Dodgy romantic advice from old self-help guides

Here’s something a bit different for you this Valentine’s Day. Last year, we had fictional dates from hell! The year before that, we had songs about hearts, which followed on from books about hearts.

This time, I’ve gathered some quotes from books on courtship, etiquette and ‘marital health’ which I found on the Project Gutenberg website. Amongst the dangerous medical practices and the praise for eugenics which can be found in books on this subject from more than a century ago, I found some rather harsh advice for conducting one’s romances. [Note: I cannot be held responsible if you follow these and wreck your relationship]


No age gap

“The woman who risks her happiness with a man many years younger than herself, violates a precept of life; and when her husband grows indifferent, or taunts her with her years, or seeks companions of more suitable age, she is reaping a harvest sown by her own hand.” – The Physical Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife and Mother, by Dr George H. Napheys (1889).


Hands off

“Kissing, Fondling, and Caressing Between Lovers.—This should never be tolerated under any circumstances, unless there is an engagement to justify it, and then only in a sensible and limited way. The girl who allows a young man the privilege of kissing her or putting his arms around her waist before engagement will at once fall in the estimation of the man she has thus gratified and desired to please.” – Searchlights on Health, by B G Jefferis and J L Nichols (1894).


GSOH not important

“Don’t marry a clown. A silly fellow that jokes on every subject never did amount to anything, and never will. All he says may be very funny, very; but how many times can he be funny? Fun will grow stale and threadbare; one cannot live by it.” – Don’t Marry or, Advice on How, When and Who to Marry, by James W Donovan (1890).


Stay sober

“Our advice to the woman who is asked to drink liquor when in the company of a man outside of her immediate family circle is emphatically this: DON’T DO IT!” – Private Sex Advice to Women, by R B Armitage (1917).


No second chances

“As a rake is most conversant with the dissolute and abandoned of both sexes, he doubtless forms his opinion of others by the standard to which he has been accustomed, and therefore supposes all women of the same description. Having been hackneyed in the arts of the baser sort, he cannot form an idea, that any are in reality superior to them. This renders him habitually jealous, peevish and tyrannical. Even if his vicious inclinations be changed, his having passed his best days in vice and folly, renders him a very unsuitable companion for a person of delicacy and refinement.” – The Boarding School: Lessons of a Preceptress to Her Pupils, by A Lady of Massachusetts (1829).


Keep it clean

“I do not say, that there are not men enough, even in England, to live peaceably and even contentedly, with dirty, sluttish women; for, there are some who seem to like the filth well enough. But what I contend for is this: that there never can exist, for any length of time, ardent affection in any man towards a woman who is filthy either in her person, or in her house affairs. Men may be careless as to their own persons; they may, from the nature of their business, or from their want of time to adhere to neatness in dress, be slovenly in their own dress and habits; but, they do not relish this in their wives, who must still have charms; and charms and filth do not go together. – Advice to Young Men, by William Cobbett (1829).


‘No’ means ‘Yes’

“The number of modes in which a woman can say ‘Yes’ has not, up to the present, be accurately enumerated; but perhaps the one most frequently in use is the negative imperative. And / Many are the men who have puzzled long and painfully over the motives of a woman’s ‘No.’ Yet in nine cases out of ten a woman says ‘No’ merely because she feels herself on the brink of saying ‘Yes’. In other words, / It is often mistrust of herself that leads many a woman to refuse it will the lips the consent that is fluttering at her heart. Perhaps that is why / With woman ‘Yea’ and ‘Nay’ are meaningless and interchangeable terms.” Hints for Lovers, by Arnold Haultain (1909).


Put a ring on it

“No matter how much you care for a man, give him up if, after a certain length of time, he says nothing to you about marriage. You will lose nothing in the end by doing so, and may gain him. If he really cares for you, the danger of losing you will make him more anxious to possess you.” – How to Get Married, Although a Woman or, The Art of Pleasing Men, by A Young Widow (1892).


8 thoughts on “Dodgy romantic advice from old self-help guides”

  1. Wow, some of this is harsh! 😮 Such wonderful advice though, that men can be messy but women don’t you dare, women always mean yes when saying no and that humour doesn’t matter. Actually I’ve read somewhere that a study today suggests that humour is the best thing that keeps couples together for the long-term. But gotta love this old advice which I’m sure was the key to a perfect marriage. 😉 Btw I love that last image. 😀

    1. Yes indeed, it was very strict. That’s great to hear about the humour, I think that must be right as even when bad things happen you can still laugh together. It’s a fun image I got from Pixabay. Thanks! 🙂

    1. LOL I don’t know how many women would have actually read this advice but I hope they ignored it. Thanks!

    1. This is one of my favourite posts I think 😀 Yes, if you take that out of context… it’s pretty funny!

  2. Loved this post. I wonder what people thought of these when they were reading them back then. The “don’t marry a clown” one is the only one I think somewhat holds up… 😅

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed. I doubt that many people would have actually read these. LOL the ‘don’t marry a clown’ could apply today, unless of course you like clowns!

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