From Love Letters to Ultimatums

Einstein’s Dark Side

Einstein was a romantic in his youth. He wrote countless love letters to his first wife Mileva regaling his love for her, calling her his “wild street urchin” and writing small poems about her:

Oh, my! That Johnnie boy!
So crazy with desire
While thinking of his Dollie
His pillow catches fire.

But towards the end of his marriage to Mileva, the couple had an intense often callous dynamic. In July 1914, after moving his whole family to Berlin from Zurich, his marriage to Mileva crumbled. Einstein wrote a scathing letter to his wife Mileva and had a friend deliver it.
He called it a “cease-fire ultimatum.”
In it, he laid down specific conditions Mileva would have to abide by for him to stay in the marriage.  Walter Isaacson transposed the letter in his biography: Einstein: His Life and Universe:


A. You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:

1. my sitting at home with you;
2. my going out or travelling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behaviour.

Pretty harsh right?

Mileva agreed to the conditions for the sake of the children. But the agreement did not last long and by the end of July Mileva and Einstein’s two sons moved back to Zurich.

Einstein was a man of solidarity and often had difficulty maintaining personal relationships. He eventually fell in love with his cousin Elsa after divorcing Mileva in 1919. But that marriage too was troubled, and Einstein had multiple affairs.

These brutish, even callous moments from Einstein are a much-needed reminder that he was, after all, human and like the rest of us made mistakes…despite his Genius.

"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

Watch Genius on the 24th of April, 8.30pm on National Geographic

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