Tag: Becca Witham

Online Dating in the 19th Century

With guest blogger Becca Whitham.

Online dating is not a new phenomenon…at least matching two people over a distance before they meet in person isn’t. During the 1800’s, it manifested itself as mail-order brides. The Telegraph Proposal is the final book in what Gina and I call our “mail-order brides gone wrong” series. We wanted to explore pitfalls of modern online dating using an historical setting. In our first story, The Promise Bride, we looked at what happens if the person you’ve been corresponding with was lying with malicious intent. The second story, The Kitchen Marriage, explored what happens when the family of the person you’ve been dating thinks only desperate and dishonest people resort to matchmaking services. And the final book looks at what happens when the dating service matches you with someone you not only know but don’t like.

Our research turned up fascinating stories which, if you changed the dates and a few particulars, read like they were ripped from today’s news stories. Women were often lured away from home with the promise of something better only to find themselves lost in the underworld of drugs and prostitution. There were stories of individuals falsely representing themselves to get money. Here’s a quote from The Chicago Tribune (which we added to the opening of The Kitchen Marriage): “…(Here’s) a fact that all women who ever answered a matrimonial advertisement or ever intend to answer one should remember: No man who has the ability or the means to support a wife in comfort needs to advertise for one.” The article was written December 28, 1884, but doesn’t it sound like advice you hear today?

 

To combat the perception that only desperate people would advertise for a spouse, services bloomed to help vet prospective candidates. Today we have Match.com, eHarmony, ChristianMingle, and others. My husband vetted someone. He was a pastor in Washington State at the time, and one of our congregants had been corresponding with a woman in Florida. Her pastor called my husband and said, “Okay. Tell me about this Greg fellow. Is he who he claims to be?” My husband was able to assure the Florida pastor that Greg was indeed telling the truth about himself. A few months later, after the woman had come to Washington for some in-person courting, my husband performed their wedding.

In the 1800’s, matchmaking agencies offered vetting services. For The Telegraph Proposal, our principal characters were tricked into a correspondence courtship by a well-intentioned but deceptive member of such an agency. However, instead of letting the ruse stand, we blew it up early in the story. I don’t know about you, but I hated how the movie “You’ve Got Mail” ended. Had I been Meg Ryan’s character, I would not have lovingly wrapped my arms around Tom Hanks’ neck and kissed him on that bridge after discovering how he’d tricked me. I’d have slapped his face and stomped off! So that’s what happens in The Telegraph Proposal. Our characters had to learn how to find their way back to love after such a disaster.

This skill is something we all need. My husband and I have conducted close to a hundred marriage retreats, and we always talk about how couples need to learn how to fall in love with the person they actually married as opposed to the one they thought they had. Some couples figure it out before marriage, others—like my husband and me—must figure it out afterwards. The opening sentence of The Telegraph Proposal sums it up: “Marriage did not make women experts on men.”

Becca Whitham (WIT-um) Award-winning author, paper crafter, and Army wife, Becca and her twelve-foot long craft cabinet follow her husband of thirty-five years wherever the army needs a good chaplain. She thinks the cabinet should count as a dependent. So far, neither the army nor the IRS is convinced. In between moves from one part of the country to the other, she writes stories combining faith and fiction that touch the heart. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. You can find her online at http://www.beccawhitham.com

 

Ruthy here: Becca has graciously offered to give away a copy of The Telegraph Proposal! Leave a comment below to be entered… and tell us what you think of online dating. The good… the bad… and if you’ve got a great story to share (like Ruthy’s nephew and his lovely wife, married 12 years and three kids, met at Match.com) we’d love to hear it!