From Appendix On a Tender Theme, Prejudices: Second Series, 1920, pp. 229 - 36. First printed in the Smart Set, July, 1920, pp. 59 - 60. H.L. Mencken was a renowned American journalist. He wrote about women frequently, famously opposing marriage and mocking the "puerile agonies of romantic love".

I. The Nature of Love

WHATEVER the origin (in the soul, the ductless glands or the convolutions of the cerebrum) of the thing called romantic love, its mere phenomenal nature may be very simply described. It is, in brief, a wholesale diminishing of disgusts, primarily based on observation, but often, in its later stages, taking on a hallucinatory and pathological character. Friendship has precisely the same constitution, but the pathological factor is usually absent. When we are attracted to a person and find his or her proximity agreeable, it means that he or she disgusts us less than the average human being disgusts us—which, if we have delicate sensibilities, is a good deal more than is comfortable.

Because human contacts are chiefly superficial, most of the disgusts that we are conscious of are physical. We are never honestly friendly with a man who is appreciably dirtier than we are ourselves, or who has table manners that are more baroque than our own (or merely noticeably different), or who laughs in a way that strikes us as hyenical. But there are also psychical disgusts. Our friends, in the main, must be persons who think substantially as we do, at least about all things that actively concern us, and who have the same general tastes. It is impossible to imagine a Brahmsianer being honestly fond of a man who enjoys jazz, and by the same token, it is impossible to imagine a woman of genuine refinement falling for a Knight of Pythias, a Methodist or even a chauffeur; when such a wonder actually occurs either the chauffeur is a Harvard athlete in disguise or the lady herself is a charwoman in disguise. Here, however, the force of aversion may be greatly diminished by contrary physical attractions; the body, as usual, is enormously more potent than the so-called mind. In the midst of the bitterest wars, with every man of the enemy held to be a fiend in human form, women constantly fall in love with enemy soldiers who are of pleasant person and wear showy uniforms. And many a fair agnostic, as everyone knows, is on good terms with a handsome priest.

Once the threshold is crossed emotion comes to the aid of perception. That is to say, the blind, almost irresistible mating impulse, now relieved from the contrary pressure of active disgusts, fortifies itself by manufacturing illusions. The lover sees with an eye that is both opaque and out of focus, and begins the familiar process of editing and improving his girl. Features and characteristics that, observed in cold blood, might have quickly aroused his most active disgust are now seen through a rose-tinted fog, like drabs in a musical comedy. The lover ends by being almost anesthetic to disgust. While the spell lasts his lady could shave her head, or take to rubbing snuff, or scratch her leg in public, and yet not disgust him. Here the paralysis of the faculties is again chiefly physical—a matter of obscure secretions, of shifting pressures, of metabolism. Nature is at her tricks. The fever of love is upon its victim. His guard down, he is little more than an automaton. The shrewd observer of gaucheries, the sensitive sniffer, the erstwhile cynic, has become a mere potential papa. This spell, of course, doesn’t last forever. Marriage cools the fever and lowers the threshold of disgust. The husband begins to observe what the lover was blind to, and often his discoveries affect him most unpleasantly. And not only is the fever cooled; the opportunities for exact observation are enormously increased. It is a commonplace of juridical science that the great majority of divorces have their origin in the connubial chamber. Here intimacy is so extreme that it is highly dangerous to illusion. Both parties, thrown into the closest human contact that either has suffered since their unconscious days in utero, find their old capacity for disgust reviving, and then suddenly flaming. The girl who was perfect in her wedding gown becomes a caricature in her robe de nuit; the man who was a Chevalier Bayard as a wooer in his best suit becomes a snuffling, shambling, driveling nuisance as a husband in ill-fitting pajamas—a fellow offensive to eyes, ears, nose, touch and immortal soul.

The day is saved, as everyone knows, by the powerful effects of habit. The acquisition of habit is the process whereby disgust is overcome in daily life—the process whereby one may cease to be offended by a persistent noise or odor. One suffers horribly at first, but after a bit one suffers less, and in the course of time one scarcely suffers at all. Thus a man, when his marriage enters upon the stage of regularity and safety, gets used to his wife as he might get used to a tannery down the street, and vice versa. I think that women, in this direction, have the harder row to hoe, for they are more observant than men, and vastly more sensitive in small ways. But even women succumb to habit with humane rapidity, else every marriage would end in divorce. Disgusts pale into mere dislikes, disrelishes, distastes. They cease to gag and torture. But though they thus shrink into the shadow, they are by no means disposed of. Deep down in the subconscious they continue to lurk, and some accident may cause them to flare up at any time, and work havoc. This flaring up accounts for a familiar and yet usually very mystifying phenomenon—the sudden collapse of a marriage or a friendship after years of apparent prosperity.

[Transcriber's note: the text has been transcribed as published except where obvious typographical errors are concerned. It was transcribed from here.]