But our culture’s idealized notion of love, as in romantic, lives-happily-ever-after love, is an unhelpful myth. We blame our lovers, not our view of love. (So much for the romance novels and Hallmark movies we yearn to live.)
“Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” by Alain de Botton, is one of the New York Times’ most read essays in recent years. Then Krista Tippett interviewed de Botton in 2016 for her On Being podcast. She replayed it this month, because it is one of their most popular episodes ever.
The conversation between Tippett and de Botton is so powerful, I want to give you some of its richness. (Read or listen to it here: On Being on Love)
What Love Really Is
We expect that if someone really loves us, they can anticipate our needs, read our minds. De Botton says,
“When we fall in love with another person we magnify in our minds those things that are immediately enrapturing and craft our idea of the other person almost exclusively around those wonderful qualities, which is not fair to them or to us.”
“If you expect that your lover must understand everything about you, you will be – well, you’ll be furious pretty much all the time.”
De Botton suggests that when we meet someone for a first date, it would be more useful if, instead of showing off and telling the other all we’ve accomplished, we said, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.”
“Love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is.”
There is much that is mundane in an intimate relationship. Yet some of the most vicious arguments occur when both parties consider the issue trivial. Negotiating who will get the dishes out of the sink and who will do laundry on which day is the hard work of real love.
“The acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures seems to me what love really is.”
We are hardwired to connect. And we are sometimes more forgiving of our friends than our lovers. Maybe we are less bent on changing them.
Ancient Greeks had a view of love that could help us out. It was based on education.
“Love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.”
If we viewed love in this light, it might help relationships with both lovers and friends.
Loving “Those People”
Tippett and de Botton note that we are more connected to others than ever before in history. “Their well-being will impact our well-being.” Yet we often think of “those people,” those on the other side of the political or socioeconomic, or racial divide, as different. We forget, while we are feeling self-righteous about our position, that we’re a bit quirky ourselves. And that we struggle, even with our loved ones, to work things out. And that, truly
“Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be the precondition of love, as we nowadays, in a slightly spoiled way, imagine it must be.”
“Love is something we have to learn and we can make progress with, and it’s not just an enthusiasm, it’s a skill, and it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination, and a million things besides.”
“And we must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage, as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be toward that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.”
Love is a Skill
Love is hard. Love takes practice. Love is wonky. And Love is our key to happiness, to becoming our best selves, and to peace. Want to join me at getting better and better at loving?
- Think of any relationships where you have felt deeply seen and still loved.
- What quirkiness do you bring to any loving relationship?
- How could you become more skillful at loving those close to you?
- How could you become more skillful at loving “those people?”