"What sort of person should I marry," is a rather academic question unless there is real opportunity for choice. This means that each person should have sufficient acquaintance with a sufficient number of eligible partners. Modern life has made human beings more highly individuated than they ever were before. Being exposed from childhood on to a wider variety of situations, they develop interests and tastes which are more diversified than in those days when there were fewer and simpler types of environment.
Not only is the actual variety of personalities in the marriage market greater, but the demand for a congenial mating seems to have become more insistent. There was a day when all women were in a sense more or less alike. The men, too, were more alike than now, although their differences in prowess, occupation and status were recognized. Within wide limits it did not make so much difference just what woman a man obtained, or vice versa. In any case she was reared in the culture of the community, had learned to do the things all women must do, and apart from the fireside she would not be very much the companion of her husband. Her place, like that of every other woman, was in the home. The man must find companionship in his adventurous, awayfrom-home activities, his more personal interests, among his own sex, or in a limited way in some societies, from hetairae or "free women."
With the emancipation of women and their assimilation with men in interests, a more all-pervading companionship comes to be expected between man and wife. The modern young person hopes to find all sides of his personality satisfied by his partner. Whatever his actual behavior, the man at least does not take for granted, as he did in many earlier societies, supplementary satisfactions from other women. The wife now expects from her husband emotional satisfactions which formerly she would have obtained through other relationships, including those with her children. She also demands a more perfect physical sex satisfaction, for she cannot help knowing, from modern literature and conversation, that such is possible. She can no longer accept the notion taught by her grandmother that sex is merely a woman's concession to male passion.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the problem of finding the right mate has become more intense. If to find the one right mate, an acquaintance with five candidates was once sufficient, it might seem that today one must know at least 25 candidates to have the same probability of achieving a good choice. Yet the social machinery for the mutual discovery of partners has not changed to keep pace with the increasing difficulties of the choice. This is what sociologists call a cultural lag. One kind of change has lagged behind another; the result is a problem where no problem existed before.
It is true that chaperonage has relaxed and that young people have a certain measure of freedom to mingle and become acquainted in all kinds of situations, which did not exist before. Under many circumstances they become acquainted without the formality of an introduction. These relaxations of the older rules do not, however, meet the need. The new informality is very irregularly distributed, it does not operate among many who need it most; and commonly it brings only a superficial acquaintance. The circumstances are not conducive to serious friendships which might open the way toward marriage.
Not all the situations in which persons of opposite sex meet are favorable to the kind of interest which leads toward courtship and marriage. The attitude produced by the situation may be too irresponsible or too serious. Two very worth while young people may meet in "pick up" fashion under unusual conditions of gayety, the very atmosphere itself creating a mental set which prevents each from recognizing the worth of the other. On the other hand, many persons meet potential partners in connection with their work, and the tense or "hectic" atmosphere inhibits the playful or personal interest which might otherwise develop.
Some young people feel that the modern custom of going to places of commercial amusement such as roadhouses, night clubs, and the like, narrows the possibilities of acquaintance, because the participants tend to remain in the small groups in which they arrive at the scene and do not, of course, mingle freely with the strangers. Insofar as such entertainment replaces home and church parties where all guests freely mingle, there is a loss of acquaintance possibilities. What is really needed is a type of gathering where the people are personally strangers, but are selected in such a way that each feels safe in approaching any other. Gatherings of this kind are found in churches, schools, institutions, and in the national or regional assemblages of members of various organizations.
The school or college group is a labor-saving device in spreading personal acquaintance, since each learns to know and observe many others without a special introduction or approach to each individual separately. Young people of the working class in America, at least, are not as well provided with these opportunities as are the more privileged classes. In Europe labor unions and labor political parties perform this function to a degree unknown here. It is not surprising that many of our working class youth must resort to the casual "pick up" method of acquaintance.
There is real need in modern society for institutions which perform the function of the marriage broker of other times and countries. There are indeed agencies which play the role in part, or for certain classes of people: advertising columns, correspondence leagues, date bureaus, individuals who take a special pleasure in matchmaking, debutante parties, and hostesses who carefully keep lists of eligible young men. Either the older machinery must be greatly extended, or new machinery invented.