Plenty of advice on what makes for a good, happy marriage has been thrown around for centuries.
Ironically enough, it was a lifelong bachelor, who possessed rather ambivalent feelings on the institution, who offered some of the very best insights on this front.
Friedrich Nietzsche never walked down the aisle himself, though he proposed marriage multiple times, to the same woman, who rejected each of his overtures. Perhaps, as may have been the case with Thoreau as well, this experience of unrequited love lent a bit of sour grapes to his future thinking on women and matrimony. For Nietzsche’s professed feelings about marriage would indeed be conflicted; he saw the institution as beneficial for the raising of children, and thus to society as a whole, but also as a potential burden on a man’s personal progress and fulfillment.
But Nietzsche offered similarly dualistic and frequently polemical takes on most other subjects as well. While his approach was to mix irony and seriousness — to provoke thought, rather than offer clear takes — within these intentional obscurifications he nonetheless embedded unarguably sound maxims and timeless truths.
Thus among the philosopher’s writings on marriage, you can find some surprisingly good nuggets of wisdom. Ones that can be used as helpful gauges in deciding whether or not you should consider taking your commitment to the person you’re dating to the next, ultimate, level.
The main thrust of Nietzsche’s view on matrimony is that if people are to make a good go of it, romantic feelings and sexual attraction alone won’t suffice; the relationship has to be built on a foundation of strong friendship. As he famously said, “It is not a lack of lovebut a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages
In assessing whether your dating relationship has this foundation of friendship, and will thus segue into a happy, successful marriage, Nietzsche would have you ask yourself the following three questions:
Is your significant other a good friend in general?
To be a good spousal friend, one should have already proved to be a good friend in general. Nietzsche said: The best friend will probably acquire the best wife, because a good marriage is founded on the talent for friendship
If the person you’re dating has healthy, deep, long-lasting friendships, that can be taken as a sign that they’ll make a good spouse; conversely, if their friendships are conflict-ridden, marked by premature ends, or simply non-existent, that can be a red flag worth heeding.
“Do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman up into your old age?”
The above is a direct quote from Nietzsche, and he follows it with this observation: “Everything else in marriage is transitory, but most of the time you are together will be devoted to conversation
Feelings of romantic love and lust will decline; your physical bodies will age; but your spouse will remain your primary source of comfort, interest, and entertainment, for, if everything goes well, a half century or more. Marriage is essentially a long conversation, so when you’re dating someone, evaluate the quality of your current communication.
Do you feel like there’s always more to talk about with your significant other than there is time, that you can hardly get enough of conversing with them? Can you talk about all sorts of things, from the fun to the philosophical? As Nietzsche notes, “Friends do not unquestionably uphold, reinforce, and echo our attitudes but provide new perspectives and interrogate our presuppositions.” So does your partner like being a bit challenged and engaging in a little friendly debate? Can she hold her own in such exchanges without becoming frustrated or offended?
Or, conversely, do your conversations stay shallow, and you find that she doesn’t have much to say, about much of anything?
If the latter is already the case, when your relationship is still fairly new, just imagine how barren the desert of your dialogues will be in the years and decades to come once your respective past histories, present landscapes, and future hopes have already been thoroughly mined, mapped out, and explored.