My favorite children’s book series is the Betsy-Tacy-Tib series by Maud Hart Lovelace. When I was a little girl, I thought there were five books, taking the three best friends up to the age of 12. As an adult, I discovered that there were six more books and two spin-offs, taking the trio through high school, which they graduated in 1910, and into marriage, ending at the dawn of The Great War, which we know of as World War I. In the 8 later books, we get a great look at dating and boy-girl mores of the turn of the last century. The contrast between then and now is pretty extreme.
Girls who held hands were called “spoony” and looked down on with scorn by girls who didn’t. You didn’t kiss a boy. You only let one kiss you if you were serious about him, preferably engaged, or it was on the cheek under mistletoe at Christmas. The only boy-girl touching was during dances, which then consisted of ballroom dances like the waltz, the hesitation, the fox-trot, the schottische. You got to know someone and fell in love with them without the distraction of sex. Thoughtful girls would ponder things like congeniality, whether she was right for him, whether he was right for her, whether they shared values, ideals, interests.
These days that probably seems hopelessly inhibited. But think about that for a moment. How many times has good sex convinced you that you were in love, when you weren’t? And when the other person was only in it for the sex? How many times have you broken your heart over someone who frankly wasn’t worth the trouble, just because the sex was good? People marry on a whim so many times, over chemistry, and find out after they marry that they have absolutely nothing to base a relationship on. I frequently think that if it was harder to get married, there wouldn’t be so many divorces. Of course these days you have people who just live together, with person after person, dumping and getting dumped. Men who don’t even live with a woman but have 5 or 6 children with 5 or 6 different baby mamas, each one of whom was convinced at the time that he was really in love with her (not those skanky bitches). Women who have five or six children by five or six different men. Birth control, ladies? I mean really, it’s very easy to get these days. Having the guy’s baby doesn’t mean you keep him. Wake up.
I know that back in the 19-teens there were unwed mothers, and people who married and had bad marriages, and men and women who cheated on their spouses. Human nature doesn’t change. The culture then caused more people to think carefully and know someone well before you married them, and to not be casual with your physicality. I can’t help but think that was a better way than today’s culture of sleeping with anyone who’s handy. I’ve probably watched too much Jerry Springer, but over and over I’ve heard someone reply to “Why did you cheat?” with “He/she was there, you weren’t.” Like it means nothing, just scratching an itch. Relationships are tissues, used and thrown away.
Now I love romance novels, and I honestly think women are smart enough to realize they’re fantasy. They’ve gone from consistently virgin heroines to heroines who’ve had a lover or two, but when they have sex with the hero it’s Like It Never Was Before. This, repeated often enough, could lead to women thinking that great sex equals true love, and it doesn’t. I’ve been around the block a few times, and I will say that sex when you’re in love with the man is light-years beyond even the most skilled one night stand. But that doesn’t mean he loves you back. I was head over heels for this guy, convinced I’d found The One. He used me for two years and threw me back when he found someone better, who he married six months after he met her. I had my heart run through a meat grinder over that one. That’s when I learned “I’ll never get married” means “I’ll never marry you.”
Some years later I met a man who couldn’t marry me fast enough, someone who loved me before I loved him, someone who did start off as just good sex but turned out to be The One. Is he the best lover I ever had? No, but he’s a close second. Did the earth move the first time he touched my hand? Don’t make me laugh. Reality is never like a romance novel. Sexual mores are never going to go back to the days of corsets and no kissing until you’re engaged. Women today have more choices, and with more choices comes more chances to fool yourself and make big mistakes. I think we could learn a lot from those old books about how to choose a mate based on something other than good sex, something that lasts a lot longer.