Long has it been so: A good man is hard to find

Tom West, West Words

Tom West, West Words

A good man is hard to find, right, ladies? At least that’s what people say these days, and divorce rates over the last half century suggest that it has never been truer.

Still, finding a good mate has been an issue much longer than that. I was reminded of that fact recently by the following essay.

My aunt died a couple of years ago, and when going through her papers, a cousin came across this essay, entitled “My Husband,” and written in August 1927 when she was only 14.

I envision her sitting on the front porch in those days before air conditioning and television, whiling away the long, hot weeks just before school begins, dreaming about what her future husband would be like.

Here’s what she wrote:

“My husband will not be fat, and I hope he will be very thin and tall. His hair will not be lighter than mine, and I hope it will be darker and curly. His eyes will be brown or grey.

“My husband will dress neatly, and well if he can afford to, but he will not be a ‘dandy.’ He will wear clean collars and shirts. He will wear low shoes for dress.

My husband will certainly not be a railroad man, nor any kind of day laborer, nor any kind of salesman. I had rather he was not a farmer because I am not fond of work, but I surely don’t want him to be a lady. Whatever he does must be a man’s work, and still requiring brains and education.

“My husband must be politer than any man I know so far, and he must have something to say besides what concerns his work (especially if he is a veterinarian). (Editor’s note: her father was a veterinarian.)

“Still, he is not to be the ‘flowery’ kind who makes all women adore him and who is always ‘jollying up’ somebody. On the other hand, he absolutely must not be the kind who is always grumbling and gossiping and worrying at everybody. He must not be too ‘mum’ about his business to me, but he must be considerate enough to tell only what interests me, and stop without being told.

“On the other hand, while he should be interested in my work and pleasure and health, he certainly must not be fussy and nosy and wanting to know every detail, whether I care to tell it or not.

“He must like books and appreciate music and art, but I hope he won’t be much more of an artist than I am. He must be hospitable and friendly, but place my comfort and pleasure before his friends. Not that I want the comfort and pleasure, but the thoughtfulness that provides it.

“He must have sense about business and money, but he can’t be too stingy. He must give me some kind of allowance, no matter how or when he (or I) get paid. I hope he will succeed in making money, but if he doesn’t I shan’t complain unless it is his own fault — carelessness or foolishness or irresponsibility.

“I hope he will help me with my work when he is home, at least if I am sick or especially busy, but I shall never ask him unless it is positively necessary, because I don’t believe that a man who is a good housekeeper can help becoming fussy and womanish. He must agree to have children and a home and education for them.

“He must be good-looking, chivalrous, loving, sympathetic, congenial, interesting, self-possessed, American, and honest and clean in his ideas and in his relationships with me. If I cannot find one like this, strict though the qualifications may be, I shan’t marry at all.

“I want to love and be loved by a man like this — there must be one somewhere, but if I can’t meet him, then I shall be an old maid as other women have been.

“In the meantime (I have about 15 years to try), I shall try to make myself attractive to this sort of man. I shall never be athletic, nor musical nor artistic nor a social light. My best qualities, and strongest, are bookishness, emotion (that does not show outside either love or hate) and housekeeping and neatness. I shall cultivate these qualities and if a man I love doesn’t like the product enough to come and take it, I certainly shan’t chase him.

“P.S. Let it not be inferred from the above listed qualities that my husband shall be henpecked and ruled. — He shall not. He shall have all these things before I marry him. I won’t pound them into him myself and, above all, he will be a man! man! man!

“He will not play golf or polo. I hope he will like the same things I do.

“When I am 30, I wonder if I shall be a spinster or married, and if I shall have married a man like this or not, and if I shall be satisfied.”

My first reaction is that the writing is good for a 14-year-old. My second is that I doubt that I would have measured up to her standards.

However, the real question is, how did that work for her? In two updates, the following two years, she saw little that needed changing. In the second, she expressed a bout of puppy love toward a teacher, which convinced her that her dream man existed, but, alas, my aunt never married. I asked her once why not, and she replied with a smile, “Because nobody ever asked me.”

It seems a shame. She was smart, witty and caring. Still, she was also not someone to settle for less.

Regardless, writing such an essay seems like a worthwhile exercise for all of us. The emotion of love can blind us to what we see in others. Man or woman, if we had a written guide to what we actually wanted in a mate, we may make a better match.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at tom.west@mcrecord.com.

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