It may be taken as a rule that women who are favorites with men are very seldom favorites with their own sex. Wherever women congregate, and other women are under discussion, men’s favorites are named with that tone of disapproval and disdain which infers something not quite proper—something undesirable in the position. If specific charges are made, the “favorite” will probably be called “an artful little flirt,” or she will be “sly” or “fast.” Matrons will wonder what the men see in her face or figure; and the young girls will deplore her manners, or rather her want of manners; or they will mercifully “hope there is nothing really wrong in her freedom and boldness, but——” and the sigh and shrug will deny the charitable hope with all the emphasis necessary for her condemnation. For if a girl is a favorite with the men of her own set, she is naturally disliked by the women, since she attracts to herself far more than her share of admiration; and the admiration of men, whether women acknowledge it or not, is the desire and delight of the feminine heart, just as the love of women is the desire and delight of the masculine heart.
In their social intercourse two kinds of women please men: the bright, pert woman, who says such things and does such things as no other woman would dare to say and do, and who is therefore very amusing; and the sympathetic woman who admires and perhaps loves them. But these two great classes have wide and indefinite varieties, and the bright little woman with her innocent audaciousness, and the graceful, swan-necked angel, with her fine feelings and her softly spoken compliments, are but types of species that have infinite peculiarities, and distinctions. The two women, sitting quietly in the same room and dressed in the same orthodox fashion, may not appear to be radically different, but as soon as conversation and dancing commence, the one, in a frankly outspoken way, says just what she thinks, and charms in the most undisguised manner, while the other must be looked for in retired corners, quiet and demure, listening with pensive adoration to her companion’s cleverness, and flirting in that insidious way which sets other women’s cheeks burning with indignation.
An absolutely womanly ideal for the purposes of flirtation or of platonic friendship—if such an emotion exists—is not supposable; for man is himself so many-sided that the woman who is perfect in one’s estimation would be uninteresting in another’s. It is, however, very certain that the women men flirt with are not the women men marry. Their social favorites, are not the matrimonial favorites, and therefore it is not a good thing for a girl’s settlement that she should get the reputation of being a “gentlemen’s favorite.” It is rather a position to be avoided, for the brightest or sweetest girl with this character will likely pass her best years in charming all without being able to fix one lover to her side for life. This is the secret of the great number of plain married women whom every one counts among his acquaintances.
The position of a favorite is no easy one. She has to cultivate many qualities which should be put to better use and bring her more satisfactory results. She must have discrimination enough to value flirting at its proper value; for if she confounds love-making with love, and takes everything au grand serieux, her reputation as a safe favorite would be seriously endangered. In her flirtations she must never permit herself to show whether she be hit or not. She must never suffer a fop to have any occasion for a boast. She must avoid every circumstance which would allow a feminine rival an opportunity for a sneer. She must be able to give and take cheerfully, to conceal every social wound and slight, and to be deaf to every disagreeable thing. In short, she must be armed at every point, and never lay down her arms, and never be off watch. It is therefore a position whose requirements, if translated into active business life, would employ the utmost resources of a fertile and energetic man.
And what are the general results of talents so varied and so industriously employed? As a usual thing, the gentlemen’s favorite dances and flirts her way from a brilliant girlhood to a fretful, neglected femme passée. She has in the meantime had the mortification of seeing the plain girls whom she despised become honored wives and mothers, and possibly leaders in that set of the social world of which she still makes one of the rank and file of spinsterhood. Her disappointments, in spite of her careful concealment of them, tell upon her physique. She sees the waning of her power, and the approaches of that winter of discontent which wasted opportunities are sure to bring.
Spurred with a sense of haste by some unhappy slight, she perhaps unadvisedly marries a man who ten years previously would not have ventured to clasp her shoe-buckle. If he happens to possess a firm will and a strong character, he will try to pull her sharply up to his mark, and there will be endless frictions and reprisals, with all their possible results. If he is some old lover, weak in purpose, fatuous and brainless in his admiration, then the foolish flirting virgin will likely become a foolish flirting wife; and a miserable complaisance will bring forth its natural outgrowth of contempt and dislike, and perhaps culminate in some flagrant social misdemeanor.
To be a favorite with men is not, then, a desirable honor for any woman. They will admire her loveliness, sun themselves in her smiles, and catch a little ephemeral pleasure and glory in her favor; but they will not marry her. And the reason, though not very evident to a thoughtless girl, is at least a very real and powerful one. It is because such a girl never touches them on their best side, and never reveals in herself that womanly nature which a man knows instinctively is the foundation of wifely value,—that nature which expresses itself in service for love’s sake, as a very necessity of its being.
On the contrary, a “favorite” leans all to one side, and that side is herself. She is overbearing and exacting in the most trivial matters of outward homage. She will be served on the bended knee, and her service is a hard and ungrateful one. And this is the truth about such homage: men may be compelled to kneel to a woman’s whims for a short time, but when they do find courage to rise to their feet they go away forever.
So that, after all, the estimate of women for those of their own sex who are favorites of a great number of men is a very just one. It is neither unfair nor untrue in its essentials, for in this world we can only judge actions by their consequences; and the consequences of a long career of general admiration do not justify honorable mention of the belle of many seasons. She can hardly escape the results of her social experience. She must of necessity become false and artificial. She cannot avoid a morbid jealousy of her own rights, and a painful jealousy of the successes of those who have passed her in the matrimonial career.
Nor can she, as these qualities strengthen, by any means conceal their presence. Every attribute of our nature has its distinctive atmosphere; it is subtle and invisible as the perfume of a plant, but it makes itself distinctly present,—even when we are careful to permit no translation of the feeling into action. Men are not analyzers or inquirers into character, as a general rule, but the bright ways and witty conversation of their favorite does not deceive them. Sooner or later they are sensitive to the restlessness, disappointment, envy, and hatred, which couches beneath the smiles and sparkle. They may put the knowledge away at the time, but when they are alone they will eventually admit and understand it all.
And the saddest part of this situation is that they are not at all astonished at what their hearts reveal to them. They know that they have expected nothing better, nothing more permanently valuable. They tell themselves frankly that in this woman’s society they never looked for imperishable virtues; she was only a pretty passe-temps—a woman suitable for life’s laughter, but not for its noblest duties and discipline.
For when good men want to marry, they seek a woman for what she is, not for what she looks. They want a gentlewoman of blameless honor, who will love her husband, and neither be reluctant to have children nor to bring them up at her knees; who will care for her house duties and her husband’s comfort and welfare as if these things were an Eleventh Commandment. And such women, fair and cultured enough to make any home happy, are not difficult to find. However peculiar and individual a man may be, there are very few in a generation who cannot convince some good woman that their peculiarities are abnormal genius, or refined moral sensitiveness, or some other great and rare excellency.
Therefore, before a girl commits herself to a course of frivolity and time-pleasing, which will fasten on her such a misnomer as a “favorite” of men, let her carefully ponder the close of such a career. For, having once obtained this reputation, she will find it very hard to rid herself of its consequences. And it is, alas, very likely that many girls enter this career thoughtlessly, and not until they are entangled in it find out that they have made a mistake with their life. Then they are wretched in the conditions they have surrounded themselves with, and yet are afraid to leave them. Their popularity is odious to them. They stretch out their hands to their wasted youth, and their future appalls them. They weep, for they think it is too late to retrieve their errors.
No! It is never too late to lift up the head and the heart! It is always the right hour to become noble and truthful and courageous once more! In short, there is yet a Divine help for those who seek it; and in that strength all may turn back and recapture their best selves. While life lasts there is no such time as “too late!” And oh, the good that fact does one!
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