For many years Isabella edited a Christian magazine for which she wrote a very popular advice column. In 1896 she responded to a letter from an unmarried woman who had just received a proposal of marriage.
Despite his profession of love to her, the woman confessed she did not feel the same way about him. Yet she was tempted to accept his offer because she thought he’d make a fine husband; but her biggest concern was that because she was getting older, she was afraid his proposal may be her last chance for marriage.
In closing, she asked Isabella: How could she tell if the Lord meant for her to marry such a man?
Here is Isabella’s advice:
My Dear Friend, I can understand the state of bewilderment into which you are thrown, but at my age the light is plainer. As I read your letter, I find myself wishing that all questions were as easily answered as yours.
In the first place, let me beg you never to allow any chain of circumstances or specious reasoning to persuade you that it is right to marry one that you are not sure beyond the shadow of a doubt is the man above all others that you believe your heart would have chosen under any conceivable circumstances. Any other marriage than this I believe to be a mockery in the sight of God. I can conceive of one loving another in this way, and yet not marrying from motives of duty; but I cannot conceive of any duty that would make it right for one not so loving to marry. Do you not see how simple a matter such conviction of right and wrong as this makes your query?
Be sure, dear friend, that what “the Lord means” for you is that you should do right, even if in doing so you are compelled to grieve someone that has given you the best his heart has to offer. It would be but a sorry return to give back to such a man mere dregs of feeling.
I know it is the fashion in certain circles to talk a great deal about “Platonic affection.” I have often been tempted to think that many people use the term without having a clear idea of what it means; but the fact remains that with honest, earnest, well-trained young men and women exclusive and long-continued companionship means, other things being equal, companionship for life; and when two persons arrange to set aside this rule of nature, it generally means sorrow for one of them.
Let me still further say that it seems to me you are perhaps making the very common mistake of thinking of marriage almost as a necessity to a woman’s life. Does it not occur to you that possibly God may not mean you to marry at all?
In saying this I do not want to be understood to speak lightly of marriage; on the contrary, I believe a true marriage to be the crown of a woman’s life. But there are many honorable exceptions; there is blessed work in the world being done by women with warm affections and motherly hearts, who have no home ties, and so are able to do that which—but for them—would be left undone. Who can estimate how many homeless and motherless ones rise up to call such women blessed? Possibly your work lies in this direction. Whether it does or not, let me repeat the admonition with which I began:
Never mistake friendship for love; never stand before the marriage altar with one of whom you could not say, “My heart chose him alone from all the world.”
My dear girl, I want to emphasize this as much as possible because I believe in it so thoroughly. The world is full of wrecked homes and ruined hearts that need not have been so if friendship had not been so often mistaken for love, and marriage relations entered into so carelessly.
I wonder whether I have fully answered your thought. I have no doubt that you consider your circumstances peculiar—we all do—but the letters that I have received lead me to believe that a large number of your sisters are thinking along much the same lines.
What do you think of Isabella’s advice?
Do you agree with her that marriage is not always “a necessity to a woman’s life”?
You can read more of Isabella’s advice columns by clicking on the links below:
Advice to Anxious Mothers of Daughters
Advice to Readers on Learning to Cook
Advice to Readers about Keeping Confidences
Isabella’s Advice about Christmas Possibilities
Advice about Righting the Wrong Marriage Proposal
Advice to Readers about Shortcomings
Advice to Readers on Managing the World
Advice to Readers on Memorizing Bible Verses
Advice to Readers on Praying Aloud in Public
Advice to Readers Living Humdrum Lives
Advice to Readers on Bashfulness
Advice to Readers about Boys and Books
Advice to Readers about Forgiveness