This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, where I share excerpts from my collection of vintage publications.
True Story mags are always full of “scandalous” topics, and the January 1954 issue is no exception. “Can a ‘Shotgun’ Marriage Work?” appears in the “family service section” of the magazine, which aims to tell stories “of vital interest to all women” dealing with personal problems.
Mildred Gilman wrote this piece, interviewing an “expert” — Dr. Lena Levine — in order to provide True Story‘s readers with accurate information and sound advice.
“Perhaps the man is older than the girl and has made promises he never intended to keep. Perhaps two young people, after a late party and too many drinks, suddenly find themselves in an intimate situation.”
Whatever the case, Gilman advises against marrying due to an unexpected pregnancy. The article opens by admitting that shotgun weddings are a hot-button gossip topic and calling out shotgun couples for pretending that their completely healthy babies were simply born prematurely. These abrupt unions can lead to serious unhappiness according to Gilman, who describes them as “forced.”
In typical True Story fashion, a “real” couple is made an example of. Poor Joan and Frank are an example of both the older man/younger woman brand of shotgun couple and the drunken brand. Joan is quoted as explaining: “Frank married me because he had to. He’s ten years older than I am. He and my father work for the same machine tool company. We liked each other but neither of us had serious intentions. One night after a late dance, he came inside of the house with me. Everybody was asleep upstairs; both of us had had too much to drink.” Joan also states that she felt no other man would want to marry her since she’d lost her virginity to Frank, so she kept on seeing him… and they kept making the same drunken mistake.
When Joan discovered that she was pregnant, she was forced to break the news to her parents, and her dad threatened to tell the boss if Frank refused to marry Joan. So they married, and became stuck in a loveless marriage. (Why wasn’t this story directed by Douglas Sirk?)
Frank sought counseling, though, and realized he did not hate Joan but actually believed that he was not good enough for her. He believed she would not have married him under any other circumstances. The ending to their story is surprisingly positive, given the negative attitude the article had toward shotgun weddings in its opening. Frank and Joan worked things out, found the love they used to have for each other, and even began planning for a second child.
Gilman goes on to point out that major problems can arise in any relationship, whether there was no engagement at all or the couple were engaged for a year. Another example is made of Ted and Mary, an engaged couple who ended up pregnant before their wedding. Their situation seems to have been even worse than Joan and Frank’s, for their young Teddy became a major problem child, and Ted and Mary wound up hating each other.
Gilman finishes her article by saying that all shotgun marriages will “carry with [them] special problems,” which can only be overcome by “mature couples who face their problems squarely” (unlike Ted and Mary). Those who fail in “forced” marriages, says Gilman, are those who would fail in any marriage, because they’re incapable of handling their issues.