In our study we have first learned of general and then of special physiology, so, in continuing the same study in mental and moral fields, we first learn of the general and then of our special relation to others. We cultivate body, mind and spirit because it is our duty to develop ourselves for our own interests; but it is also our duty to cultivate all our powers because of our responsibility in regard to others. This responsibility I will include in the one word, “love.”
What is love? The idea of love occupies much of the thought of old and young, and in different persons it will have very different meanings. To one it means merely pleasurable sensations aroused by either the thought of a person, or by the actual presence of that person. To another it means an opportunity to sacrifice inclination and pleasure in order to promote the happiness or welfare of a certain person.
Much that passes in the world as love is principally love of self. The man loves the woman because she satisfies his sense of beauty; her presence causes thrills and ecstasies; she contributes to his happiness and comfort. That is, he loves himself through her. The woman loves the man because he protects her, he surrounds her with luxury, his presence brings thrills and ecstasies to her. She loves herself through him. Is not this but the essence of selfishness? In another case the man loves the woman so tenderly that he cannot do enough to prove his devotion. If her welfare demands his absence, he gladly foregoes the pleasure of her society. If her comfort requires his unremitting toil, he gives his days, and even his nights, to the task of labor for her. His only anxiety is to know her wants and to supply them. He effaces himself and his wishes to serve her. He would die to secure her good. He gives, and asks nothing. Or, in the same way, the woman loves the man so that her whole thought is not what she can obtain from him, but what she can give him. True love desires only to give. Self-love strives only to secure.
Essay About Love
Emerson says, “All the world loves a lover,” and conversely we may say a true lover loves all the world. The affection kindled in the heart by one worthy individual goes out in a kindlier feeling for all the world. A poet once said that the world was brighter and all humanity dearer because he loved truly one worthy woman. He was more gentle with little children; the very beggar on the street corner seemed to be a brother in distress. Because the woman he loved had given him her heart, he wanted to give something to every one he met. This is the spirit of true love, to go out in blessings towards the beloved object, and so on towards every created thing.
I was once asked if I believed in love at first sight. How can love spring up in a minute? There may be admiration of beauty, there may be appreciation of intellectual qualities, there may be a recognition of magnetic personal attraction, but none of these is love. Love, to be worthy the name, must be a superstructure built upon a firm foundation of acquaintance with each other’s true qualities. Love is not a balloon, in which two young people may go sailing among the clouds, away from all regions of every-day life. Those who try it with that idea find the cloud-world cold and uncomfortable, and not at all the rosy, gold-tinted region it looked at a distance.
Love is rather like a building with foundations set into the earth—foundations solid, firmly laid and durable. How can people love when they do not know each other? Acquaintance first, then friendship, comradeship; then, if the sentiment grows, love. But how are young people to get really acquainted? They meet under unreal conditions. They see each other in society, in Sunday dress and with Sunday manners. They doubtless do not mean to deceive each other, but there is little to draw out the real self. There is nothing to disturb or irritate, nothing to prove the honesty, the neatness, the industry, the persistence, the business ability; nothing to disclose the true ideas in matters of serious import, of health, religion, duties of husbands and wives, the government of the home; and too often the intimacy of marriage discloses many personal peculiarities of temper, habits and manners that, if seen in time, would have prevented marriage.
The trouble does not originate with young people themselves, but with older people; but as the young people of to-day will be the older people of the future, it would be well for them to realize what the trouble is. The fact is, that in the present conditions of society the association of young people is unnatural. From earliest childhood boys and girls are taught to think of each other only in sentimental ways. The little boys and girls in school are playing at “lovering,” and their conversation is often more about beaus and sweethearts than about the plays of childhood, which alone should occupy their thoughts. You remember that little miss of ten who asked you, when you were sixteen, who was your beau. You recall her look of surprise when you replied that you had none, and her exclamation, “Have no beau! Why, how do you get along without one?” What made such a mere child imagine a beau to be an essential agent of a girl’s life? Because she had been taught by the jests and suggestions of her elders that every boy was a possible lover, and, young as she was, that thought was woven into her very life. It is pitiable to see how early the mind of the child is tainted by sentimentality, by the unwise suggestions of older friends. I remember hearing of a child of six who was talking of getting married. Some one said, “You are too little to think of getting married,” and the child replied, “Why, I have thought of it since I was two years old.” And doubtless she had, because it had been continually impressed on her mind by the conversation of parents and friends, and the direction they had given her thought in regard to her relation to everything masculine.
Parents are often very unwilling to teach their daughters the facts of sex, and yet quite willing to emphasize the consciousness of sex by intimating the possibility of flirtations, love affairs, etc. And this false, pernicious idea of the relation of men and women is too often called love. The central idea of romances is this passionate attraction of the sexes. The plot gathers in intensity around the lovers, and culminates in their marriage, after which life is presumed to move on without a jar, and silly girls and impulsive boys imagine that the sweet pain that accompanies the touch of hands or the glance of the eyes is love, and is a sufficient guarantee for the forming of a life partnership.
Let us face this question fairly. What is love? Of what is it made? Can you judge with any certainty of its lasting qualities? How can you know the true from the false?
Unfortunately we have but the one word, “love,” to designate many phases of kindly regard. The mother loves her child, the child loves the mother, yet love differs much in these two instances. The one is protecting, anxious, self-sacrificing, unstinted care, unqualified devotion; the other is sweet dependence, unquestioning acceptance, asking all and giving little. The love of brother and sister differs from that of brother for brother, or sister for sister. The love of man for woman differs from all other emotions of love. It contains elements not found in other forms. It may have the same quality of giving or accepting, of protecting or yielding, but with all this there is an added quality that is not found in any other relation of life, a quality that rises to the intensity of a passion, and which, if thwarted or distorted, may become murderous or lead to insanity.
This overwhelming, domineering sway of feeling inheres in the fact of sex. It is the expression of the whole nature, through the physical; it is the vital creative force endeavoring to reach a tangible result. Holy in its inception, it can be degraded to the vilest uses. Forming the distinctive feature of love between the sexes, it is too often imagined to be the all, and a strong physical attraction without the basic friendship, which can only come through acquaintance, is not infrequently supposed to be worthy of the name of love, and found, alas! to be the most unsubstantial of chimeras.
Love, to be worthy of the name, must rest, not on the fact of admiration for beauty, not on the physical attraction manifested in sweet electric thrills. Love should include intellectual congeniality and spiritual sympathy, as well as physical attraction. Lacking any one of these three ingredients, the interest of two people in each other should not be called love.
In order that it may be determined whether there is the true basis of love, there should be opportunity for unsentimental acquaintance. If we could free the minds of young people from the romantic idea, and allow them to associate as intelligent beings, and so form acquaintance on the basis of comradeship, we should make things safer for them.
But if the older people do not know how to secure this desirable state of affairs, the young people themselves might secure it if they understood its desirability. You, as a young woman, can have much influence in the right directions, supposing that you drop from your mind the idea of sentimental relations with young men and meet them on the ground of a friendly comradeship.
Don’t indulge in tête-à-têtes, or in lackadaisical glances of the eye. Don’t permit personal familiarities, hand pressures, or caresses. Don’t simper, and put on the airs which mean, though the girl may not understand it, an effort to arouse the admiration and the physical feeling of love. Refuse to be flattered, to be played with, to be treated as a female, but insist on being treated as a woman with intelligence, with a capacity to understand reasonable things. Manifest an interest in the movements of the world, of politics, literature, art, religion, athletics. Talk of the things that interest the young man as a citizen of the world, and not merely of those things which appeal to him as a male. Be frank, be lively, be witty, be wise, but do not be sentimental.
When a young man calls, don’t let him get the idea that you have to be secluded in a room apart from the rest of the family. You will be better able to judge of him if you see him with your brothers, if you note his manner towards your mother, if you hear him converse with your father, if you mark his conduct towards the younger children. He will talk sense, if he can, when he meets your family, while in a tête-à-tête conversation with yourself he may be able to hide his lack of wisdom under the glamour of sweet nothings and soft nonsense.
Then be yourself when he comes. Let him see you in your home life, at your domestic duties, sewing, helping mother, reading to father, caring for the little ones. Be an honest, free-hearted, companionable girl, and put sentimentality out of mind. You can have many such friends, and by and by, out of these you will probably find one whom you admire more and more as time goes on. You hear his sentiments always expressed in favor of truth and probity. You come to know something of his business principles, you see his courtesy to old and young, you learn of his home, his family, his social position, and out of this intimate knowledge there springs the attachment, blended with deep respect, which assures you that he is worthy of your heart and hand, and indeed of your whole life.
Little by little the comradeship has grown more intimate. You have not been sentimental. You have treated each other with respect, you have maintained your self-respect, you have held a tight rein over your fancies and emotions, but now you are convinced that you may allow them to have sway. You begin to acknowledge to yourself that you love.
And he, too, begins to manifest a deeper interest in you. You see this with a certain pride in the fact that he is not self-deceived He knows you, has seen you in your daily life, has sounded the depth of your intellect, knows of your religious beliefs, and in all he has found you coming up to his ideals. His eye meets yours with a new tenderness in its glance that touches you, because you know it is not an earthly fire of passion that glows therein. It is you, the real, immortal you, that he seeks; not merely the pleasures of sense through you; and feeling the response in your own heart, your glance kindles with the same divine fire, and your true selves have spoken to each other. You have gradually grown into the knowledge of love. You have not fallen in love. And yet there have been no words, and in maiden shyness you await his speech. Your womanly reserve has won his respect, and he makes no attempts to win privileges of endearments before he confesses his love, but frankly and manfully pleads his suit and wins.
Oh, my dear child, this has been no matter for jesting; it has been serious, and we who have watched this dawning love have realized that the great drama of life, so full of tragic possibilities, is being here enacted. We do not laugh, nor jest, but with the tenderest prayers we welcome you into the possibilities of God’s divinest gift of human love.