QUARRELING IN PUBLIC

The other evening, as we were walking down the street to attend a political meeting, a young couple passed me. He was scowling. She was talking in a high-pitched voice. Just as they came opposite to us we heard her say sharply, “All right, then, why didn’t you go alone?”

There was nothing very bitter in the words, but the tone was packed with bitterness. One could feel all manner of accusations and recriminations and irritabilities behind it. We were in a holiday mood and across it, like a dark cloud across the sun, they passed the shadow of their irritability across us.

It is a very unhappy, unlovely thing for married people to be bitter with each other. It is one shade more unlovely for them to show bitterness in public. To be sure, even happily married people must sometimes disagree. There would be something wrong with them, some lack of individuality if they thought alike on all subjects. But they can think differently without saying disagreeable things, or snapping each other up, or scolding or jawing or sulking or scowling.

Of course many subjects on which they disagree involve action, and in these cases some kind of an agreement as a basis for action must be reached. And, of course, there are times when either one feels strongly against some line of action pursued by the other. But such matters can be settled infinitely more happily and just as effectively without nagging or scolding.

(You may think this is just words, but it isn’t. If you hold it as an ideal and make some sacrifices for it, you will find out how much it can accomplish.)

And surely such matters can be settled with much more decency and dignity in private. Nothing is more disagreeable than to be with a couple who allow themselves to quarrel in the presence of others.

A friend of mine told me that she once went on a house party where there was such a couple, and that, although every other detail about the party was pleasant, these people spoiled the flavor of it.  “We all felt constrained and uncomfortable and ashamed, though they were the ones who ought to have been ashamed,” she said, “when they quarreled, which was every little while. And they kept appealing to the rest of us to side with them, and you know how pleasant that is.”

Of course it does take a great deal of self-control not to show irritation when one feels it. But remember this, self-control is the prime factor of real breeding.

— by Ruth Cameron, 1916