Rilke on Relationships

I’ve been reading Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke. This excerpt was written a hundred years ago, but in a way it predicts the rise of Women’s Liberation and same-sex couples.

We are only just now beginning to consider the relation of one individual to a second individual objectively and without prejudice, and our attempts to live such relationships have no model before them.

The girl and the woman, in their new, individual unfolding, will only in passing be imitators of male behavior and misbehavior and repeaters of male professions. After the uncertainty of such transitions, it will become obvious that women were going through the abundance and variation of those (often ridiculous) disguises just so that they could purify their own essential nature and wash out the deforming influences of the other sex…This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it. Someday… there will be girls and women whose name will no longer mean the mere opposite of the male, but something in itself, something that makes one think not of any complement and limit, but only life and reality: the female human being.

This advance (at first very much against the will of the outdistanced men) will transform the love experience, which is now filled with error, will change it from the ground up, and reshape it into a relationship that is meant to be between one human being and another, no longer one that flows from man to woman. And this more human love…will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle. The love that consists in this: two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other.

Writing styles of the 19th century tended toward the prolix (or do I just think that because modern communication is so brief?), so I edited out a few digressions for easier digestion. The full text of Rilke’s letter can be read here.