“In this fallen world the ‘friendship’ that should be possible between all human beings, is virtually impossible between man and woman… Later in life when sex cools down, it may be possible. It may happen between saints. To ordinary folk it can only rarely occur: two minds that have really a primarily mental and spiritual affinity may by accident reside in a male and a female body, and yet may desire and achieve a ‘friendship’ quite independent of sex. But no one can count on it. The other partner will let him (or her) down, almost certainly, by ‘falling in love’…
However, the essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called ‘self-realization’; but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails that: great mortification. For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify & direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him – as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial…
When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only —. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’. And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake.
Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. You really do very little choosing: life and circumstance do most of it… In great inevitable love, often love at first sight, we catch a vision, I suppose, of marriage as it should have been in an unfallen world. In this fallen world we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will.”
Excerpts of a letter sent from J.R.R. Tolkien of 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford to his son Michael on the front lines. March 8th, 1941.
Tolkien addressed this one to “Mick,” his middle son Michael. You’ll find it along with a lot of other gems in the collection, compiled by his youngest son Christopher, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
More from the Inklings:
- Tolkien tells off the Nazis
- Tolkien, Lewis, Einstein and others answer Does the beauty of the Gospels attest to their truth?
- C.S. Lewis reflects on the birds and the bees