'Do two human beings, especially of the opposite sex, ever fully understand one another? Have any two ever done so, since the world began? History and personal observation alike answer in the negative, I fear; for, alas! the finest and liveliest imagination stops short of complete comprehension of the thoughts, aims, predilections of even the nearest and best loved. In truth, is not each one of us after all under sentence of something very like perpetual solitary confinement in the prison-house of our own individuality?'
One of the many pranks love plays us is that, when women love, one of their chief joys is to pour out their whole souls - past, present, and to come - thinking that, because the man enjoys it and shows sympathy, he understands; but he does not a bit, and quickly forgets all she has told him. One reason why the early months of marriage are so often the least happy is that the two individuals expect each to understand the other. Mr. Lecky somewhere puts it that the art of a politician in a great measure is that of skilful compromise, and that someone whose name I forget 'was ever ready with the offer of a golden bridge or via media in order to reconcile effectually differences of opinion.' Does not this wisdom equally extend to married, and indeed to all family life? If one of the two is always offering this golden bridge, I do not see how things can go very far wrong. I have known many married people of all ages - some older, some contemporary, and some younger - and my astonishment is that on the whole so few marriages have been real failures. What gives the impression of failure to the young is that they often judge of the happiness or unhappiness of married life from the generation of their parents. When people have been married for eighteen or twenty years the conditions of their lives are entirely different from what they were in earlier years. Even if mutual devotion is still there, the display of it is subdued, and children instinctively assume that neither their parents nor their parents' friends were ever in love with each other. Also it is true that this middle life is frequently the most trying time in the marriage tie. Early love is over, time has developed the differences of the two individuals, and they have not yet attained to the more reasonable calm that often supervenes in later years. And yet this half-way time is just what is presented to the critical eyes of the young as they are growing up.
There is a love which never tries to call itself by any other name, and which in time may grow into a very real and noble friendship. This is perhaps the most perfect development of happiness in marriage that can occur, but no doubt it is rare.
Mr. Michael Field in a little poem of great delicacy shows how Cupid may sometimes heal the wound he has himself inflicted:
Ah, Eros does not always smite
With cruel, shining dart, Whose bitter point with sudden might
Rends the unhappy heart - Not thus for ever purple-stained
And sore with steely touch, Else were its living fountain drained
Too oft and overmuch. O'er it sometimes the boy will deign
Sweep the shaft's feathered end: And friendship rises, without pain,
Where the white plumes descend.
Mrs. Holland in her charming letters remarks on a saying of Mr. George Meredith's in 'The Egoist': 'The scene in which, while his mother's death is imminent, he pictures his own, and wants to make Clara swear, is extraordinarily good, and that word of hers - "I can only be of value to you, Willoughby, by being myself" - contains, to my mind, the very gospel of marriage. So many marriages are more or less spoilt by the man wanting the woman to be his echo - not his friend.' Perfect friendship between men and women can only come, I think, after love - not before it.
Jowett felt the extreme difficulty of friendship between men and women, and said: 'Hegel was right in condemning the union of souls without bodies. Such schemes of imaginary pleasure are wholly unsatisfactory. The characters of human beings are not elevated enough for them. The religious ideal, the philosophical ideal, is far better than the ideal of female friendship. If any pleasure is to be gained from this, it must be strictly regulated - never allowed to pass into love or excitement - of a noble, manly sort, with something of protecting care in it.'
Jowett also speaks of the sadder side of friendships, which we have all experienced. Though friendship is often represented as love eternal, it is not so at all, and needs as much, if not more maintaining than love of another kind.
He says: 'I do not know whether friendships wear out, like clothes - not if they are kept in repair, and are not too violent. Then they last, and are a great comfort in this weary world.'
As I am known to be a strong advocate of marriage, girls often say to me: 'Do you mean that we are to marry somebody who wants to marry us, whether we really like them or not?' To this there seems to me only one answer: 'If you are perfectly certain that you like one man better than anybody else, you must get over that before you can marry another. While this strong feeling lasts, and to my belief it will last only so long as, at the back of everything, there is some hope, I would advise you not to marry anyone else - in fact, under the circumstances, to think of it would be revolting.' Of course this is the same for men and women. When this feeling has died down to a memory, almost the most real and yet the most unreal fact in one's whole life, then I think a girl should try and make her future by keeping herself for the best type of man who may wish to marry her, not expecting to be ever again - at any rate, in her youth - blindly in love.
A common saying, and one upon which I have seen many people hang their lives, is Tout Viet à qui sait attendre. This is the version current in England. The correct French proverb is Tout vient à point à qui sait attendre, which, however, does not alter the sense. I have always considered it one of the most untrue sayings with an appearance of wisdom that there is. The only thing that surely comes to those who wait in this manner is death. Stating this opinion of mine the other day, someone else maintained that they took it in another sense, and that the crux of its meaning lay not in the word attendre, but in the word sait ('Everything comes to those who know how to wait'). Skill in waiting, how to utilise to a given end all events that occur - such waiting brings about the coming of desired things. This was perhaps the original meaning of the saying; it is certainly not the accepted popular interpretation of to-day.