Rainier Maria Rilke on Marriage

When I was in middle school, I thumbed through Rainier Maria Rilke’s book Letters to a Young Poet. I’m tempted to read it again now, as when I think about relationships, my thoughts often return to what I read in that book. He was the kind of writer who, when you read his writing, it kind of just stays with you and soaks itself in your head. And then at random moments during the day after reading his words, those words just come back to you without you even consciously thinking about it.

The quote that always comes back to me, which apparently on the web is oftentimes cited, is this one:

“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

It aligns with what I’ve thought to be the ideal relationship: one in which two people do not become one (the idea of being “joined at the hip” has always made me want to vomit in my mouth; those couples I meet at weddings or parties where they cannot allow the other to have a 1:1 conversation have always disgusted me), or the idea that after marriage, a spouse must stop doing all the things she’s loved doing individually or with others. The ideal relationship is one in which the two spouses can still be their individual selves with their individual loves and hates and opinions, but when joined together, enrich each others’ lives with their similarities as well as their differences. They relish in each others’ company, but they also respect each others’ boundaries and allow each other to be themselves and have their own time and opinions. They have shared experiences, but not everything will be shared, whether it’s experience or outlook or opinion, and that’s healthy and fine. They are still individuals, right? They grow together, with each other, and motivate each other to be the best version of themselves. They challenge each other to be better, to be happier and more developed. They accept that they have an understanding of each other, but they may not always understand each other fully, and that is healthy and normal because even one cannot fully understand oneself fully, so how can we expect our partners to? At the end of the day, they trust each other. They may betray each other’s trust at times, but they will love each other to the point where they can have forgiveness and learn from the times of betrayed trust. We’re all human beings. We’re imperfect. We’re going to mess up. It’s okay. And that’s just part of life and growing.

As a society, we have such unrealistic expectations of romantic relationships, of marriage. So it’s no wonder that the divorce and separation rates are so high, that people are always in and out of relationships, that we keep seeking out “the perfect one” but it usually ends up in vain, or we “settle.” But perhaps we should be more forgiving, more open minded, more questioning of these unrealistic expectations to create our own that are more in line with what we think should be right and good for ourselves.

One thought on “Rainier Maria Rilke on Marriage

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