Published Date

November 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 30: Can War Marriages Be Made to Work? (1944)

“Refrain from hasty marriages contracted in patriotic fervor because your beau is going into the Army,” Mrs. Roosevelt advises young women. But Fannie Hurst says, “A girl wins even when she loses, as long as she gets a husband, home, and heir. . . . Marry in haste and repent at leisure? But not to marry at all is to do more than repent. It is to carry through life an aching void.”

Many unmarried men in service have to face the question, “Should a soldier wait?” There are plenty of friends ready to give advice and there is little agreement among them—unfortunately for the soldier who can’t make up his mind and is unwilling to let his girl friend make it up for him. No two cases are the same, yet most people feel confident in drawing upon their own personal experience when they offer advice as to whether a soldier should marry now or wait.

Pvt. Puzzled has started an argument between Pvt. Hasty and Pvt. Wait.

“A guy wearing a uniform who gets married is just plain nuts,” says Pvt. Wait. “What’s the use of being married when you can’t see the girl more than maybe once a year?”

“Never mind him,” says Pvt. Hasty. “You’ll be a lot happier if you’ve got somebody who writes regularly and is waiting for you to come back. I know plenty of fellows who are having a swell time—every furlough another honeymoon. Nobody has a chance to get fed up. No house to worry about-no dishes to wash. It’s all romance. Eat out, dance, get a big kick out of it, and then look forward to the next furlough.”

“Sure, it’s all right to have a steady girl,” asserts Pvt. Wait, “but what’s the use of being married to her? If she really loves you, she’ll wait without being tied down by marriage.”

To this Pvt. Hasty replies, “Listen, young fellow, don’t you believe for a moment that any girl, even if she is dumb enough to love you, is going to sit on ice waiting for you to get out of the Army. If you love the girl and she loves you, marry her quick, even if you just met her last week.”

This brings a protest from Pvt. Wait. “How does the guy know he’s in love? He doesn’t really know the girl. ‘Sure, they danced and took in a show, walked in the park, and got pretty chummy, but that doesn’t mean anything. You can get into trouble quickly, but it takes a long time to get out.”

Does Pvt. Wait have evidence to back up his doubts about hasty marriage?

If he had time to read the studies of hasty marriage he would find some interesting facts in them. The director of an organization in Los Angeles that gives advice on marriage problems made a study of 738 elopements. After five years, only 58 percent of these hasty marriages were rated as happy by close friends. The figure was about 10 percent lower than the average proportion of happy marriages.

Pvt. Hasty might, of course, suggest that perhaps parental opposition to these marriages, rather than haste, explains the difference. Two men in Chicago got 526 couples to give information about themselves. It was found that the couples whose courtship had lasted three or more years were more apt to claim that they were happily married than those who had married in haste. A psychologist in California who studied 792 couples came to the conclusion that an acquaintance before marriage of one to three years was favorable to married happiness. And in other studies it has been found that each of the following circumstances seems to have a connection with happiness in marriage: (1) acquaintance made in other ways than by “pickup”; (2) marriage in a church; and (3) marriage by priest, minister, or rabbi. So Pvt. Wait’s disapproval of hasty marriages is backed by at least some evidence in favor of deliberate consideration and conventional ceremonies.

But Pvt. Hasty is not through yet. He still has a word for Pvt. Puzzled. “Look here,” he says, “you’re just an average guy. We’re not talking about the fellow who runs for a marriage license just because he’s got a few drinks under his belt. You know it’s kind of hard for everybody to stick out this war. Listen, Wait, if Puzzled here gets married, he’s got something real to fight for. His morale goes up. And the girl is going to feel that she’s got a stake in the war, too. If a couple do their bit to get the thing over with, it brings them closer to each other. The Army and the home front are going to pull together when there is a connection on account of war marriages.”

Pvt. Wait breaks in, “Where do you get this stuff about morale and pulling together in the war effort? It’s just tough to be married and yet not really married. You expect a lot from marriage—living together, a home, kids, and that sort of thing. Maybe a wife doesn’t want to hand over a good husband like Puzzled here to the Army or Navy. There are Army wives who do plenty of squawking about what they have to give up for the war. A lot of wives trail along, crowd the trains, live in suitcases, and wait on table when they should settle down where they’re needed and work in a war plant. Married men are always bucking for special leaves. I say it should be one thing at a time. War and marriage just don’t mix. Get the war over with, then get married, and do it right.”

“But,” asserts Pvt. Hasty, “you’ve got to admit that marriage even in war makes a fellow settle down a bit. Army life doesn’t turn out a batch of G. I. angels, but if a fellow has been brought up to have strict standards and wants to keep on that way, marriage helps.”

Pvt. Wait interrupts, “You don’t know what it’s all about yet. Times have changed. With everybody on the move, marriage doesn’t mean much for a lot of people and doesn’t cramp their style. If a couple do take marriage pretty seriously and then step out on each other, it makes a worse mess when they get caught. Instead of having a good fight they probably get divorced.”

“But marriage has got to continue,” says Pvt. Hasty. “A country needs manpower. The Germans and the Japs are trying to boost their marriage and birth rates. Pvt. Puzzled and a lot of others have got to get married if we’re to hold our own. With early marriage you can have more children, you can spread them out, and you can enjoy them before you get too old.”

“That’s not fair to children,” says Pvt. Wait. “We’re not fighting this war to breed cannon fodder. A kid has a right to a home and a father, not just a trailer camp and a worried mother.”

Pvt. Hasty protests, “You’re looking at just one side of it and you’re trying to keep Puzzled from seeing anything but your cock-eyed views. Waiting for the one and only, even if you’re engaged, is no picnic. Suppose the fellow and girl do stick it out and stay pretty true to each other. Perhaps they get together at last and find that both parties have changed. None of us are coming back from this war exactly the same kind of fellows. Maybe they won’t want to get married then after all. Or maybe one of them does want the marriage but gets left flat, several years older, and with a lot of good chances passed up. Perhaps they keep a promise and get married after the war in spite of a lot of doubts. If you don’t marry when you feel like it, maybe you will end up with a lot of trouble.”

Some evidence from the last war supports Pvt. Hasty. A study of divorce rates after World War I was made by a man named Hall. It showed an unusually large number of divorces for marriages contracted during the postwar years 1919 and 1920. There seems to be little evidence that the policy of waiting was a guaranty of wisdom and good judgment at the time when the marriages finally took place. Pvt. Wait might, of course, say that perhaps many of these divorces resulted from marriages based on hasty postwar courtships rather than from marriages that were postponed until after the war.

But Pvt. Wait has a more direct rebuttal, “It is plain nonsense to try to keep from growing apart by getting married. It’s a lot worse to come back and find yourself a stranger to your wife than to just a girl friend. Sure, both can make mistakes and people can change and they can waste some good years. Being married doesn’t help, though. It’s all the harder to get free and then have to start looking for the right person.”

“But being married does make a difference,” says Pvt. Hasty. “There is a better chance to change together when you think of yourself as married. You try harder to be together, to keep the letters moving. Being married, there is more at stake and you really try to understand the other person’s point of view.”

Pvt. Wait again objects, “Sure, you try to make believe it’s a nice normal marriage and you get into a jam about money. You think a soldier’s allowance will support a baby when it really won’t. You spend a lot of money together while on leave and start buying things just to make believe that you’ve got a home. A lot more is expected, of you than if you were just engaged.”

Pvt. Hasty replies, “That’s a good idea, but it’s put wrong. You spend a lot less money getting married in wartime than if you waited for peace. You don’t expect as much. You get used to starting in a small way, and people don’t expect you to put on dog and to have what everybody else has. Anyway, this money business is overrated. It’s the way people feel about each other that really counts.”

Here Pvt. Hasty could find experts who would agree with him. The Chicago psychologists, Burgess and Cottrell, and the California psychologist, Terman, agreed that among the many married couples they studied, money troubles played a surprisingly small part in producing marital unhappiness.

So Pvt. Wait winds up the argument, “Look here, Hasty, I can’t spend all day explaining things to you. Maybe it depends on the kind of guy that Puzzled is and the kind of girl who gave him the picture that he carries around.”

Next session: Must Love Be Blind?