What a ‘Real Man’ Looks for in a Partner (3/11)

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche writes:

Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has one solution: that is pregnancy. Man is for woman a means: the end is always the child. But what is woman for man? A real man wants two things: danger and play. Therefore he wants woman as the most dangerous plaything. Man should be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly. The warrior does not like all-too-sweet fruit; therefore he likes woman: even the sweetest woman is bitter. Woman understands children better than man does, but man is more childlike than woman. In a real man a child is hidden—and wants to play. Go to it, women, discover the child in man! Let woman be a plaything, pure and fine, like a gem, irradiated by the virtues of a world that has not yet arrived. Let the radiance of a star shine through your love! Let your hope be: May I give birth to the overman! The happiness of man is: I will. The happiness of woman is: he wills. ‘Behold, just now the world became perfect!’—thus thinks every woman when she obeys out of entire love. And woman must obey and find a depth for her surface. Surface is the disposition of woman: a mobile, stormy film over shallow water. Man’s disposition, however, is deep; his river roars in subterranean caves: woman feels his strength but does not comprehend it. (“On Little Old and Young Women”)

I have chosen this famous passage to serve as a kind of foil, or backdrop, against which I will attempt to set down my own very different notion of what ‘woman’ can be for man (at least for this man)—besides a ‘shallow’ plaything into which he gleefully ejaculates his warrior sperm. If Nietzsche’s outrageous but reliably fascinating conceits cannot help but resonate powerfully with many readers—just as Freud’s would shortly after Nietzsche’s death—it is precisely because he gives voice to erotic and aggressive instincts that two thousand years of Christianity (hypocritical or otherwise) struggled, for the most part in vain, to domesticate or to sublimate. Nietzsche—despite all his ‘surface’ concern with high culture and ‘spiritual’ aristocracy—frequently pulls back the ‘veneer of civilization’ in order to allow the most uncivil and barbaric human impulses a chance to speak out ‘eloquently’ on their own behalf. Up to a point, this campaign (on Nietzsche’s and Freud’s part) was genuinely therapeutic—insofar as it exposed and implicitly inveighed against the hypocrisy and cant that were practically synonymous with 19th century European ‘morality.’ I can only hope that the passage from Zarathustra and my brief commentary on the importance of Nietzsche as a truth-sayer (albeit, unpleasant truths) help us to see that a way forward has been cleared for new possibilities in the relations between the sexes.


If I know, going into an intimate relationship with a woman, that she is incapable of following me where I go in my thinking—and that she cannot reflect ‘me’ at those depths or those outer reaches; if I know, or strongly suspect, that she can be no more than a soothing, temporary distraction from my loneliness, and not a true and equal partner in the full sense of the word—then don’t I have an ethical obligation to ‘take a pass’ when such doors open up for me?

Dignity and spiritual maturity are closely linked, I would argue. It seems that unless a person has—after the manner of an ‘existential adult’—taken the measure of human life (without the excessive protection of thick, insulating buffers) and survived the ordeal, he or she is still something of an innocent child. Now, while children certainly may be lovable and even worthy of our admiration, they usually have not been sufficiently prepared to withstand the sort of test I am referring to. Therefore, they are not yet in a position to prove their dignity, their mettle.

I think that a suitable companion for a ‘real man,’ as Nietzsche puts it, is a woman who has not only suffered deeply, but who has sufficiently reflected upon her sufferings so as to prove her mettle to herself—and to more or less the same extent that he has done so. Then, the playing field is even. There will be no glaring disparity between the power, insight, and experience of the two partners. It is a fact: it is difficult for a man to love deeply and unreservedly where his ‘partner’ is unacquainted with the protracted sort of torments and inner battles that have defined and oriented his own life. Women who have no feel (or calling) for these questions and inner problems—and an innate ability to wrestle with them—can only be soothing distractions or pleasant oases where he temporarily rests and recovers from the seriousness and the strains of his work in the desert. But such women (and men, for that matter) cannot share in that respectable work.

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