In this one-act play, Chekhov satirizes marriage conventions among the land-owning aristocracy of Russia in the nineteenth century. The characters of Natalya Stepanovna, who is twenty-five years old, and Ivan Vassilevitch Lomov, who is thirty-five years old, are so ill-suited to one another that it seems they will not even have a "honeymoon phase" of their relationship.
Normally, the beginnings of relationships are all fun and romance and flirtation, but the beginning of this relationship is all fighting and arguing and name-calling! If this is how these two behave in the beginning of a relationship, imagine how they might treat each other five or ten or twenty years in!
Ivan clearly feels some pressure to marry soon; he remarks that he is "already 35—a critical age," and he hopes to begin a "quiet and regular life" with a wife. He says that he has no time "to look for an ideal love, or for real love." If he were to wait and hope, it might soon become too late for him to get married. He does not propose to Natalya because he loves her—not even because he particularly likes her—but because she's "an excellent housekeeper, not bad-looking, well-educated," and so on. She seems suitable, and that must be good enough for him.
But, Chekhov seems to ask, must it? Rather than soothing him, interacting with her actually increases Lomov's feelings of illness and his heart palpitations. He hopes that his life will improve upon marriage, but it quickly begins to decline—and they aren't even married yet!
Chekhov, thus, conveys the idea that we cannot look to marriage to make us happy; we must find happiness ourselves. Further, we must marry for better reasons than for improving our financial status or class; we ought to marry because we are truly well-suited to our partner and they to us.