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Ill-Assorted Marriages
by [?]

The people who joke and talk lightly about marriage do not seem to have the faintest rational conception of the awful nature of the subject. Awful it is; and, as serious men go through life, they become more and more impressed with the momentous results which depend on the choice made by a man or woman. A lad of nineteen lightly engages himself; he knows nothing of the gloom, the terror, the sordid horror of the fate that lies before him; and the unhappy girl is equally ignorant. In fourteen years the actual substance of that young fellow’s very body is twice completely changed; he is a man utterly different from the boy who contracted the marriage; there is not a muscle or a thought in common between the boy and the man–yet the man takes all the consequences of the boy’s act. Supposing that the pair are well matched, life goes on happily enough for them; but, alas, if the man or the woman has to wake up and face the ghastly results of a mistake, then there is a tragedy of the direst order! Let us suppose that the lad is cultured and ambitious, and that he is attracted at first by a rosy face or pretty figure only; supposing that he is thus early bound to a vulgar commonplace woman, the consequences when the woman happens to have a powerful will and an unscrupulous tongue are almost too dreadful to be pictured in words.

Let no young folk fancy that mind counts for nothing in marriage. A man must have congenial company, or he will fly to company that is uncongenial; he must have joy of some kind, or he will fall into despair. The company and the joy can best be supplied by the wife to the husband, and by the husband to the wife. If the woman is dull and trivial, then her husband soon begins to neglect her; if she is meek and submissive, the neglect does not rouse her, and there are no violent consequences; but it is awful to think of the poor creature who sits at home and dimly wonders in the depth of her simple soul what can have happened to change the man who loved her. She has no resources–she can only love; she is perhaps kindly enough–yet she is punished only because she and her lad made a blundering choice before their judgments were formed. But, if the woman is spirited and aggressive, then the lookers-on see part of a hideous game which might well frighten the bravest into celibacy. She is self-assertive, she desires–very rightly–to be first, and at the first symptom of a slight from her husband she begins the process of nagging. The man is refined, and the coarseness which he did not perceive before marriage strikes him like a venomed point now; he replies fiercely, and perhaps shows contempt; then the woman tries the effect of weeping. Unhappily the tears are more exasperating than the scolding, and the quarrel ends by the man rushing from the house. Then for the first time the pair find that they have to deal with the whole forces of society; in their rage they would gladly part and meet no more–or they think so–but inexorable society steps in and declares that the alliance is fixed until death or rascality looses it. For a little while the estrangement lasts, and then there is a reconciliation, after which all goes well for a time. But the shocking thing about the ill-assorted marriage is that the estrangements grow longer and longer and the quarrels ever more bitter. Even children do but little to reconcile the jarring claims of man and wife, for they are a sign of the lasting shackle which each of the miserable beings wants to break.

Worst of all in the whole terrible affair is the fact that it matters not who gets the mastery–both are made more wretched. If the man has an indomitable will and conquers the woman, he becomes a morose and sarcastic tyrant, who makes her tremble at his scowl, while she becomes a beaten drudge who makes up for long spells of submission by shrill outbursts of casual defiance. If the woman gains the mastery, I honestly believe that the cause of strict morality is better served; but the sight of the man’s gradual degradation is so sickening that most people prefer keeping out of the house where a henpecked individual lives. As time goes by, it matters not which wins in the odious contest: both undergo a subtle loss of self-respect. In an ordinary quarrel between men reason may possibly come in to some degree; but in a quarrel between man and wife reason is utterly excluded. The man becomes feminine, the woman grows masculine, and the effect of this change of nature is disgusting and ludicrous to an outsider, but serious in the extreme to the parties principally concerned. By degrees indifference and rage give way to sullen, secret hatred, which finds a vent usually in poisonous sarcasm.