Previously, I shared that list of “129 ways to get a husband” that has gone viral on social media. To me, it amounted to 129 reminders of how happy I am that I am single-at-heart and have no interest in finding a husband, a wife, or any romantic partner.
The list is from 1958, so a lot of the cultural references are dated. For example, women don’t carry around hat boxes anymore. Norms have changed, too. Women today aren’t going to “stand in a corner and cry softly” in hopes that “he’ll come over to find out what’s wrong.”
And yet, something fundamental is still the same. At its core, dating involves a good deal of strategic impression-management and self-presentation. (Or at least I think it does – I don’t date, I don’t read about dating, and I only hear about dating if someone else starts telling their stories without being asked. However, dating stories are inescapable in movies and TV shows, so I guess I do get a dose of them after all.)
What struck me as most tragic about the list is the one thing women do not get to be – themselves. They are urged to become a nurse or an “airline stewardess” for the husband-landing potential, regardless of whether they have any interest whatsoever in either career. They are instructed to “make your home comfortable when he calls – large ashtrays, comfortable chairs;” what they want their home to be like is irrelevant. Of the 129 suggestions, I found only one that seemed to incorporate the woman’s interests as well as the man’s: “Clip and mail a funny carton that means something to both of you.”
If you are a woman who followed the advice, you may have bought ashtrays and chairs you don’t like, gotten a dog (even if you don’t like dogs), joined a hiking club (even if you hate hiking), gone to football games (even if you have no interest whatsoever in the games). What happens if these strategies succeed and you land your man? Do you have to keep those awful chairs and ashtrays, as well as the dog and all the rest? Or do you say “just kidding” once you are ensconced in your marital home?
I hope that women today are not nearly as strategic and instead have much more freedom to be who they really are.
Then and now, single people who like their single lives and are not looking to escape them get to live more authentically. For example, instead of following the advice to “attend night school – take courses men like,” they can take the courses they like. Or not go to night school at all if it does not interest them.
A few other observations:
Sixty years ago, magazines had already started spreading scare stories about how staying single can literally kill you. In the list, #110 was, “Point out to him that the death rate of single men is twice that of married men.” Does that sound right to you? Do you think that if you get married, you will live longer? If so, it is because those kinds of myths continue to get traction even today.
I’ve debunked them many times. For example, what is probably the longest-running study on the topic showed that both men and women who stay single live just as long as people who marry and stay married; it is those who divorce, or divorce and remarry, who have shorter lives.
Two of the pieces of advice that made me saddest were #105, “Never let him believe your career is more important to him than marriage,” and #97, “Hide your Phi Beta Kappa key if you own one – later on junior can play with it.”
Here’s something else I found disturbing: Women are told to lie. Blatantly. For example, the whole point of the list of 129 tips is to help women find a husband. Yet, tip #82 is, “On the first date tell him you aren’t thinking of getting married!”