I can feel the dark cloud of spinsterhood casting a shadow over me darker than ever, now. "You're not marriage material," he says. Being two years my senior, I suppose the pressure of finding a wife must be a barrel of a gun pressed to his temple more than finding a husband is for me, but then if his situation is so desperate why couldn't he propose to me? "It's a matter of finding the right woman to be my wife," he says.
If word ever spread about the fact that I met Mr. Oxford in a bar, a seedy dive bar at that, then I would be ruined. This process of finding a husband is proving increasingly difficult. I seem to not even be able to keep a suitor. First there was the great debacle with the young man in my Milton class who so deceptively led me to believe that he was at least interested in courting, only to find out that he was interested in and courting someone else while wooing me. I do not appreciate being wooed, and it was very silly of me to allow his inappropriate advances to cloud my judgment, but even so, why was this young man not interested in me? Of course it would not have worked, of course I could not have married him: my character would not have allowed it as it saw too many flaws with his. But what fault could he have found with my character? I have an unsullied reputation, am well-read, have a strong constitution that can withstand moderate daily exercise such as horseback riding and long walks, and I have a variety of interests: I play the pianoforte, I draw portraits, and I speak French. All these things make up what is usually considered a very accomplished woman. These accomplishments have yet to get me settled.
These accomplishments were not even enough for an Oxford graduate, a man of, what I thought was, upstanding character. His parents are doctors and he, himself, is contemplating entering the family profession. Perhaps very middleclass, as father argued when we asked his permission for our courtship, but then it is near impossible to find a real gentleman in this day and age. Mr. Oxford (how I now refer to him) thought the principles my father and I live by to be archaic, and he would often say so. I did not appreciate the crude remarks he would make about the way I conduct myself: "It's like you're from or think you're living in another era." It is a point he would always make and perhaps a reason he found me unfit for marriage. Only I never understood the point he was making: morals, principles, character transcend all eras and time periods. If they are good, why should I not still practice them?
Of course he would always bring up how we met as evidence of my "hypocrisy." And it is true: if word ever spread about the fact that I met Mr. Oxford in a bar, a seedy dive bar at that, then I would be ruined. My very relationship with Mr. Oxford threatens a sullied reputation. In my defense, I had no idea that a dear acquaintance of mine who was visiting from out of town would ever consider entering a place of such ill repute, but apparently it is quite common for men and women of my age to host unchaperoned gatherings in these bars.
And it is apparently even more common for young men like Mr. Oxford to buy young women…certainly not like myself…drinks. I accepted his offer and asked for a glass of claret. He thought I was joking, laughed, and bought me a pint of some crude, bitter beverage that surely only a barmaid with hair on her chest would be permitted to drink, but certainly not a proper lady like me.
Mr. Oxford was not the perfect man or the ideal husband, but companionship and true love often come after the union has been made.I did not want to be rude, and since my friend seemed quite keen on my having a conversation with this man, I took very small sips from the pint and hoped that he would not notice that I was not really drinking. He seemed enamored of me. I asked him questions about his family and education, and he wanted nothing more than to point out how very attractive I am. I never responded to these compliments, just moved past them. He told me he would like to see me again, and I invited him around the following afternoon for tea so that he may ask for my parents' permission. He agreed, seeming a bit confused by the prospect, and we exchanged our calling information.
Oh, but if father and mother ever knew where I met Mr. Oxford or that I allowed him to kiss me on the cheek that night (a perfect stranger!) I don't know that they could ever look at me again. My shameful secret, but it has become so difficult to form suitable attachments by any other means. Now that I am finishing university, it is of the utmost importance that I am settled; otherwise, what would the point of my education have been?
Mr. Oxford was suitable enough, though he never seemed fully satisfied with the state of our relationship. He could never understand why we could never be alone in a room together, why he would have to sit in a room and drink tea from a porcelain cup while listening to my mother and her lady friends discuss whatever thoughts came to mind about the world when he would much rather talk to me alone. I could often hear him muttering under his breath, "In the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo." But he found dressing for dinner and the dry conversation he would have with father and his friends after dinner to be even worse.
His Oxford education did not seem to instill in him any notions about how to do things properly, and there were some issues I found with his grooming and cleanliness, but I just attributed them to his middle-class, or upper middle-class as he would smugly correct me, upbringing. After all, the way we are brought up does affect these things, and so I believed I could overlook them. Mr. Oxford was not the perfect man or the ideal husband, but companionship and true love often come after the union between man and woman has been made.
He finally asked me what my opinion of marriage was, and I assumed it was because he was going to proclaim his affection for me and ask for my hand. I told Mr. Oxford that marriage is the most important union that can possibly be made and that men and women have a duty to get married and together promote proper societal values. It was after this that Mr. Oxford told me that he was starting to look seriously for a woman who could one day be his wife but that I could not be that woman. "For me, you're just not marriage material." A fine statement for the son of middle-class doctors to make! I feel that I should have been the one to pass judgment, only I was willing to not be so proud and try to look past the faults in his upbringing, but clearly he found faults with my very superior one.
Suddenly, the threat of spinsterhood seems very real. I never imagined that finding a husband would be such a complicated ordeal. Why is it that everyone else seems to inhabit a world drastically different from my own?