Cover ImageI’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately.  With everyone I know getting married, it’s inevitable that I’d ponder what marriage means, particularly when everyone is trying to push me into it (and I’m digging in my heels as hard as I can).  I can’t help but feel that they are all pushing me into marriage without any consideration or respect for the relationship that I already have.  Because to me that is what is important – what exists between two people, not how they go about it. 

There are as many treatises singing the praises of marriage as the salvation of society as there are polemics about why it is the road straight to destruction.  Marriage as a social construct has been studied to death (or divorce).   But very rarely does a reader uncover a fine-focused discussion about what is the relationship between two people.  Or what such a relationship could be, freed from the trappings of social obligation.

I read this book when I was a teenager, with no personal conception of love or committment or monogamy. I was “in love” with a new boy every five minutes (more if class just got out and everyone was milling around the hallway).  I was not exactly the target audience and to be honest I don’t even remember where or why I picked it up.  Still something about this book clearly resonated it’s dog eared like crazy.

This old mistress, as she calls herself, has been a wife; she has both succeeded and failed as a wife.  However, she has flourished as a mistress (that relationship lasted decades longer than her marriage).  Young wives, smug in their newfound stability and alleged wisdom (haven’t they accomplish what everyone aspires to?) will think she has nothing to say to them.  As a young non wife, I disagree.   She has an awful lot to say and we should all be listening.

This book is about love and about relationships and how society and marriage constrict them.  It’s about being a woman first and a wife or lover second (or even third or fourth).  It’s about working for your own livelihood.  It’s about not needing a man to complete you.  Advice to a Young Wife was written in the 60’s, as told by a then 70 year old woman (Or is she just a fictional construct? I’ve never been able to decide).  It’s surprising to hear how feminist her ideas are, particularly when you consider she was likely born in the 1800’s.

The Old Mistress is not opposed to love.  Far from it.  Her ideas and advice support love.  It’s about not taking it for granted – not making housework and motherhood negate the need for it.  It’s about bringing the best of yourself forward to not only your husband or lover, but your children and the rest of the world.  It’s about being a singular being, content within oneself.  Because only then, she contends, will you find a complementary being that suits you.  Only then will you find a healthy love which makes both parties better.

She says it so simply and so well that I feel that my own inadequate words are butchering something beautiful. This little book is a treasure.  Even my ignorant teenage self knew enough to be impressed.