We cannot trust ourselves to make a real love-knot unless money or custom forces us to “bear and forbear.” There is always the lurking fear that we shall not be able to keep faith unless we swear upon the Book. This is, of course, not true of young lovers. Every first love is born free of tradition; indeed, not only is first love innocent and valiant, but it sweeps aside all the wise laws it has been taught, and burns away experience in its own light. The revelation is so extraordinary, so unlike anything told by the poets, so absorbing, that it is impossible to believe that the feeling can die out. Sometimes one feels a great pity for the lovers in England, because young English girls are very apt to mistake a feeling of gratified vanity and the emotion of a new sensation for love of some special man who happens to make love to them at the propitious moment. Many faithful women go through life enduring the love of a man whom they care for very moderately, who, on his side, congratulates himself on having found a virtuous wife. It is lucky for these people that probably the wife, in her limited circle of acquaintances, will never meet the man who ought to have been her mate.
I have often talked to the apparently contented mother of a family, when some little word reveals to me that it is possible to be the mother of a man’s children merely by putting up with his caresses while one thinks about some other subject. Is it any wonder that the race becomes more and more anaemic and bored with existence as generation follows generation?
Other wives have loved their husbands with passion, and perhaps for two years their devotion has steadily increased, but the husband meanwhile has known many ecstasies and wearinesses. His love is like the waves, which follow each other as periods of dullness follow moments of rapture. Hers has been like the tide, increasing in devotion and tenderness; but the tide turns at last, and the dancing of the waves can do very little to stay its ebbing. I think men are justified who say that women either love too much for their taste or not at all.
Some women say they could love their husbands better if they did not see so much of the unromantic side of their lives. The holes in a man’s socks are not the most endearing remembrances in the world.
The only permanent relations are founded on mutual contempt. Brothers and sisters have no illusions about each other, and if they feel any affection at all it is a steadfast one. Alas! the close knowledge of weaknesses very seldom permits the affection to show through the contempt. Married lovers have to pass from the state of love, which is so apt to be a state of delusion, to the state of clear-sighted affection. The ordeal is one which very few survive.
Another tragedy of love is jealousy. A man or woman is very often jealous of the partner’s brothers and sisters, or other relations. Those who love wish to be all in all to each other, those who quarrel dislike to have others taking sides in their quarrels. This fundamental jealousy of relations is ever apt to break into a flame, besides jealousy of the more usual kind.
Mr. Harold Gorst has written a book on The Philosophy of Love, in which he points out that it is unwise of a bridegroom to take instant possession of his bride. He maintains that the usual programme, in which a wife shows all her modesty and a husband all his love on the wedding-night, is an absurd waste of the honeymoon, which ought to be spent in a gradual approach to the supreme surrender. Again, wives are too apt to give up the charming resistances which are necessary to the satisfaction of a man’s emotional nature. Mr. Gorst cannot imagine that a husband would tire of his wife if she kept her right over her own body with a firm hand, and required wooing every time she yielded to the wedding of her husband. So much for the man of the world’s point of view.
The marriage tie is a way of keeping people together while they undergo the various disillusions and jealousies that are inevitable, unless one of them is prepared to give way in everything. Is there any better way? In most cases, no.
The marriage tie will always exist, because it is the natural impulse of the majority of young people to wish to love each other alone, and to remain with each other for ever. The honeymoon having elapsed, they very likely find they are about to become parents, and they spend the intervening months in making happy preparations. Then the baby is born, and has to be brought up until it is old enough to go to school. If there are three children, they have to be looked after for about fourteen years. The wife is now thirty-four, and the husband thirty-eight. The children are placed in various schools away from home. Is there any alternative to the rather boring life that has to be lived out until death parts the parents? None. They are not rich enough to travel and amuse themselves, so the wife goes on housekeeping and calling on neighbours, and changing her servants, and the husband goes to the City, plays golf, and reads trashy novels. The marriage tie must always persist while these people exist.
But what are the six million bachelors and the seven million spinsters to do? Some of them are very young; thousands of them do not wish to marry, their sexual nature is hardly developed more than a child’s; others are invalids, openly or secretly; and a good number are leading illegally arranged lives because the present marriage laws do not suit their constitutions. Among the grownup population about half the number are married, and the other half unmarried. Many of these marriages are unhappy, and it is to be presumed that at least six million of each sex do not wish to marry enough to overcome the terrors of saying what they want for ever, and getting it.
Now, having regard to the natural variations of love, I must suggest that the stigma might be removed from those who are not capable of lifelong fidelity. There seems good proof that a few millions of men and women are bringing misery upon the rest because they are treated as unworthy of social consideration. Medical men are saying that the disease which is undermining the health of the nation is dangerous only because it is shameful. It could be easily cured in its early stages if it could be treated openly and without ruining the reputation of those whom it attacks. Even when health is retained, reputations are lost and careers are ruined in order to prop up the tottering institution of marriage by making it the only refuge for the respectable.
But until it is acknowledged that it is not respectable to live together when the temperaments are incompatible, there will be no real virtue in the married state. Never to want the same thing at the same time is a more far-reaching cause of emotional degradation than one violent outbreak of temper under extreme provocation. It is more degrading to the finer feelings than a temporary alienation of marital love. One would imagine that the men who refuse to alter the divorce laws really do believe in the sacrament of the marriage ceremony, instead of in the sacrament of the true love, which abides when there is a real compatibility of temperament.