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Monday, August 12, 2013

Ten Tips for a Great Marriage According to Friedrich Nietzsche

“There are moments when one has to choose between living one's own life, fully, entirely, completely-or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.” - Oscar Wilde

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Ten Tips for a Great Marriage According to Friedrich Nietzsche

"Friendship is the highest form of love, according to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, because great friends inspire each other and can even push each other towards the ideal of the Übermensch. While he was sceptical that many people would be strong enough for this kind of higher relationship, Nietzsche saw friendship as essential to a good marriage. Sex, in contrast, creates complications, because a relationship based on romantic feelings is unlikely to endure a lifetime. Furthermore, the ontological differences between men and women tend to turn love into a war. In order to overcome the power games in the arena of love, Nietzsche thus challenges lovers to be great friends.

Drawing on Nietzsche’s plethora of aphorisms on friendship, marriage, sex and power relationships, this paper outlines how Nietzsche thought the institution of and approach to marriage could be reinvigorated in ways conducive to more successful relationships and greater human achievements. While some of Nietzsche’s ideas about marriage at first appear to be outrageous, much of what Nietzsche recommends is as relevant and challenging today as it was in his own time. Indeed, Nietzsche himself prophesied that the world would not be ready for his ideas until “sometime around the year 2000” (Fuss & Shapiro, 1971, p. 91).

Nietzsche admires the ancient Greek model of relationships, where friends were great, men were warriors and women were for their recreation (1883- 85/1969, p. 91). Yet he views modern marriage as another example of the collapse of standards in our hedonistic world that is heading for nihilism. In order to overcome this predicament, Nietzsche advocates a philosophy of “aristocratic radicalism” (Fuss & Shapiro, 1971, p. 104), where a few courageous and strong human beings take up the challenge of becoming an Übermensch. An Übermensch (loosely translated as “superman”) is one “who transcends” (MacIntyre, 1998, p. 225), strives passionately and creatively to go beyond, lives life to the fullest, constantly combats and overcomes obstacles to be a greater person, and rejects comfort and security. Nietzsche regards heterosexual romantic relationships as generally being an irritating distraction from this goal because of the inherent power struggles...

On reading Nietzsche, one might be tempted to conclude that, because Nietzsche says some critical things about women, he is a misogynist. However, current thinking in Nietzsche scholarship often warns against taking Nietzsche’s writings prima facie (e.g. Abbey, 1996; Helm, 2004; Oppel, 2005; Secomb, 2007) – mainly because he weaves such a hugely complex web of meanings. Furthermore, Nietzsche says scathing things not only about women, but also about many different groups of people – including men – and is often contradictory. For example, in Human, All Too Human (1878-80/1996), Nietzsche says that “The perfect woman is a higher type of human being than the perfect man” (p. 150), which suggests that he also had great respect for women at times.

Nietzsche’s aim is to challenge our assumptions about many issues – not only about gender roles, but also about Christianity, conventional morality, politics and the Enlightenment, to name just a few. I would thus agree with Secomb (2007) when she asserts that, “Despite, or perhaps because of, his unconventional approach, Nietzsche is able to challenge and disturb our most settled convictions, forcing us to rethink taken-for-granted notions and assumptions” (p. 29)...

1. Don’t Marry for Love (Marry someone ugly but whom you like talking to)

... One hundred years before Harry met Sally, Nietzsche was advocating that, in order to preserve a friendship between a man and a woman, “a slight physical antipathy” is required (1878-80/1996, p. 151).

For Nietzsche, a marriage based only on romantic love is on shaky ground because it is fleeting: “Sensuality often makes love grow too quickly, so that the root remains weak and is easy to pull out” (1886/1990, p. 98). It is much better if there is no sexual attraction to confuse the friendship. “How many married men there are who have experienced the morning when it has dawned on them that their young wife is tedious and believes the opposite” (Nietzsche, 1881/1997, p. 150). To avoid this complication, he recommends preparing lovers for the inevitable evaporation of attraction in order to curb the disappointment when it happens: “Sometimes it requires only a stronger pair of spectacles to cure the lover, and he who had the imagination to picture a face, a figure twenty years older would perhaps pass through life very undisturbed” Nietzsche (1878- 80/1996, p. 154).

Romantic love relationships are bound to sizzle and fizzle. Zarathustra, the protagonist of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85/1969), argues that romantic love relationships are just brief follies and that it is stupid to turn a folly into a long-term commitment (p. 96). Earlier, in Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche stresses the insanity of lovematches: “Marriages contracted from love (so-called love-matches) have error for their father and need for their mother” (p. 151). For marriage to be based on romantic love, as modern marriages often are, undermines the whole institution by basing it on an idiosyncrasy – and “You never, ever base an institution on an idiosyncrasy” (Nietzsche, 1888/ 2005b, p. 215)...

Would it not be better to remain friends and lovers, without creating complications with vows that will inevitably be broken? If lovers continue to walk down the aisle while in love, Nietzsche suggests making it illegal...

2. Make Super-Babies

...

3. Never Promise Everlasting Love

If romantic love is ephemeral, promising to love your partner forever is absurd and a lie, according to Nietzsche. Love that lasts a lifetime is the exception, not the rule. Love, like any other feeling, is not within the individual’s power. Nietzsche’s argument is as follows: love is a feeling; feelings are involuntary; and a promise cannot be made based on something that one has no control over.

What one can promise, however, are actions... To avoid deception in wedding vows, Nietzsche recommends saying something along these lines: “For as long as I love you I shall render to you the actions of love; if I cease to love you, you will continue to receive the same actions from me, though from other motives” (1878-80/1996, p. 42). This will not be deceptive, because one is promising to act as if still in love, rather than mistakenly promising the feeling of love...

4. Try Serial Monogamy

To avoid the problem of the temporary nature of romantic love relationships, why do people not agree to short-term marriages upfront?...

In Human, All too Human, Nietzsche suggests that it would be much better (for men, presumably) to do away with the custom of one wife for life and instead “one might very well consider whether nature and reason do not dictate that a man ought to have two marriages” (p. 156). The first marriage is the most important and necessary for a man’s education; it should be when the man is twenty-two years old to a woman who is “intellectually and morally his superior and who can lead him through the perils of the twenties” (Nietzsche 1878-80/1996, p. 156). A second marriage, while useful, is not necessary; it should be during a man’s thirties and to a younger disciple “whose education he would himself take in hand”. Later in life, man should preferably be without a wife because marriage “is often harmful and promotes the spiritual retrogression of the man” (Nietzsche 1878- 80/1996, p. 156). In a later work, Nietzsche cites a raft of great philosophers who have not been married as evidence for this incompatibility between marriage and personal fulfilment: “Heraclitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer”, with only Socrates as the ironic exception (1887/1989, p. 107)...

5. Make It Work

... Nietzsche argues that people rush amorously into marriage and, when it goes wrong, it causes the couple as well as everyone around them a great deal of aggravation. Just be honest, urges Zarathustra, and say: “We love each other: let us see to it that we stay in love! Or shall our promise be a mistake?”...

Presumably, setting expectations low will avoid disappointment in the long run. Married couples will inevitably encounter problems, however, and Nietzsche has a couple of other alternatives for how to make marriage work.

6. Give Her a Baby

Zarathustra says that “Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has one solution: it is called pregnancy” (Nietzsche, 1883-85/1969, p. 91). Pregnancy is the solution because it is the only reason that a woman needs a man: “Man is for woman a means: the purpose is always the child” (Nietzsche, 1883-85/1969, p. 91). Taking these comments at face value, Diethe (1989) reads Nietzsche as saying that women are “completely defined by the reproductive urge” and their “sole instinct is to crave for children” (p. 867); permanently craving for sex, women are predators or “vamp-like femmes fatales” who seduce men simply for impregnation (pp. 865, 867)...

Elsewhere, Nietzsche also uses pregnancy as a metaphor for creativity.

Yet the two interpretations – woman as sex animal and woman as stimulating creativity – are not mutually exclusive. The underlying assumption in this suggestion is that women are capable of being independent and do not need a man for anything except sperm. Woman, in her quest to create a superbaby, uses man to impregnate her. Yet it could also mean that men and women use each other as fertiliser for creativity, and as such use marriage as a launching pad to greater things and to achieve greater goals.

7. Get a Little Action on the Side

Can a woman be a good wife, “friend, assistant, mother, family head and housekeeper,” businesswoman and concubine to boot (Nietzsche, 1878- 80/1996, p. 157)? Nietzsche realises that all these roles and expectations put a huge strain on a woman and concedes that “it would be too much to demand of her” (1878-80/1996, p. 157). In this regard, Abbey (1997) notes that, “a century before its becoming common currency in the western world, Nietzsche saw the problem of the superwoman!” (p. 85).

Nietzsche assumes that men naturally need sex more than women do, and his solution is not to help a wife out with the housework, but to relieve women of the burden of satisfying their husband’s sexual desires by finding a “natural assistant, namely concubinage”...

8. Let Him Suffer

Whereas women naturally like peace and comfort, men want quite the opposite; men welcome challenges and obstacles, according to Nietzsche (1878-80/1996). Women hate to see men suffer and try to help them to have easier lives by removing obstacles; yet doing so is very frustrating for men. Zarathustra explains the phoenix-like rebirth that comes from the most harrowing experiences...

While Nietzsche makes some sweeping generalisations about the ontological differences between men and women, there is certainly merit in acknowledging that people have different preferences. Just because two people are in love does not mean that they have to pretend to be the same – which is perhaps why they need a whip.

9. Take a Whip to Her!

“Are you visiting women? Do not forget your whip!” is a piece of advice given to Zarathustra and which has created a huge amount of speculation as to its meaning (Nietzsche, 1883-85/1969, p. 93). Taken literally, one might believe it suggests disdain for women and advocates physical violence against them. Yet the context of the quotation cautions us not to jump to conclusions. The advice is given to Zarathustra by an old woman as a special gift of thanks and she warns him to keep it a secret – perhaps because in the wrong hands it would be misunderstood...

Shortly before Thus Spoke Zarathustra was written, a photograph was taken of Nietzsche with two of his close friends at the time: Lou Salome and Paul Rée. The photograph shows Salome driving a pony-trap and brandishing a whip, with Nietzsche and Rée between the shafts. While the photograph, orchestrated by Nietzsche, may have simply been a bit of fun, it shows that “the men are the potential victims” (Thomas, 1980, p. 117).

One of the more interesting interpretations builds on the idea that, when in love, there is a strong desire to dissolve the feeling of otherness and ‘make the same’ (Nietzsche, 1881/1997, pp. 210-211). Nietzsche thinks this to be madness, arguing that distance is essential to keep power over oneself: “The thinker must always from time to time drive away those people he loves”, because love tends to blind one to the truth, giving lovers power to deceive and to seduce; conversely, driving lovers away tends to reveal their malice and helps one to distance oneself from them (1881/1997, pp. 197-198)...

Distance from women is very important for Nietzsche so as not to spoil the mystery and beauty of the feminine: “The magic and the most powerful effect of women is, to speak the language of the philosophers, action at a distance” (1882/2001, p. 71). Derrida (1979), drawing on the power struggle between men and women, suggests that a man must keep his distance to avoid falling under the spell of a woman’s “beguiling song of enchantment” and as such to remain free to “seduce without being seduced” (p. 49)...

In the context of loving relationships, we will now explore the possibility that the whip is for the great Zarathustra to give to a woman to help him be even greater. The best type of relationship is one where the partners are brave enough to ‘whip each other into shape’ so to speak.

10. Marry Your Best Friend

For Nietzsche, friendship is the “ultimate ideal” of love and “a kind of ideal of Being-with-Others” (Solomon, 2003, pp. 95, 157). He admires the ancient Greek ideal of friendships between men and agreed with Aristotle that great friends could inspire each other. This kind of friendship is neither about mutual benefit nor based on pleasure and enjoyment. While a great friendship may include all these elements, the key difference is that really great friends help one another to become better people through “a shared higher thirst for an ideal above them” (Nietzsche, 1882/2001, p. 41); in other words, each friend acts like a “catalytic muse” for the other (Lungstrum, 1994, p. 137).

Nietzsche says that “man is something that should be overcome”, and yet this is something that is extremely difficult to do on one’s own (1883-85/1969, p. 41). The individual, if left alone for too long without friends, can too easily fall into a rut. For, as Nietzsche warns in Beyond Good and Evil (1886/1990), “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you” (p. 102). Thus, the friend is valued not so much for his or her gaze, as Jean-Paul Sartre later envisaged, but rather for his or her ability to pull the individual up from the depths of the abyss and be a launching pad to a greater existence...

Secomb (2007) highlights that “Friends do not unquestioningly uphold, reinforce and echo our attitudes but provide new perspectives and interrogate our presuppositions” (pp. 30-31). Indeed, sometimes great friends must be so ruthless that they are also the enemy: “If you want a friend, you must also be willing to wage war for him: and to wage war, you must be capable of being an enemy” (Nietzsche, 1883-85/1969, p. 82).

Nietzsche is challenging all of us to be better friends. He urges lovers not to get caught up in power games but instead to help each other find the way to becoming an Übermensch... “The best friend will probably acquire the best wife, because a good marriage is founded on the talent for friendship”...

Conclusion

... Alluding to the fact that all a woman needs a man for is for sperm, one might wonder if Nietzsche foresaw a diminishing need for men as breadwinners and the breakdown of the nuclear family – both of which would hinder a child’s upbringing. Indeed, recent United States census data show that four out of ten births were to unmarried women. This was more than in any other year in the nation’s history, and three-quarters of those mothers were 20 or older (Ventura, 2009). The wide availability of contraception puts seriously into question whether all these pregnancies were accidental. If marriage were to become obsolete, Nietzsche would have been hugely disappointed and worried about the impact of that on children’s development."
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