Love and Marriage 101
Valentine’s Day may be just another “Hallmark holiday” for you this year, or it may mark a heavy-duty turning point in a relationship. Either way, it’s usually linked to a declaration of love and marriage. How will you celebrate? How might you pop the question? It’s a lot easier now than it once was.
Valentine’s Day has been celebrated since the 1400s and became a greeting card holiday in the late 19th century. Back in the 1800s in the U.S and elsewhere, courtship was done by penning florid love letters, negotiating with family, and elaborate planning worthy of a U.N. Summit. The burden was clearly on the man – at least before the wedding. Etiquette books spoke at length about the proper way to woo and wed.
Here’s a script for men about how to court a woman from the 1857 book, Inquire Within – 3,700 Facts for the People (Garret, Dick & Fitzgerald, New York):
“Miss Wilson, since I have become acquainted with you, I have been every day more pleased with your society, and I hope you will allow me to enjoy more of it – if you are not otherwise engaged, will you permit me to visit you on Sunday evening?’
The lady will blush, no doubt – she may tremble a little, but if your proposition is acceptable to her, she may say, “I am grateful for your good opinion, and shall be happy to see you.’
Or, if her friends have not been consulted, as they usually are before matters proceed so far, she may say: “I am sensible of your kindness, sir; but I cannot consent to a private interview without consulting my family.”
The modern take: Say it with flowers. She doesn’t have to know you saved a few bucks using flower coupon codes. In fact, if she says no, it’s less money out of your pocket!
Proposing marriage is never without butterflies, but pity the poor man who had to memorize this script in 1853:
“Ah! Julia, how happy would existence prove if I always had such a companion!”
She sighs, and leans more fondly on his arm that tremblingly supports her.
“My dearest Julia, be mine forever!” This is a settler, and the answer, ever so inaudible, makes or undoes him quite.
Modern take: A stunning engagement ring will suffice. Now, as then, it doesn’t have to be a diamond. If you’re so inclined, get a better phone plan and ask on the phone. Just don’t text a proposal — that’s tacky.
Even in the twentieth century, it was unusual for a woman to take the initiative in a relationship. She had to use wit, wiles and strategy to land a man. The Woman You Want to Be (Margery Wilson, 1933) advised the Depression-era woman to immerse herself in her man and his interests:
The woman who can go with a man, even as his audience, in his strenuous athletics, who can amuse him with her small feminine inconsistencies (a man doesn’t want a woman to be consistent – they never admire consistent women, other than theoretically) who leans on him a little (not too much), who feeds him, body, soul and mind, who makes herself lovely and graceful, who is so in tune with life that she affects him like the rhythm of a waltz – this woman can wrap her man around her little finger!
The modern take: You’ll do those strenuous athletics with him. Get his-and-hers athletic wear!
And then there was the matter of protecting his feelings at all costs:
To a small man, speak of skill and brains – never let the conversation dwell on physical strength. To a clumsy man, don’t speak of dancing… The average man does not understand himself and is quite fascinated by a woman who convinces him that she does.
The modern take: Help him understand himself with the gift of online courses or language learning. Even better, learn together.
Back in the 1930s, every woman knew the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. In some ways, it still is:
Many a young man has turned to call at a house because he knows delicious sandwiches or some sweetmeat, the thought of which makes his mouth water, are sure to be found on a table in the living-room… If hospitality at home is impossible, then take your man out to the woods and feed him from a lunchbox.
Rules for Dating
Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette, first written in 1952 and revised in 1971, had definite rules for dating:
If he is a gentleman escorting a lady to dinner or a night club and the next stop is home, she must be the one to terminate the evening, although he can say, “Perhaps you’d like to go on somewhere else?” She should take the hint and say, “Oh, no, it really is late. Will you take me how now?” Under no circumstances may she say to her escort, unasked, “Let’s get out of here and go to such and such a place,” as he would, politely speaking, be required to accept her suggestion.
The modern take: Want to end the evening? Hello, Uber! Or go on to the next place in style with a budget limo ride.
On gift-giving occasions, such as Valentine’s Day, modest was best to keep the relationship on an even plane:
A too-intimate or too-expensive gift is sometimes offered by a man who just doesn’t know any better. If a girl receives such a gift she should be tactful… She should … return it to the donor with some remark such as this, “I know you didn’t realize it, but I couldn’t possibly accept such a gift from you, much as I appreciate your kindness in wanting to give it to me. A little present would be much better.
The modern take: Accept the nice present, and give one in return. An engraved gift it always correct and appreciated – even now.
Love will always be complicated but expressing it is a lot simpler today, especially when you can save yourself the agony and shop online.