Chapter II. Before Marriage
IF the title is to be taken literally, this chapter should include something on the influence of sex from the time of earliest infancy. There is not space to deal with the subject in so wide a field, except to mention two matters.
The first is one that is more or less obvious to every parent, namely that some difference in character between boys and girls can usually be seen from a very early age. These differences become more marked as the child reaches adolescence and approaches the age which is more properly the concern of this book. Parents have a duty in dealing with the problems which arise in the matter of sex instruction at an early age, even before school age. Such instruction can rightly come from other sources also, in particular as part of the child's education at school, but this cannot take the place of the guidance which only a parent can give, A child naturally asks simple, innocent questions, for example, about the arrival of a baby brother or sister In giving a simple, unself-conscious answer, the parent is doing right in implanting knowledge in a sphere of love, and is not offending against any commandment from the Word. The Victorian convention that certain things must never be mentioned has obviously caused an immense amount of mental suffering and unhealthy curiosity, giving a twist to character which may last for life. Of course, it would be equally a mistake to go to the other extreme and give exaggerated emphasis or minute detail in answer to plain questions. A sensible child would be apt to conclude that there must be something curious about a subject if such a fuss is made about it. The common-sense way is to answer the questions as nearly as possible in the same way as questions on any other subject.
As regards the second matter, it is necessary to say something about a modern theory of psychology which may trouble some parents, and also young people who have reached the age when they are ready to think for themselves. The distinguished psychologist Freud has made many important contributions to modern thought, notably in pointing out the predominance of the will, and the part played by the "unconscious" in human life, but he has also made many assumptions in his theories which have not been confirmed by experiment. Not the least among these is the notion that the sex instinct deeply affects mankind even in earliest infancy. Undoubtedly there is some truth in this, but the notion has been expounded by popular writers on psychology and given an exaggerated importance out of all proportion to its worth. Peculiar interpretations of innocent infantile acts are made, such constructions no doubt doing very great harm in the minds of many people who do not understand the issues involved. Unfortunately this kind of journalism is eagerly devoured by many people who seem to think that psychology is the oracle of our time, the latest, and therefore the best guide we can find. They do not realise that it is only in its infancy, much less that the leading psychologists of our time disagree entirely on the causes of quite elementary processes of the mind, a fact of which the psychologists themselves are well aware; indeed, they differ violently about the nature of the mind itself. Freud's theories have already come under very searching and even damaging criticism. It is more than probable that in fifty years time many of his ideas will be classed as absurdities, just as the oracular pronouncements of some thinkers of the last century are to-day. It should be noted that the above warning is not an attempt to prove that modern psychology is worthless. It has made some very useful contributions to the sum of knowledge, particularly in testing skills and natural abilities, and no doubt it will make many more. But at present practically all its theory is open to question, and we shall be very mistaken and very foolish indeed to prefer it to revealed truth. Going back for a moment to certain behaviour of children, said to show the pre-eminence of the sex instinct, it is worth mentioning that such behaviour can be explained in other ways just as easily and perhaps more satisfactorily. These remarks provide the opportunity for referring to a state of mind which affects some young people as they are growing up. Either from natural shyness or from an environment in which such matters as birth and physical conjunction of man and woman are not mentioned, they want knowledge on such things, but feel much too shy to take the steps to get it. It is surely good advice to them to make up their minds that there is nothing whatever inherently wrong in knowing about such things. They should get themselves used to this truth, and imagine themselves in the position of a medical student or nursing probationer, who must have such knowledge professionally. It will not be difficult then to go to someone whom they can trust to give the right answers in the right way. It will be easier still simply to go to the medical book section of one of the branches of such a firm as Boots and buy a book or pamphlet on the subject. Incidentally, the assistant who takes the money will already have sold dozens of such books as a matter of course, and will not regard the purchaser as a creature with strange inhibitions! The worst possible course of action in this matter is to say and do nothing about it, but let one's curiosity revolve round and round in one's mind until it becomes almost an obsession. Common- sense enlightenment, sought with the best intentions in the attempt to educate oneself, is the answer to this problem. And when the desired knowledge has been found, one's preoccupation with the subject will tend to disappear and can best be forgotten.
There are many things which might be said about the choice of partner, which seem to be so obvious that there should be no need to put them down in print, as for example that someone who is fond of a quiet homely life is not suited to a person who is fond of a gay social environment, with plenty of money and amusement. Strangely enough, however, such choices are sometimes made most unexpectedly by people who one had every reason to think would have had more sense. While reasoned arguments in cold print are not likely to move people in that state of mind, clearly it will be as well to think the matter over even in its most obvious aspects.
What is the first thing to note as an essential in making the right choice? The answer surely is that long before the question of making a choice of one's partner arises, the right attitude should be present in one's mind. If it is, when the time for decision arrives, there will be some basis much more useful than mere infatuation or impulse to work upon. Even if the decision in some cases is a sudden one, it will really be the culmination of a long process, the fruition of something genuine and lasting. How can the right attitude be developed? The answer may be drawn from the Doctrines of the New Church so that there cannot be any mistake about it. It will grow just so far as there is the desire to make one's marriage the centre of "conjugial love," so that it becomes the "spiritual and heavenly union of two minds," choosing one's partner with that wonderful end in view. Everyone can see that this implies that each individual must make his or her own choice, for "consent makes marriage" (CL 299) and yet at the same time, such a choice should never, for example, be a wilful wrong-headed defiance of a too strict parental control, or made from any other motive of a similar kind. It is not possible to legislate for every case, but wise judgment does indicate that the people getting married should always make the final decision themselves, and yet should seek advice from those who know them well and will help them, in the vast majority of cases from their parents.
Again, it seems obvious that it is essential to get to know the other partner very well, to find out something of his or her interests, likes and dislikes, and compatibility of temperament and manners. In this also it is not possible to lay down an invariable rule, but it is a fair presumption that people with similar viewpoints in these things will co-operate better in marriage life than those who have little in common. Perhaps it will be said that these are externals only, as indeed they are, but many people who have afterwards married first found their interest in each other awakened by a liking for some congenial work or recreation in which they were able to share. The "performance of uses" can be a wonderful way of "uniting the mind" of one with the other. In this and other cases, externals may indicate something much deeper.
It is the definite teaching of the Doctrines of the New Church that one of the causes of internal cold in marriage is that one partner has religion, and the other has not. No logical argument is needed to prove this, nor to show that if one partner has one religious faith and the other another, there cannot be any sort of internal unity, though there may be a measure of external agreement. Some may feel inclined to question this nevertheless, and many have disregarded it in practice, but it must surely be the case that if there is disagreement on the most fundamental beliefs that a man or woman can hold, marriage as a spiritual institution cannot progress. It contains from the beginning an element of profound disagreement which can show itself even in outward things. There is also the teaching to be borne in mind that "internal cold" is also present when both partners reject religion.
These considerations ought to be taken into account far more than they usually are. When people fail to consider them, the results are often pathetic, especially when the religious education of children becomes a bone of contention in the family.
No true psychology of marriage could ignore these vital matters, for there is in true marriage love an order by which it ascends and descends (CL 302). As is explained clearly in the first part of this book, when two people are betrothed, the mind of the one should be united with the mind of the other, so that a marriage of the spirit is effected before that of the body.
All engaged couples who are sincere in their love for each other are able to detect one psychological result of their endeavours. As it is put so beautifully and accurately in CL 304, "Their souls disengage themselves from unlimited love of the sex and devote themselves to one, with whom they look to an enduring and eternal union, the growing blessings of which are spurs to the hope which constantly renews their minds." Nevertheless this disengaging process is not always easy, especially with the man, even when his affection for his loved one seems to be quite sincere. Each person has to fight his own battle in this matter, of course, and each person can find his own armour of truth if he wants to do so. It seems to be the case that sexual desires vary very greatly with different people, and we are not always in a position to judge others in this respect. Nevertheless, for the sincere New Churchman both the ideals and the warnings put before him in Swedenborg's work Conjugial Love cannot fail to help him. Even a reading of Swedenborg's experiences in the spiritual world sometimes helps by giving us an idea that will meet our own particular psychological difficulties. For example, he tells how he met a husband and wife from the celestial heavens, and in the course of conversation he asked the man if he could look at any other woman besides his wife, since their union was so close. The man replied that he could, but as he and his wife were united in their souls, it was as though they looked together. "When I look at the wives of others I look at them through my wife," (CL 75). An ordinary individual still living in this world, and still unmarried, cannot hope to reach such heights as that, but he can look at other women as his fiancee would, and it will certainly help him to purify his thoughts and affections and send them in the direction he would prefer them to go.
It is the teaching of the New Church that during betrothal, i.e. before marriage, it is not allowable to be united in the body. If this is done the physical is put before the spiritual and is implicitly considered to be more important. Thus the true order in marriage love is liable to be destroyed, for in this as in all things, the natural should be under the rule of the spiritual.
People who have no spiritual ideals will think that this is not very important, and those who think of happiness only as the fulfilment of bodily desires, especially in sexual sensation, will think it is rubbish, and being carried away by the self-intelligence and love of dominion which goes with evil, will try to persuade others to think the same. Their arguments are disposed of, as soon as we reflect that the desire of the body brings its own slavery with it when it gets out of control, and the minds of such people are chained and fettered so that they cannot think otherwise. They are simply not in a position to see the truth of the matter at all. It is true that their arguments are easily disposed of in this way, but we have to be careful that they do not succeed in arousing the evil affections which are in us, as in them, by heredity. We have to do what they have no intention of doing; shun such evils as sins. One form of excuse for laxity and reversal of the right order in marriage conjunction which is advocated to-day ought to be noticed. It is said that if people live together before their wedding, this "trial marriage" will show whether they are going to live happily together later on. If it is not successful then they need not proceed with the wedding. The answer to this is that such a trial marriage can never be a genuine trial at all. The essential of true marriage is that it is a permanent relationship, and the thought of permanency should be present from the beginning. When it is present all sorts of adjustments can be made without much difficulty - and often with great reward - simply because both partners assume without question that their permanent relationship as husband and wife requires it. If the relationship is only a temporary one, either or both parties may decide that the effort is not worth while, and even when things are going well, they must both have a sense of insecurity about their own and each other's feelings, for neither belongs to the other, as husband and wife do. Incidentally, this is one reason why the loosening of marriage ties in any society is difficult to control. Insecurity is apt to breed insecurity.