SO long as Romance exists and Lochinvar remains young manhoods ideal, love at first sight and marriage in a week is within the boundaries of possibility. But usually (and certainly more wisely) a young man is for some time attentive to a young woman before dreaming of marriage. Thus not only have her parents plenty of time to find out what manner of man he is, and either accept or take means to prevent a serious situation; but the modern young woman herself is not likely to be carried away by the personality of anyone whose character and temperament she does not pretty thoroughly understand and weigh.
In nothing does the present time more greatly differ from the close of the last century, than in the unreserved frankness of young women and men towards each other. Those who speak of the domination of sex in this day are either too young to remember, or else have not stopped to consider, that mystery played a far greater and more dangerous rôle when sex, like a womans ankle, was carefully hidden from view, and therefore far more alluring than to-day when both are commonplace matters.
In cities twenty-five years ago, a young girl had beaux who came to see her one at a time; they in formal clothes and manners, she in her company best to receive them, sat stiffly in the front parlor and made politely formal conversation. Invariably they addressed each other as Miss Smith and Mr. Jones, and they talked off the top with about the same lack of reservation as the ambassador of one country may be supposed to talk to him of another. A young man was said to be devoted to this young girl or that, but as a matter of fact each was acting a rôle, he of an admirer and she of a siren, and each was actually an utter stranger to the other.
To-day no trace of stilted artificiality remains. The tête-a-tête of a quarter of a century ago has given place to the continual presence of a group. A flock of young girls and a flock of young men form a little group of their owneverywhere they are together. In the country they visit the same houses or they live in the same neighborhood, they play golf in foursomes, and tennis in mixed doubles. In winter at balls they sit at the same table for supper, they have little dances at their own homes, where scarcely any but themselves are invited; they play bridge, they have tea together, but whatever they do, they stay in the pack. In more than one way this group habit is excellent; young women and men are friends in a degree of natural and entirely platonic intimacy undreamed of in their parents youth. Having the habit therefore of knowing her men friends well, a young girl is not going to imagine a stranger, no matter how perfect he may appear to be, anything but an ordinary human man after all. And in finding out his bad points as well as his good, she is aided and abetted, encouraged or held in check, by the members of the group to which she belongs.
Suppose, for instance, that a stranger becomes attentive to Mary; immediately her friends fix their attention upon him, watching him. Twenty-five years ago the young men would have looked upon him with jealousy, and the young women would have sought to annex him. To-day their attitude is: Is he good enough for Mary? And, eagle-eyed, protective of Mary, they watch him. If they think he is all right he becomes a member of the group. It may develop that Mary and he care nothing for each other, and he may fall in love with another member, or he may drift out of the group again or he may stay in it and Mary herself marry out of it. But if he is not liked, her friends will not be bashful about telling Mary exactly what they think, and they will find means usuallyunless their prejudice is without foundationto break up the budding friendship far better than any older person could do. If she is really in love with him and determined to marry in spite of their frankly given opinion, she at least makes her decision with her eyes open.
There are also occasions when a young woman is persuaded by her parents into making a suitable marriage; there are occasions when a young woman persists in making a marriage in opposition to her parents; but usually a young man either belongs in or joins her particular circle of intimate friends, and one day, it may be to their own surprize, though seldom to that of their intimates, they find that each is the only one in the world for the other, and they become engaged.
If a young man and his parents are very close friends it is more than likely he will already have told them of the seriousness of his intentions. Very possibly he has asked his fathers financial assistance, or at least discussed ways and means, but as soon as he and she have definitely made up their minds that they want to marry each other, it is the immediate duty of the man to go to the girls father or her guardian, and ask his consent. If her father refuses, the engagement cannot exist. The man must then try, through work or other proof of stability and seriousness, to win the fathers approval. Failing in that, the young woman is faced with dismissing him or marrying in opposition to her parents. There are, of course, unreasonable and obdurate parents, but it is needless to point out that a young woman assumes a very great risk who takes her future into her own hands and elopes. But even so, there is no excuse for the most unfilial act of alldeception. The honorable young woman who has made up her mind to marry in spite of her parents disapproval, announces to them, if she can, that on such and such a day her wedding will take place. If this is impossible, she at least refuses to give her word that she will not marry. The height of dishonor is to give her word and then break it.
Usually, however, when the young man enters the study or office of her father, the latter has a perfectly good idea of what he has come to say and, having allowed his attentions, is probably willing to accept his daughters choice; and the former after announcing that the daughter has accepted him, goes into details as to his financial standing and prospects. If the finances are not sufficiently stable, the father may tell him to wait for a certain length of time before considering himself engaged, or if they are satisfactory to him, he makes no objection to an immediate announcement. In either case, the man probably hurries to tell the young woman what her father has said, and if he has been very frequently at the house, very likely they both tell her mother and her immediate family, or, more likely still, she has told her mother first of all.
As soon as the young womans father accepts the engagement, etiquette demands that the parents of the bridegroom-elect call at once (within twenty-four hours) upon the parents of the bride-to-be. If illness or absence prevents one of them, the other must go alone. If the young man is an orphan, his uncle, aunt or other nearest relative should go in the parents place. Not even deep mourning can excuse the failure to observe this formality.
It is doubtful if he who carries a solitaire ring enclosed in a little square box and produces it from his pocket upon the instant that she says Yes, exists outside of the moving pictures! As a matter of fact, the accepted suitor usually consults his betrotheds tastewhich of course may be gratified or greatly modified, according to the length of his purseor he may, without consulting her, buy what ring he chooses. A solitaire diamond is the conventional emblem of the singleness and endurability of the one love in his life, and the stone is supposed to be pure and flawless as the bride herself, and their future togetheror sentiments equally beautiful. There is also sentiment for a sapphires depth of true blue. Pearls are supposed to mean tears; emeralds, jealousy; opals, the essence of bad luck; but the ruby stands for warmth and ardor: all of which it is needless to say is purest unfounded superstition.
In the present day, precious stones having soared far out of reach of all but the really rich, fashion rather prefers a large semi-precious one to a microscopic diamond. Fashion, however, is merely momentary and local, and the great majority will probably always consider a diamond the only ring to have.
It is not obligatory, or even customary, for the girl to give the man an engagement present, but there is no impropriety in her doing so if she wants to, and any of the following articles would be suitable: A pair of cuff links, or waist-coat buttons, or a watch chain, or a key chain, or a cigarette case. Probably because the giving of an engagement ring is his particular province, she very rarely gives him a ring or, in fact, any present at all.
Usually a few days before the formal announcementand still earlier for letters written abroad or to distant Statesboth young people write to their aunts, uncles, and cousins, and to their most intimate friends, of their engagement, asking them not to tell anyone until the determined date.
As soon as they receive the news, all the relatives of the groom-elect must call on the bride. She is not welcomed by the family until their cards, left upon her in person, assure her so. She must, of course, return all of these visits, and as soon as possible.
If his people are in the habit of entertaining, they should very soon ask her with her fiancé to lunch or to dinner, or after the engagement is publicly announced, give a dinner or tea or dance in her honor. If, on the other hand, they are very quiet people, their calling upon her is sufficient in itself to show their welcome.
In case of a recent death in either immediate family, the engagement cannot be publicly announced until the first period of mourning is past. (It is entirely dignified for a private wedding to take place at the bedside of a very ill parent, or soon after a deep bereavement. In that case there is, of course, no celebration, and the service is read in the presence of the immediate families only.)
The announcement is invariably made by the parents of the bride-elect. It is a breach of etiquette for a member of the young mans family to tell of the engagement until the formal announcement has been arranged for.
On the evening before the day of the announcement, the brides mother either sends a note, or has some one call the various daily papers by telephone, and says: I am speaking for Mrs. John Huntington Smith. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are announcing the engagement of their daughter, Mary, to Mr. James Smartlington, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Brown Smartlington, of 2000 Arcade Avenue.
If either the Huntington Smiths or the Arthur Smartlingtons are socially prominent, reporters will be sent to get further information. Photographs and details, such as entertainments to be given, or plans for the wedding, will probably be asked for. The prejudices of old-fashioned people against giving personal news to papers is rapidly being overcome and not even the most conservative any longer object to a dignified statement of facts, such as Mrs. Smiths telephone message.
On the eve of the announcement, a dinner is sometimes given by the young girls parents, and the news is told by her father, who at about salad course or dessert, proposes the health of his daughter and future son-in-law.
The host after directing that all glasses at the table be filled, rises, lifts his own glass and says: I propose we drink to the health of my daughter Mary and the young man she has decided to add permanently to our family, James Smartlington.
I want you to drink the happiness of a young pair whose future welfare is close to the hearts of all of us: Mary (holding up his glass and looking at her) and Jim! (holding it up again and looking at him). Every one except Mary and Jim rises and drinks a swallow or two (of whatever the champagne substitute may be). Every one then congratulates the young couple, and Jim is called upon for a speech!
Generally rather fussed, Jim rises and says something like: Ierwethank you all very much indeed for all your good wishes, and sits down. Or if he is an earnest rather than a shy youth, perhaps he continues: I dont have to tell you how lucky I am, the thing for me to do is to prove, if I can, that Mary has not made the mistake of her life in choosing me, and I hope that it wont be very long before we see you all at our own table with Mary at the head of it and I, where I belong, at the foot.
The prevailing custom in New York and other big cities is for the party to be given on the afternoon or evening of the day of announcement. The engagement in this case is never proclaimed to the guests as an assembled audience. The news is out and everyone is supposed to have heard it. Those who have not, can not long remain ignorant, as the groom-elect is either receiving with his fiancée or brought forward by her father and presented to every one he does not know. Everybody congratulates him and offers the bride-to-be good wishes for her happiness.
A dinner or other entertainment given to announce an engagement is by no means necessary. Quiet people very often merely write notes of announcement and say they will be at home on such an afternoon at tea time. The form and detail are exactly the same as on an habitual day at home except that the bride and groom-elect both receive as well as her mother.
The parents of the groom-elect are sure to give a dance, or a party of one kind or another to meet their daughter-to-be. If the engagement is a short one, their life becomes a veritable dashing from this house to that, and every meal they eat seems to be one given for them by some one. It is not uncommon for a bride-elect to receive a few engagement presents. (These are entirely apart from wedding presents which come later.) A small afternoon teacup and saucer used to be the typical engagement gift, but it has gone rather out of vogue, along with harlequin china in general. Engagement presents are usually personal trifles sent either by her own very intimate friends or by members of her fiancées family as especial messages of welcome to herand as such are very charming. But any general fashion that necessitates giving engagement as well as wedding presents may well be looked upon with alarm by those who have only moderately filled pocketbooks!
There is said to be still preserved somewhere in Massachusetts a whispering reed through the long hollow length of which lovers were wont to whisper messages of tenderness to each other while separated by a rooms length and the inevitable chaperonage of the fiancées entire family.
From those days to these is a far cry, but even in this era of liberty and naturalness of impulse, running the gauntlet of peoples attention and criticism is no small test of the good taste and sense of a young couple.
The hall-mark of so-called vulgar people is unrestricted display of uncontrolled emotions. No one should ever be made to feel like withdrawing in embarrassment from the over-exposed privacy of others. The shrew who publicly berates her husband is no worse than the engaged pair who snuggle in public. Every one supposes that lovers kiss each other, but people of good taste wince at being forced to play audience at love scenes which should be private. Furthermore, such cuddling gives little evidence of the deeper caringno matter how ardent the demonstration may be.
Great love is seldom flaunted in public, though it very often shows itself in pridethat is a little obvious, perhaps. There is a quality of protectiveness in a mans expression as it falls on his betrothed, as though she were so lovely a breath might break her; and in the eyes of a girl whose love is really deep, there is always evidence of that most beautiful look of championship, as though she thought: No one else can possibly know how wonderful he is!
This underlying tenderness and pride which is at the base of the attitude of each, only glints beneath the surface of perfect comradeship. Their frank approval of whatever the other may do or say is very charming; and even more so is their obvious friendliness toward all people, of wanting the whole world beautiful for all because it is so beautiful to them. That is loveas it should be! And its evidence is a very sure sign-post pointing to future happiness.
It is unnecessary to say that an engaged man shows no attention whatever to other women. It should be plain to every one, even though he need not behave like a moon-calf, that one is alone in his thoughts.
Often it so happens that engaged people are very little together, because he is away at work, or for other reasons. Rather than sit home alone, she may continue to go out in society, which is quite all right, but she must avoid being with any one man more than another and she should remain visibly within the general circle of her group. It always gives gossip a chance to see an engaged girl sitting out dances with any particular man, and slander is never far away if any evidence of ardor creeps into their regard, even if it be merely manner, and actually mean nothing at all.
Unless the engaged couple are both so young, or by temperament so irresponsible, that their parents think it best for them to wait until time is given a chance to prove the stability of their affection, no one can honestly advocate a long-delayed marriage.
Where there is no money, it is necessary to wait for better finances. But the old argument that a long engagement was wise in that the young couple were given opportunity to know each other better, has little sense to-day when all young people know each other thoroughly well.
A long engagement is trying to everyonethe man, the girl, both families, and all friends. It is an unnatural state, like that of waiting at the station for a train, and in a measure it is time wasted. The minds of the two most concerned are centered upon each other; to them life seems to consist in saying the inevitable good-by.
Her family think her absent-minded, distrait, aloof and generally useless. His family never see him. Their friends are bored to death with themnot that they are really less devoted or loyal, but her men friends withdraw, naturally refraining from breaking in. He has no time between business and going to see her to stop at his club or wherever friends of his may be. Her girl friends do see her in the daytime, but gradually they meet less and less because their interests and hers no longer focus in common. Gradually the stream of the social world goes rushing on, leaving the two who are absorbed in each other to drift forgotten in a backwater. He works harder, perhaps, than ever, and she perhaps occupies herself in making things for her trousseau or her house, or otherwise preparing for the more contented days which seem so long in coming.
Once they are married, they no longer belong in a backwater, but find themselves again sailing in midstream. It may be on a slow-moving current, it may be on a swift,but their barge sails in common with all other craft on the river of life.
Whether to announce an engagement that must be of long duration is not a matter of etiquette but of personal preference. On the general principle that frankness is always better than secretiveness, the situation is usually cleared by announcing it. On the other hand, as illustrated above, the certain knowledge of two persons absorption in each other always creates a marooned situation. When it is only supposed, but not known, that a man and girl particularly like each other, their segregation is not nearly so marked.
At some time before the wedding, it is customary for the two families to meet each other. That is, the parents of the groom dine or lunch at the house of the parents of the bride to meet the aunts, uncles and cousins. And then the parents of the bride are asked with the same purpose to the house of the groom-elect.
It is not necessary that any intimacy ensue, but it is considered fitting and proper that all the members of the families which are to be allied should be given an opportunity to know one anotherat least by sight.
The question of a chaperon differs with locality. In Philadelphia and Baltimore, custom permits any young girl to go alone with a young man approved by her family to the theater, or to be seen home from a party. In New York or Boston, Mrs. Grundy would hold up her hands and run to the neighbors at once with the gossip.
It is perhaps sufficient to say that if a man is thought worthy to be accepted by a father as his daughters husband, he should also be considered worthy of trust no matter where he finds himself alone with her. It is not good form for an engaged couple to dine together in a restaurant, but it is all right for them to lunch, or have afternoon tea; and few people would criticize their being at the opera or the theaterunless the performance at the latter was of questionable propriety. They should take a chaperon if they motor to road-houses for mealsand it goes without saying that they cannot go on a journey alone that can possibly last over night.
GIFTS WHICH MAY AND THOSE WHICH MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED
The fiancée of a young man who is saving in order to marry, would be lacking in taste as well as good sense were she to encourage or allow him extravagantly to send her flowers and other charming, but wasteful, presents. But on the other hand, if the bridegroom-elect has plenty of means, she may not only accept flowers but anything he chooses to select, except wearing apparel or a motor car or a house and furnitureanything that can be classified as maintenance.
It is perfectly suitable for her to drive his car, or ride his horse, and she may select furniture for their house, which he may buy or have built. But, if she would keep her self-respect, the car must not become hers nor must she live in the house or use its furniture until she is given his name. He may give her all the jewels he can afford, he may give her a fur scarf, but not a fur coat. The scarf is an ornament, the coat is wearing apparel. If she is very poor, she may have to be married in cheese-cloth, or even in the dress she wears usually, but her wedding dress and the clothes she wears away, must not be supplied by the groom or his family. There is one exception: if his mother, for instance, has some very wonderful family lace, or has kept her own wedding dress and has no daughter herself, and it would please her to have her sons wife wear her lace or dress, it is proper for the bride to consent. But it would be starting life on a false basis, and putting herself in a category with women of another class, to be clothed by any man, whether he is soon to be her husband or not.