This section is from "Every Woman's Encyclopaedia". Also available from Amazon: Every Woman's Encyclopaedia.
Parents' Objections to Engagements - The Wilful, Headstrong Giri - How the Judicious Parent Compromises - Reasonable Causes for Objection - Lack of Means - Gentle Methods of Breaking Off
Parents may have many different reasons for disapproving their daughter's choice. Often these are connected with worldly considerations, such as want of means.
Frequently parents object to their daughters marrying in the least degree below their own station in society. Sometimes, though far more rarely, they disapprove of the girl marrying into a social stratum much above their own, fearing that the family of the suitor may object, and make things uncomfortable for their daughter.
Other objections are more selfish, such as the necessity for their girl to live in some far-away country, thus separating herself for life, with possibly but few intervals, from the parental home. Many fathers and mothers, too, dislike the idea of their girls marrying soldiers or sailors, but more particularly the former. A soldier's life means so many changes of residence, so many long absences when the husband is on active service, that they cannot believe their daughter will be happy in the circumstances. Reasons might be multiplied in various directions.
Parents look at the matter from an entirely different point of view from that of the girl herself. If she is very much in love, and the young man very much in earnest, the mother sometimes sympathises with the young people, while the father is the stern parent of fiction and the stage, often of real life as well. He is more likely to have forgotten the romance of his youthful days than his wife. Women retain more readily the recollection of the wooing and the wedding which meant so much to them when they were young.
What should parents do in cases where the daughter has set her heart upon some marriage distasteful to them ? With a wilful, headstrong girl it is a mistake to be peremptory and dictatorial. The father and mother often forget that their children inherit, as a rule, their own characteristics, and an obstinate father is often surprised when one of his girls evinces an obstinacy equal to his own. It is a thing he cannot forgive, and yet it is the very quality with which, if he were logical, he should have most patience. He has handed on to her this characteristic, and should, therefore, make allowances for it. He very seldom does so.
Suppose a girl of this character to have resolved upon accepting the offer of an ineligible young man, ineligible either from financial circumstances, from indifferent health, from inherited tendency to mental disease, or some other of those terrible maladies which run in some families, or merely from their own personal dislike to the young man. The girl of firm will and strong purpose will be all the more set upon accomplishing her heart's desire. Compromise is the only course advisable. Say to such a girl : "You shall never marry that man," and something rises up within her which makes her more determined, if possible, than before on having her way. But the judicious parent will resort to compromise. He will suggest that for six months no engagement shall be entered into, in order that the young couple may learn to know each other more completely, and in his own mind he reflects that much may be done in six months. The girl's own constancy may be shaken, possibly that of the suitor himself.
In a case of the kind the father imposed the condition that a period of six months should elapse without the pair seeing or writing to each other, and a further period of six months before the marriage should take place. During this time they might correspond, but meet only occasionally. This worked very well in the instance referred to. The devotion of the young man cooled off in a surprisingly rapid manner, and the girl herself became less enamoured of the idea. But there are cases in which the more a young couple see of each other, the less they desire to marry. As a rule, it would be more judicious to allow them to meet as usual. Suppose that one of the parties is afflicted with a bad temper. Quarrels are sure to ensue, and the prospect of spending one's existence in company with a tyrannical, obdurate temper is sufficiently uninviting to make the other party repent of his or her choice.
There have been cases when a girl, disappointed by the decision of her parents, has fallen into ill-health, and her state becomes so serious that the parents have been advised by her doctor to give in and allow the engagement to proceed. These cases are less frequent nowadays than they were before women found work and fresh interests in the world. They still occasionally occur, however. The parent who obstinately stands out for his own way in such circumstances must be described as callous, hard-hearted, even brutal, unless his disapprobation is owing to some circumstance which might make his daughter's life miserable were she to marry the man. Who, for instance, could hope for any happiness if married to a drunkard ?
Some fathers have said : "I would sooner see my girl in her grave than married to that man," and there are indeed cases in which her death, so far as we mortals can see, would be preferable. When one thinks of the miseries of a woman who nurses a consumptive husband through all the years of their married life, who sees her children develop, one after the other, symptoms of this disease which has for so many centuries been one of the curses of Great Britain; when one imagines her anguish as child after child fades away, at last leaving the home empty and desolate, one can but compare advantageously with such a life the peace and silence of the tomb.
But the most usual objection on the part of parents to the fulfilment of love's young dream is the lack of worldly means. In many classes of society this is carried too far. Poverty - dire poverty is an objection indeed. Love itself is vanquished when real need oppresses the married pair, when children come for whom it is impossible to provide the care and tendance, even the food that they require. But the wealthy father who insists that his daughter shall not leave his home unless her suitor can offer her one of equal luxury is foolish in his generation. The need of working hard and of denying oneself in many ways during the first years of married life is no foe to true affection. On the contrary, the necessity for " doing without," for managing", the struggle to make ends meet, little devices by which money is scraped together for some special purpose, all these things are links between the married pair, drawing them closer to each other. They make for the future memories which are recalled with loving tenderness, and the two who build up by degrees a home and a competence are never happier than when reminding each other of some little incident connected with their days of comparative poverty.
" Do you remember the day when you bought me that wardrobe, after having saved up for it for so long ? " the wife may say. And the husband may respond : ' And do you remember the day the bookcase for my study came home ? You had denied yourself a new gown and a new hat to pay for it, without saying a word to me." Such instances as these are hooks of steel wherewith to grapple hearts together.
A very wise father took his motherless daughter for a delightful tour half round the world when he found that her affections had been engaged by a worthless young man of whom he strongly disapproved. He did not tell his girl that he had any objection to the match, but, explaining that she was very young, and ought to see something of the world before she settled down, he carried her off at a few days' notice, telling the young man that they would be away for some six months.
At the end of that period the girl had so completely recovered from what must have been one of the illusionary attacks of the tender passion, that she begged her father to extend the trip to a journey round the world. "But," he said, " what about Robert ? " Whereupon the girl explained, with many blushes, that she had written on that very morning to Robert breaking off the engagement. There are many gentle ways of cure such as this. Drastic measures are rarely successful.
There are, of course, cases where the love inspired by even the most objectionable of men is so deep and true that a trip to Mars himself would be of no avail. And it is one of the wonderful things in this wonderful world that very often the purest and best of women are attracted by men of exactly opposite characteristics.