4 Unintentional Love Lessons From Great Philosophers

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Yesterday, I mentioned a new book called Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love. I asked the author to tell us a few stories about lovers of wisdom who weren't the best lovers of women — and to give us some love lessons he's learned from examining their lives. Here's what he had to say ...

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Before he and his fiancée Sophia Andreevna Behrs exchanged vows, the author of War and Peace showed his wife-to-be his diaries — on their wedding day. She was shocked to read about his promiscuous past, which involved prostitutes, venereal diseases, and homoerotic fantasies. "I don't think I ever recovered from the shock," she wrote years later, recalling that she cried through the entire wedding ceremony.

What we can learn from Tolstoy: Honesty and trust are important components to a successful marriage, sure, but dude, TMI?

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Heidegger, a married professor, routinely engaged in affairs with his students. "I will never be able to call you mine, but from now on you will belong in my life," he wrote to his 18-year-old pupil Hannah Arendt after making love to her in the woods near his university office. Heidegger's wife was not the only barrier to their romance — Arendt was Jewish, while Heidegger was a card-carrying Nazi. Although they broke off their affair after Heidegger shuttled her out of the country in 1933, Arendt later publicly defended Heidegger from critics of his Nazi past. She believed she was the love of his life. Meanwhile, Heidegger stayed married to his wife until his death in 1976.

What we can learn from Heidegger: If he's married and says he will never leave his wife for you, take him at his word. Also, don't have affairs with your teachers or Nazis, even if they are world-renowned philosophers.

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Diderot didn't make much money as a freelance writer in 18th-century France. So when his friends asked him to go out on the town, he refused to bring his wife along — telling her it was too expensive for both of them to eat out at fancy restaurants. For the next 40 years, Mrs. Diderot stayed at home, eating dry bread and raising their daughter while her husband slept around town and spent their meager savings on gifts for his mistresses.

What we can learn from Diderot: Don't marry a cheapskate.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

In Marriage and Morals, idealistic philosopher Russell criticized divorce, saying it was paving the way towards the downfall of Western civilization. Three divorces and nearly 40 years later, he softened his views. "I do not know what I think now about the subject of marriage," he wrote. "Perhaps easy divorce causes less unhappiness than any other system." He married his fourth (and final) wife when he was 80 years old.

What we can learn from Russell: Those living in glass houses, with their second wives, should not throw stones. And in a day and age when marriage is no longer as necessary, financially or culturally, as it once was, don't rush into anything until you're serious about loving someone till death do you part.

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