Alain de Botton on Love – Free Ebook

so I wonder if anyone here is happily married anyone here happily married unbelievable I mean it truly is unbelievable when looked at in the context of world history because the notion that we would be not only married but happily married is only roughly dates back to around the middle of the 18th century until then you tolerated your partner for the sake of dynastic concerns and children you did not expect to love them a very new idea was born in the middle of the 18th century that historians called Romanticism and we are all the heirs of Romanticism and the way that human beings love is very context and society dependent you know there’s a lovely quote by LaRoche Foucault there are some people who would never have fallen in love if they hadn’t heard there was such a thing slightly to cynical but really what this is alerting us to is that the way we love is very dependent on our societies and nowadays we love romantically we are all the heirs of romanticism and romanticism is a very particular ideology and it’s worth just running through some of its dominant features romanticism tells us that all of us have a soulmate out there and it’s our task to identify the soulmate when we meet the soulmate we will feel a very special feeling and a kind of instinctive attraction to this person and we will know they are our destiny we might be in a bar in a nightclub in a train we will have that special feeling and then we’ll call up our friends we go I’ve had that special feeling at last that’s terrific and so everyone around us will have that special feeling and then they’ll get married and have children and if you don’t have the special feeling you get very worried you go on tinder you’re always ready with a special feeling special feeling come along until the soulmate comes along and the good thing about finding a soul mate when we eventually find the soul mate we will never be lonely again all of us everything that we are will be perfectly understood by another human being it will mean the definitive end of any sense of alienation or loneliness all our feelings our hopes will be confirmed by another person so it’s really terrific news when the soulmate comes along we will have no more secrets they will understand us totally and we will understand them and that lovely you know early days when everything that you can possibly think of a feeling ashamed or vulnerable you can reveal this to another person and they will confirm you and bolster you and that’s terrific the other thing about romanticism generally the people who invented romanticism didn’t have jobs or they only worked a little bit so romanticism is very tied up with long summer balmy afternoons walks in nature a lot of emphasis on waterfalls and large watery expanses and also that moment dusk is very important for romantics that moment when the sun’s our beams are light up the underside of the clouds turning them a pinky hue very special kind of feelings for romantics the other thing that romantics very much believe in is that love and sex go together so previously people obviously had sex and had been in love they didn’t necessarily always see them as entirely could join but romantics believe that sex is the ultimate expression of love which is why in the 19th century adultery becomes a tragedy and becomes the most important theme of 19th century novels all the great novels of the 19th century are in one way or another about adultery starting with Emma Bovary Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina and on and on because suddenly the reason why suddenly adultery is a disaster is because the romantics have made sex into a proof the ultimate proof of love as you’ll have gathered from my tone I’m not an unalloyed fan of Romanticism I believe that it has caused us immense trouble in fact I believe that romanticism is the single greatest enemy we face for love and that if we are to learn how to love better in the future we must give up a lot of the feelings that got us into the sort of relationships that romanticism points us towards now what is so wrong with romances why the cynicism well let’s start with a few points one of the first things that’s troublesome is that unlike what romanticism tells us we are not pure kind loving beings simply on the lookout for a soulmate we are deeply dangerous and most of us are on the edge of insanity this is not an exception it’s just what it means to be human all of us are only just holding it together we are danger is to be around we have all sorts of impulses feelings desires which make us great trouble to be around the only people we can think of as normal are people we’ve just met once we’ve met them a little bit more we all soon realize that they are not normal so in other words we are troubled to be around we’re a little bit crazy the this is compounded by the fact that anyone will likely to get together with is also going to be crazy and they won’t be able to tell us how they’re crazy their craziness will be an intimate part of their own biography which we won’t be able to get to by the normal kind of questions that we get addressed at a dinner date I mean what one of the first things that we should be asking ourselves in a more psychologically aware society one of the first questions you should ask anyone at a dinner it in a dinner date is how are you mad I’m mad like this how are you mad that should be a very standard question we ask each other over dinner but it’s it’s seen as an insulting question it isn’t the reason another reason why of course we don’t were so unaware of our psychological dynamics is that until we start a big long term relationship no one can be bothered to tell us our friends certainly can’t I mean sometimes in relationships when things are tricky we say things that will marry my friend or John my friend they don’t seem to criticize me why are you criticizing me or that I my mother doesn’t criticize me well the reason is mothers and friends don’t care enough they don’t have to deal with you all the time so they don’t give you the vital feedback that only a lover deep in a relationship probably a marriage will ever tell you so the information that is most relevant to our self understanding is missing friends don’t care and lovers when it gets too tricky casual relationships just end because people can’t be bothered to invest in the deep sort of in mutual enlightenment that should be going on in a relationship so to disturb people come together that’s going to be problematic the other thing of course is that you know in the olden days people used to get together according to a marriage of reason so parents were together and reasonable reasons for getting together would be identified his plot of land is next to yours the same religion or the cárcel or whatever now nowadays we believe in instinct that we should follow our instinct instinct should guide us to the person who will make us happy the problem is and this is really the drift to summarize brutally this is the drift of what psychoanalysis has taught us in the 20th century psychoanalysis has taught us that when we fall in love with people we’re essentially recreating a pattern of earliest childhood that we learn about love in the bosom of the family and when it comes to adult love we are mirroring very much on top of this ancient story which is generally inaccessible to our conscious control now the problem is that when we love in adulthood we are not necessarily drawn to people who will make us happy we are drawn to people who will feel familiar and very often happiness and familiarity have drifted apart because the love we knew as children is not a love that was pure of certain rather unhealthy or troublesome dynamics maybe loving someone who was rather distant or whose mood we couldn’t control of who we were slightly afraid of etc and so this explains how often you’ll set up a friend with another friend and they both seem so well-suited on paper according to reasonable criteria and then the friend calls you up and they say you know they were perfect but they didn’t have that special feeling and you think that special feeling is a surefire guide to happiness but no it really means that the person was probably a little bit too normal for your friend they were a little bit too healthy they didn’t satisfy your friends requirement for suffering and therefore we say oh they weren’t that attractive a little bit they were nice but a little bit boring or something remember bit boring is we mean a little bit too healthy for me they didn’t fit my pattern of madness so I had to let them go so instinct guides us to some very troublesome carriages and we don’t feel a special feeling until we really locked horns with someone who can make us feel the kind of trouble that is familiar that is beautifully familiar from a childhood the other thing that goes wrong of course is that in love we have this idea that romanticism tells us you should be yourself in a relationship now being yourself around another person is a curse we should spare anyone who we care about because the full dimensions of our characters are really troublesome but we have this idea that if you can’t be yourself fully fully fully you’re not being honest and honestly the romantics tell us is the gateway to true love and so this sets up a really troublesome dynamic and you know we all feel it you know it is in an early stage of a relationship you met somebody you’ve shared all sorts of secrets and they’ve said oh how nice now Pleasant so finally the outside world that scary place has been humanized because you’ve met someone from the outside world who feels as you do about all sorts of things and there’s a tremendous Lee liberating feeling in those early days of love but then then it’s often about sex let’s let’s be honest often you say things like do you want to do that thing and they go yeah yeah I’ve always thought about that thing oh really I’ve always been really into that thing but no one’s I think oh yeah I’m totally into it let’s do that thing and so it’s really wonderful it’s freeing it’s liberating and then one day you’re in a restaurant and it may be the relationship is three months in and you say oh you know that that weight and weight a person over there that you know imagine if like I don’t know like BAM and we and it wouldn’t be fun if like we invited them in and your partner who’s understood so much about you your feelings about your mother’s that funny thing you talked about they understand so much and suddenly they’re looking pretty serious and kind of upset and you go oh whoa whoa and you suddenly feel that thing which is a conflict between love and honesty and most of us at that point go you know what I’ll take the love I’ll ditch the honesty I’m not going to go so much into what I really want to do with that person I will draw up the drawbridge again and the moment of loneliness begins and and of course romanticism tells us this is a disaster because romanticism tells us if you love someone complete honesty but then comes this thing with the thing that would the waiter so it’s it’s it’s difficult okay so the other thing that romantism tells us is is if you really love someone and they really love you you shouldn’t use too many words you will feel an intuitive understanding with someone and you know the miraculous moments in love are often about those way the other partner seems to understand you without having said anything this is a disaster because this can only look it’s very charming in the first three months but long-term the idea that someone is going to understand you without you needing to speak or communicate is a disaster it’s a collective disaster that has marred love for millions of people it’s led to an outbreak of sulking because what is a sulk in love other than a deep conviction that your lover should understand something and they haven’t understood and that’s why you’re not going to tell them why you’re upset you’re upset but you’re not going to tell them and the regional tell them because if they loved you they would know why you were upset so that’s why you’re going to bolt yourself in the bathroom and you won’t say what’s wrong because a true lover knows what they would be able to read through the bathroom door what was wrong with you the other thing the other thing that’s really troublesome about romantic love is this belief that if you love somebody and someone loves you they accept the whole love you and that they never try to change you and often this very awkward moments where everyone goes you’re really kind of that that funny thing like what you’re eating cereal is this a funny chewing noise another one goes hang on a minute I thought you loved me and they got no I do love you but there’s that chewing noise and they go always so critical my mother’s not so critical my friends are my ex-boyfriend my ex-girlfriend is not so critical and you go I love you I need to tell you about the cereal and and that is seen as a a breach of love a breach of the ground rules of love it isn’t but we have the wrong idea of love we need to go back to the ancient Greeks the ancient Greeks had a much wiser vision of love the ancient Greeks believed that love is an attraction to perfection and virtue and accomplishment whenever we see virtue and accomplishment we feel a fancy sensation of love we’re tolerant towards the bad the imperfect the fragile the vulnerable we tolerate him and we’re kind to it but we don’t love it we just put up with it but the real sensation of love is focused on perfection and accomplishment now the romantic view is contrary to that it says you should love the whole thing there is no such thing as a weakness a vulnerability all these things are equally lovable and education has no place in love now the ancient Greeks believed that when you love someone you are embarked on a process of mutual education you’re trying to educate them and they’re trying to educate you the problem is education goes so wrong in love most of the time nowadays because romanticism has made it seem illegal now when is a teacher a good teacher a good teacher is somebody who first of all feels relaxed they feel it’s legitimate for them to teach an audience the audience feels it’s legitimate to be in a student position none of which exists in the conditions of love normally in which you’re trying to tell someone something and now why are we such bad teachers in love not just because we think it’s illegitimate because so much is at stake you know the best teachers don’t really care about the progress of their students if the students haven’t understood doesn’t matter you know you’ll get on to the next trigonometry class doesn’t matter in love we care so much and so we’re so hysterical we’re trying to teach someone something on the verge of a catastrophe in our own lives because we’re haunted by the feeling in love in long-term love I’ve married the wrong person therefore I’ve ruined my life and that’s not a good position to be in when you’re trying to teach someone how to eat in a different way or make anecdote in its way you’re hysterical you’re going the background thought is I’ve ruined my life I’ve married an idiot and they’ve got to understand so you shout and you scream and humiliate and of course no one’s ever learned anything under conditions of humiliation the moment you said anything humiliating the lessons over they’re not on your side and they’re offended as we know from feedback forms it’s got to be 99% sweetness and light and honey and 1% criticism that you’ve got a potential chance to educate so we do terrible education we don’t know how to educate we think that education is a breach of love rather than its beginning all of us are so imperfect of course our lover is going to find fault with us and of course they’re going to try and improve us but we have to legitimate the process of improvement and at the moment we don’t at all because we think it’s a betrayal of the of the ground rules of love what are the solutions well we have to reinvent love now we’re a tech environment and we’re so used to reinventing certain technological political platforms we have to invent the romantic and emotional basis upon which our lives are made I’m very thrilled by this idea it comes to me later if you’re interested in this plan we have to reinvent love and how we love the first thing we have to do is to get away from instinct of course instinct doesn’t work imagine if you someone are saying I’m performing a brain surgery later this afternoon I’m going to be guided by instinct I just have an instinct I’m going to land an a380 tomorrow by instinct course you wouldn’t have end up a disaster it’s bizarre that we continue to refuse the idea that we should be educated in the very basics of relationships we need a more therapeutic it’s not that we should lower our expectations it’s that we should keep the expectations that we have but create a therapeutic scaffolding around them so that we will be able to reach the heights which we legitimately seek in our relationships here are some of the things that I would put into a curriculum of law this is some of what we need to know in order to be better lovers the first thing we need to understand is let’s stop treating our partners as if they were adults and let’s start treating them like small children the reason why this is so important is when small child does something wrong let’s imagine you’ve got a small child you cook them dinner they’re two years old three years old you live in some broccoli and some schnitzel surgery we put them I put a plate down in front of them and they just swipe it off and go there and start screaming now what do you do as a modern parent you don’t hit them you don’t go I’m so offended I have a hard day at work and now this what are you you’re persecuting me you don’t say that you go oh maybe that my poor child’s got a sore tooth or maybe he’s a bit jealous of his sister being born maybe that’s kind of weighing on him maybe he’s a little bit tired that’s why he’s behaving like this in other words we’re incredibly generous about our system of interpretation we don’t do this as adults because we think or the person’s an adult and of course most adults look like adults unfortunately it will be so much more useful if we look like children because you know the great thing about breaking something then your broken arm right everyone can see where you got a broken arm oh I’m so sorry you got a broken um let me open the door you’ve got a broken arm if you’ve got a broken soul a broken bit of your psyche everyone thinks you’re normal but you want to go no no I’ve got this thing that’s broken it doesn’t look broken so we don’t look like children but we are inside and it’s so you know we’re so aware of how patronizing it is to be treated as younger than we in fact are that we’ve neglected in a way how generous have kind had truly loving it is to treat someone as if they were younger than they are because this is really what it means to love which is to be generous in the interpretation of the behavior of another person the other thing that we need to get better at of course is interpreting whether somebody is evil or not for doing the things that they do and for this we need to learn humor you know often comedy is seen as an add-on a sort of a game show entertainment thing it’s a vital resource in relationships because what humor does think of all the great characters that we laugh about like Larry David now Larry David if you met Larry David as he plays himself in Curb Your Enthusiasm if you met him in life you think this guy’s a total idiot you hate him he’s awful but because of the humorous envelope in which is presented to us by comic genius you think that vital thing he is a lovable idiot and that’s a sign of love when you manage to move from seeing your partner as an idiot to seeing your partner is a lovable idiot you have learnt a vital lesson about love which we all need to to take on board we need to remember of course humor is a sorry secrets are okay to try and reveal everything about yourself is wrong if you’re let’s say only lonely with maybe 40 percent of your character that’s fine you’re doing very well the idea that loneliness should end with a birth of love is completely wrong you must not blame another person for not understanding every part of you how could you expect them to you don’t even understand most of you how could they mind read no one is a mind reader nor should they be expected to be so letting gentlemen a quick rundown of the kinds of reason the kind of checklist that you should be making to know that you are ready for love you know you’re ready for love when you have gently understood that of course you are crazy you have gently understood that of course your partner is crazy you’ve generally understood that you don’t really understand yourself they don’t understand themselves and your communication is likely to be completely dire at the instinctive level and you need to bring it on to a more therapeutic level you need and that love is going to be accompanied by a lot of practical details you won’t be on holiday you won’t be with the waterfalls all the time or the lovely beautiful clouds that love is a practical venture and that you will be unhappy a great deal of the time pessimism pessimism is often seen as the enemy of good things and indeed it is in many ventures but when you embark on the journey of love pessimism in fact is the most generous and kindly emotion that you could direct towards yourself and your partner that is the future of love that I’ve been sketching for you thank you so much

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