Albert Einstein is known as one of the greatest minds of the 20th century. He is the literal poster boy of genius, and his theories are known all over the globe. What isn’t often talked about is Einstein’s private life, and there’s a good reason why.
Einstein’s professional reputation in the world of theoretical physics is second to none. But at home behind closed doors, he was an absolutely terrible husband.
Albert Einstein Met Mileva Marić At University
Einstein met Mileva Marić in 1896 when they were both admitted to the physics-mathematics section of the Polytechnic Institute (now ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland. The fact that Marić was even at this school was a huge deal at the time, considering 19th-century college-level math and science programs weren’t exactly female-friendly.
Einstein and Marić were instantly drawn to one another, and they became inseparable. They would spend hours studying together. And some folks are convinced that Marić was just as much of a genius as Albert was–if not more so. Nobody has ever been able to credit Marić for any part of Einstein’s work, but there is substantial evidence that they collaborated.
In August 1899, Einstein wrote to Marić: “When I read Helmholtz for the first time, it seemed so odd that you were not at my side and today, this is not getting better. I find the work we do together very good, healing and also easier.”
He Got Her Pregnant, But Refused To Get Married
According to Scientific American, things abruptly changed for Marić when she got pregnant after a romantic getaway to Lake Como. Einstein was unemployed, so he refused to marry her. Marić would eventually give birth to a girl named Liserl in January 1902, but no one knows what happened to her due to a lack of records.
Meanwhile, Marić was forced to abandon her college studies because the professors purposely failed her. Every time she attempted to take the required oral exams for graduation, they refused to give her a passing grade.
They Got Married In 1903
After all of this drama, Einstein and Marić eventually tied the knot in January 1903. He worked full time at the patent office, while she took care of the home. At night, they would work together late into the evening.
Einstein and Marić eventually welcomed two sons—Hans-Albert and Eduard. And, according to his private letters, Einstein was still sending affectionate cards and letters to his wife up to 1911. But in 1912, everything started going downhill.
Albert Einstein Had An Affair With His Cousin
In 1912, Einstein started having an affair with his cousin—Elsa Löwenthal—while visiting family in Berlin. For the next two years, they corresponded in secret. In 1914, Einstein moved his wife and sons to Berlin when he landed a new faculty position. But the real reason for the move was to be close to Löwenthal.
This was the nail in the coffin for Einstein and Marić’s marriage. He didn’t want to be with her any longer. But, for the sake of their children, Einstein told his wife they should keep up appearances and stay together. However, she had to agree to some conditions.
Albert Einstein Was A Terrible Husband
Here’s where the story goes off the rails. In the book Einstein: His Life and Universe, the list of Einstein’s conditions that he gave to Marić was revealed. While the list is just next-level insanity, the fact that Marić accepted them is simply mind-blowing. The conditions were:
- That my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
- That I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
- That my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.
- You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:
- My sitting at home with you;
- My going out or traveling with you.
- You will obey the following points in your relations with me:
- you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
- you will stop talking to me if I request it;
- you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.
- You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.
This arrangement only lasted a few months. Marić eventually left Einstein and moved with the children to Zurich. After living apart for five years, Einstein and Marić divorced in 1919–with a clause stating that if he ever received the Nobel Prize, she would get the money (but that’s a whole other story).
Later that year, Einstein married his cousin. Even though he repeatedly cheated on her and made no effort to hide it, they remained married until her death in 1936.