Published Date

November 1, 1944

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

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

Even if there is no science of mate selection controlling men and women, doctors, psychologists, sociologists, social workers, statisticians, and other supposedly learned folk have been observing and studying courtship and marriage with great care. In the light of all their studies, here are some suggestions they would give Pvt. Puzzled:

1. Try to have a fairly wide range of acquaintance with the opposite sex. Many a man has married the first woman who took an interest in him, because he didn’t quite realize that there were other women in the world. The only way to judge a person is by comparison. A man’s occupation or location may limit his opportunities to meet girls. Shyness may tie his tongue. Fortunately mixed recreational groups and increased initiative on the part of girls offer a wider range of contact for those who have the good judgment to make full use of them.

2. Know the girl. The best advisers recommend knowing what’s behind the cosmetics and under the hair-do. Personalities are on parade in courtship. It is a time for putting on one’s best clothes and best manners. Often the two persons share a very limited variety of experiences.

It is important to distinguish between a person who loves and one who loves to be loved. A smile may be an invitation to join a self-founded admiration society.

Here are some questions to consider: Is the girl hopelessly tied by family bonds and loyalties? Does she like you for yourself or because you resemble in some insignificant way a father or a brother? Are you being collected as a scalp to be waved in triumph before friends?

3. The ancient warning, “Know Thyself,” is repeated with new emphasis by advisers on marriage. Are you romantic or realistic? If you lie awake at night explaining to yourself how you can do without her, you may be really involved. If you’re on the rebound, filled with loneliness, and smarting with wounded pride, maybe you should be locked up until you have sense enough to be trusted at large among the opposite sex.

What is your relative value in the marriage market? You may have marked yourself too high or you may have put yourself on the bargain counter. Are you worthy of the girl? Your best friend won’t tell you. If you want advice, ask the girl’s sharpest critic. She may tell you something worth learning.

Are you sure you don’t want the girl just to keep somebody else from getting her? Do you want her for herself or because nobody else is in the picture at the moment? Are you just tired of trying to make up your mind? Is it just that you want to get the matter settled once and for all?

4. Knowing the girl is closely tied up with the question of knowing what she wants in marriage, not just what she says she wants. There are all sorts of possibilities that do not appear on the surface. Perhaps she subconsciously wants somebody to boss around. Possibly she wants to be a mother to a man. Perhaps her idea is to reform you after marriage and shape you into the kind of person that she really wants.

There is much evidence that what a person wants in marriage is the result of childhood experience in his own family. Marriage is a continuation of family life, and most people want to carry on what they have found satisfactory in their own family, and to make good what has been unsatisfactory or lacking.

If a girl likes certain qualities in her father, she may want to have them in a husband. Woe to the man who forgets an anniversary if his wife’s father has a good memory for such things! Or she may want her husband to avoid the qualities or characteristics which she found unsatisfactory in her father. If she has chafed under strict control, she may be looking for the chance to do a little bossing on her own account. If she has felt insecure and unloved, she may have built up a tremendous appetite for affection. On the other hand, if she has come from an affectionate family, she may expect affection as a matter of course. Perhaps a girl has resented her mother’s hard lot and is eager to play a very different role in her own marriage drama. One might expect a thrifty wife to come from a poor home, but the experience of poverty may have bred dreams of fur coats.

It is probable that you can learn more about what a girl wants in her own marriage by investigating her likes and dislikes in her own family than in any other way.

5. Know what you want in marriage. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Very likely you too have been just as much influenced by family experience in childhood. If your love and approval for your mother were strong and unqualified, you may want a girl “just like the girl who married dear old Dad.” If you have been dominated, you may be ready for your turn at ruling the roost. If you have felt inferior in your family group, you may be drawn to somebody who makes you feel that you are a great big handsome wonderful fellow. If you had an adoring younger sister whose pigtails you could pull at will, you may want a wife who can accept your particular kind of joking.

Don’t bank on your ability to change the girl. Many a husband has found to his sorrow that he has as little success in reforming his wife’s personality as she in changing his.

6. Compare family backgrounds. It follows from what has been said about the wish to perpetuate family experience that two persons’ desires are involved. It is not just a question of what the girl wants or what you want, but of what you both want-of adjusting expectations that in both cases are rooted in family experience. There may be a clash of such expectations because of different religious or nationality backgrounds. The demands of an only child, though not unreasonable, may still not dovetail with those of a person reared in a large family. A happy-go-lucky family life has its virtues, but a member of a family accustomed to that kind of life may not adjust readily in marriage to a person reared in a home marked by formality and discipline.

7. Know the girl’s parents before they become your parents-in-law. This may not be easy, for they may be placed on exhibition, best foot forward. In the romantic tradition of marriage, they may not seem to count, but generally they do at least appear upon the scene. In a sense you marry them in order to get the girl. All comic-strip ideas aside, parents-in-law are important because they have claims and emotional demands to make upon their children. From what has been said it follows that your father-in-law may be the kind of person you are supposed to be. If you don’t like that kind of person or can’t be that kind of person, it may be just too bad.

Furthermore, the girl’s parents give some idea of what she now is or is going to become. By breeding and upbringing she is a product of her parents. Suppose the mother at fifty is silly and kittenish. The daughter has a girlish gaiety suitable to one who is young and pretty, but later on will she be like her mother? Suppose the mother at fifty is a bore—the daughter may have a better start than you realize, with only some twenty-five years to go. Look at the girl’s parents for a dim preview of the future. Remember that the personalities of both parents are interwoven under the girl’s skin. She may resemble them. She may exert herself to avoid resemblance. She may carry within her the strain of their disagreements and conflicts.

If it is important for the man to know the girl’s parents, it is perhaps even more important for the girl to know his parents, particularly his mother. Generally he fits in better with her parents than she does with his.

8. Think in terms of growth and change. Are you and the girl likely to grow and change together-or at different rates and in separate ways? How would the girl react to motherhood? And how would you react to the changes that age, work, and children bring to family life? Many a boy with the picture of a pin-up girl over his bunk would do well to take an occasional look at a bevy of Ziegfeld girls twenty years after their day of glory. While on the subject of change, it may be worth while to remember that twenty years from now your uniform probably won’t fit and your hair won’t need parting.

9. Courtship should be regarded as a time for getting genuinely acquainted, for testing your ability to make adjustments, and for learning about the personality traits that will be brought together in the marriage. It is a time for anticipating the basic problems of marriage and for reaching agreements on such questions as having children, the handling of family finances, church affiliation and attendance, and whether the wife should work after marriage. If courtship really serves such purposes, it will make possible some check on compatibility. Most studies seem to indicate that sexual intercourse before marriage is unfavorable to marriage success.

It is generally agreed that common interests are important and that people should try to find out before marriage the degree to which interests can be enjoyably shared. It is much harder to work together than to play together. Comradeship in work gives mote promise of happiness in marriage than comradeship in recreations which would be enjoyable even with an otherwise unsatisfactory companion.

Some advisers recommend a quarrel now and then. It is human, it helps to clear the air, and it may test a couple’s ability to adjust conflicts of interest and will. The person who will never admit that he or she is in the wrong is a poor prospect as a marriage partner. The three hardest words to pronounce in any language are, “I was wrong.”

10. Consider the experience of others. It would seem to be as important to be able to predict success or failure in marriage as it is to predict a boom in the stock market or the risks of sickness or accident. A happy marriage has greater value than wealth; and family conflict may be more devastating in its effects than tuberculosis or typhoid. The difficulty is that nobody is wise enough to understand fully the complexities of relations between men and women. The best way out, therefore, is a careful pooling of experience.

The most systematic work toward this objective has been done by Terman, who succeeded in getting hundreds of married couples to cooperate with him. He tested their personalities, explored their family backgrounds, and got husbands and wives to tell frankly how they felt about each other.

Terman’s study brought out ten qualifications which seem to offer, the soundest basis for predicting happiness in marriage. All ten, listed below in the order of their importance, can be known before marriage. On the basis of this study, other things being equal, look for a girl:

  1. Whose parents were happily married
  2. Who was happy in childhood
  3. Who got on with her mother
  4. Who experienced home discipline that was firm but not harsh
  5. Who was strongly attached to her mother
  6. Who was strongly attached to her father
  7. Who got on with her father
  8. Who had parents who were frank about sex
  9. Who was not punished often or severely in childhood
  10. Whose attitude toward sex is free from disgust or aversion

With all this in mind, take another look at your possible parents-in-law, for their happiness and adjustment may be important to you. That is the verdict of most studies of marriage.

Next session: An Overseas Situation