and this is an experience certain to follow an unlicensed passion. The only hope of continued happiness in the relation of man and woman is in the strengthening and deepening of the moral and spiritual nature of both; for physical attraction alone is a plant that rarely outlives the season. How frail, then, must be the chances of happiness for the two who violate the moral laws to seize the perishing flower of desire! Only those who have been tempted by its perfume and false splendor and lived to wear the royal rose of a worthy love, or those who, having plucked it only to see its leaves wither and die, leaving the ugly thorns, can realize how frail such hopes of happiness are !