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Love Part 16: Montaigne, Friends are Soulmates

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Check out Montaigne's rant against sexual love: "Love is nothing else but the thirst of enjoying the object desired...the pleasure of discharging one's vessels...and when I consider the ridiculous titillation of this pleasure, the absurd, crack-brained, wild motions with which it inspires...I then believe it to be true as Plato says, that the gods made man for their sport.”

Now, he does think love, and marriage, and falling in love is a little silly, but he’s not really ranting against love per se; he just thinks that the love between men and women should be more like friendship. Agreeing with Aristotle, he says that marriage should not be about desire and beauty; they should have a “more solid and constant foundation” and “should proceed with greater circumspection.”


“A good marriage, if there be any such, rejects the company and conditions of love, and tries to represent those of friendship. ‘Tis a sweet society of life, full of constancy, trust, and an infinite number of useful and solid services.”

Friendship and Soul-Mates

Again like Aristotle, Montaigne thinks that friendship between two men is the pinacle of love. But he goes much further. Friendship is the “mixing” of two souls, “one soul in two bodies.” Unlike marriage, where “there almost always happens a thousand intricacies in it to unravel,” with friendship the only “business” is “itself.” “Perfect” friendships “are fortified and confirmed by judgment and length of time…They mix and work themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined”…“all this guided by virtue, and all this by the conduct of reason.”

Like our modern version of “soul-mates,” Montaigne’s BFF’s are meant to be—“I know not what inexplicable and fated power that brought on this union. We sought one another long before we met”—and you can only have one; it “possesses the whole soul, and there…cannot possibly admit of a rival.” However, as Aristotle said, good luck finding even one: “one alone is the hardest thing in the world to find.” Montaigne also talks about how this obsesson with finding a best friend has made his “ordinary friendships” “cold and shy,” because he only wants to go “full sail.” Of course, it must be mentioned that the reason women (man-woman frienships for example) are left out of his model is sexism, along with his idea that marriages between men and women are too complicated (“thousand intricacies”).

And, just like the boy St. Augustine was ruined when his best friend died, the old man Montaigne suffers at the loss of his only friend:

“I have only led a languishing life; and the very pleasures that present themselves to me, instead of administering anything of consolation, double my affliction for his loss. We were halves throughout, and to that degree, that methinks, by outliving him, I defraud him of his part…I am no more than half of myself.”

In a perfect world, you would love everyone in the word, equally. But, says Montaigne, reminding me of Aquinas, in reality you were born next to people; you should love those who are geographically close to you:

“We must moderate and adapt our desires to the nearest and easiest to be acquired things. Is it not a foolish humour of mine to separate myself from a thousand to whom my fortune has conjoined me…and cleave to one or two who are out of my intercourse; or, rather a fantastic desire of a thing I cannot obtain?"

Aquinas said the same thing, and he’s describing a problem that many of us have. We think that people thousands of miles away are somehow different, more lovable, nicer. We shun those close and replace them with ideas of people that are far away. We do this with places especially. If only I could live in Hawaii! If only I lived in the 1500’s!

Last thing I'll mention: We should love our children, says Montaigne, but even more we should love the children of our mind—“the issue of our understanding, courage, and abilities, springs from nobler parts than those of the body…these cost us a great deal more and bring us more honour.” 

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer 
Love Part 14: Hobbes
Love Part 15: Machiavelli 


How to Live or a Life of Montaigne

Posted by Matt Smith at 09/08/2011 03:09:22 PM