|Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss|
~~~In a young lady's behaviour towards gentlemen, great delicacy is certainly required: yet, I believe, women oftener err from too great a consciousness of the supposed views of men, than from inattention to those views, or want of caution against them. . . . Men of loose morals or impertinent behaviour must always be avoided: or, if at any time you are obliged to be in their company, you must keep them at a distance by cold civility. But, with regard to those gentlemen whom your parents think it proper for you to converse with, and who give no offence by their own manners, to them I wish you to behave with the same frankness and simplicity as if they were of your own sex. If you have natural modesty, you will never transgress its bounds, whilst you converse with a man, as one rational creature with another, without any view to the possibility of a lover or admirer, where nothing of that kind is professed; where it is, I hope you will ever be equally a stranger to coquetry and prudery; and that you will be able to distinguish the effects of real esteem and love from idle gallantry and unmeaning fine speeches: the slighter notice you take of these last, the better; and that, rather with good-humoured contempt than with affected gravity: but, the first must be treated with seriousness and well-bred sincerity; not giving the least encouragement, which you do not mean, nor assuming airs of contempt, where it is not deserved. But this belongs to a subject, which I have touched upon in a former letter.* I have already told you that you will be unsafe in every step which leads to a serious attachment, unless you consult your parents, from the first moment you apprehend any thing of that sort to be intended: let them be your first confidants, and let every part of your conduct, in such a case, be particularly directed by them.
—Hester Chapone, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind: Addressed to a Lady (first published in 1775. Google Books edition is 1806)
*Read it here.
More about the Fragonard painting here.