March 28, 1946
You wrote to me that you have heard from Ludmilla, and you wanted to ask my advice about your situation, when I come to New York. I find that I will not be able to go to New York this spring (I might go later, in the fall, but I am not sure of it). So I want to try to give you my advice by mail—because I am worried about you and I think I understand what you wanted to ask me.
If you really want my advice, if you really think that I am intelligent and you attach importance to my opinion, here is my most urgent advice: You must forget everything and everybody, and ask yourself only one question: what do you want for your own personal happiness?
If you want to stay with Peter, you must stay with her. If you want to take Ludmilla back, you must take her back. Your personal, honest, sincere happiness is all that matters in such a situation. A decision like the one you’re facing cannot be made in any other way—only on the ground of your sincere desire. If you consider anything else, the results will be disastrous, no matter what you do.
If my opinion ever meant anything to you at all, I don’t know how to impress upon you strongly enough that self–sacrifice never works. Lying and dishonesty never work—and it is a great human tragedy that people think dishonesty can work “for a good motive.” It can’t and it doesn’t, for any motive, good or bad—and, besides, self-sacrifice is not a good motive. It’s the rottenest motive of all, and leads to the worst results for everybody concerned, for yourself and for the person to whom you sacrifice yourself.
You must not think of Ludmilla or of Peter, you must not think of how either one of them feels,
you must not think of your past, you must not think of any duty you owe to anybody. In a situation like this, you don’t owe any duty to anyone but yourself. You cannot help others at the price of a lie; to sacrifice your own happiness is to attempt to live a lie; no motive, selfish or unselfish, can change the fact that a dishonest action is dishonest; so, instead of helping others, it will only destroy them. You must think first, above all, and in complete honesty, of what you want.
If you don’t do this, if you decide one way or another because you think it’s your “duty” to the woman involved—you will cause a triple tragedy. If you are unhappy, you will make the woman you choose twice as unhappy. Those things cannot be hidden; no well-meaning hypocrisy will help. You will only succeed in ruining three lives.
If you are thinking of any “unselfish” motive, then, for God’s sake, choose the woman you really want, for the sake of unselfishness, if nothing else. It’s the only way to achieve any happiness for anyone concerned, if you’re not thinking of yourself.
I believe that you do not want to go back to Ludmilla or to take her back. If so, then in the name of God, don’t do it! It doesn’t matter what your past life with her has been. It doesn’t matter whether you have hurt her or she has hurt you or both. If you don’t love her, it doesn’t matter whether it’s her fault or yours. Nothing on earth, nothing, can demand that you sacrifice to her what remains of your life.
You write: “you can advise me only when I have told you all the details of my previous life.” You are making a great mistake right there. The details of your previous life do not matter. Nothing can justify self-sacrifice.
The proper and practical thing to do is only to help Ludmilla financially. Send her some food while she is in a helpless position in Germany. Then, as soon as it is possible, arrange for a divorce, if that is what you really want. After that, you may help her financially if she needs it and if you are able to do it. But not at the price of any self-sacrifice.
You are fifty years old. You have had a very hard life and much unhappiness. You have a right to be happy now, in the years that could be the best of your life. It’s not only your right, it’s your duty to be happy. If you think it would be noble to sacrifice these years—don’t fool yourself. It wouldn’t be noble. It would be vicious and monstrous.
I think you have been happy with Peter—and, if you have, you must remain with her. If you are not happy with Peter or with Ludmilla—then leave them both. The issue is really simple. Ask yourslef what you want, answer it honestly—and if you act on that, whatever you do will be right. If you don’t act on that, but pull something self-sacrificing—whatever you do will be wrong.
That is my advice, Volodinka. If you ever valued my advice, now is the time I would like you to consider it most earnestly.
You may show this letter to Peter, if you want to.
Let me know what you decide.
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