My Favourite Book on Relationship – Essays In Love

This book should be read by anyone who has ever fallen in love.

My Favourite Book on Relationship – Essays In Love
"If you figure out what love is, that’s enough to turn anyone into a philosopher." – Alain de Botton

Essays in Love is a novel about a young man and a woman who meet over casual conversation on a flight from Paris to London, and rapidly fall into a love story. From its very beginning of the first telephone call, the first dinner, the first time spending the night in the other person's home, to its very end of love fading away without any particular reason; tear dropping, heartbreaking, til one learns to get up and start a new chapter in life. During the course of this journey, Alain de Botton explores the complexity of love from his own take on it.

This is the first non-fiction book I've ever read, and I loved it. From reading, I don't merely want entertainment; I want enlightenment. I've always been keen to learn things from art, wishing to enlarge my vision and expand my mind. This book has helped me live clearer and learn to master the challenges facing me. I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book; hopefully, you can see yourself in those words.

  • Getting into the story...

We are not born knowing how to live, but life is a skill that has to be acquired. Essays In Love is here is there to help us to understand the big idea of love, and make us feel less lonely in our life journeys. Love can be a strange thing. Sometimes, the charm we detect in somone's trivial gestures, he/she might consider incidental and irrelevant to their true self.

"Love reveals its insanity by its refusal to acknowledge the inherent normality of the loved one."

All of us prefer a life with love than without love. We long for a love in which we are never reduced or misunderstood. To feel whole, perhaps we need people around us who know us as well, sometimes better than we know ourselves.

François de La Rochefoucauld once said, "some people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love." But we are social animals; we need one another in order to define ourselves in a way that other species don't. Without others around to show us what we're like (smart, clever, ingenious), we cannot come to a proper sense of ourselves.

  • Why do we fall in love
The possibility of an alternative love story is a reminder that the life we are leading is only one of a myriad of possible lives and it is the impossibility of leading them all that plunges us into sadness. There is a longing for a return to a time without the need for choices, free of the regret at the inevitable loss that all choice (however wonderful) has entailed.

Love is a lonely pursuit. I may consider a gesture lovable, but others interpret it in very different ways. It's never about who the person is. A person is never good or bad per se, which means that loving or hating them necessarily has a basis of subjectivity. In a relationship, threatening differences do not collect at the major points (nationality, gender, class, occupation), but rather at small junctures of taste and opinions.

"Every fall into love involved the trimph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won't find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stuipidty."

We would not love if there were no lack within us; it's not customary to love what one has, and we would not want to discover the other with a similar lack. It's always lovely to be around someone who can point out our character and provide us insights to our personality that others simply don't bother with; "her understanding of many of my moods, in her knowledge of my tastes, in the things she told me about myself, in her memory of my routines and habits..."

  • The first glance
"... in the mature account of love, we should never fall at first glance. We should reserve our leap until we have completed a clear-eyed investigation of the depths and nature of the water. Only after we have undertaken a thorough exchange of opinions on parenting, poltics, arts, science, and appropirate snakes for the kitchen should two people ever decide they are ready to love each other. In the mature account of love, it is only when we truly know our partners that love deserves the chance to grow."

Love may be born at first sight, but how soon their attraction might pale if they began to love us back? When there's no more mystery within the person, they become a normal feature of our lives.

The unknown carries with it a mirror of all our deepest, most inexpressible wishes.

"Romances are never as pure as those we imagine during long train journeys... If you like them at the beginning, you probably won't like them at the end. And if you start off hating them, there's always the chance you'll end up thinking they're all right." Some people I liked, some people I didn't like, and now most things have changed.

  • Beauty
"For inspiring promise in any relationship is to not love someone for her body, but love her body for the promise of who she is."

George Orwell once said, “by forty, everyone has the face they deserve.” In truth, despite Orwell’s optimistic belief in natural justice, as unlikely to be given the face we deserve as the money or the opportunities. One question we all need to ask ourselves before getting into this, "does beauty give birth to love or does love give birth to beauty?"

Stendhal: 'beauty is the promise of happiness.'

From Leon Battista Alberti's objective criterion of beauty, any beautiful body has fixed proportions; beauty is equivalent to a harmony of all the parts. But hey, I haven't met anyone who thinks their loved ones aren't beautiful. From Marcel Proust's account, "classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination" (I don't see any difference in the posts of those Instagram models!). Perhaps it is our duty to be the author of our own feelings.

The charming aspect of philosophy is that it leads you to understand things from various perceptions. From the subjective theory of beauty, it pretty much depends on the attitude of the viewer. Immanuel Kant presented his aesthetic judgement in his book Critiques of Judgement: "whose determining ground can be none other than subjective." It's an instinct for us to search for the reactions of others to our words and actions. But no, all of us should ask ourselves, what do I see in him/her?

Ludwig Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit: is it a duck or a rabbit? (most of us can see it in two ways.)
  • The strength of love
"Christian love is the embodiment of acceptance... We needed to shout at one another partly to see whether or not we could tolerate each other’s shouting. We wanted to test each other’s capacity for survival: only if we had tried in vain to destroy one another would we know we were safe."

As two strangers who are trying to get to know each other, intervals of silence are risky because letting the conversation drop seems awkward. However, as the relationship develops, the two'd feel completely comfortable doing their own things when together, even without much talking.

"In each other’s company, we spent a good deal of time discussing how awful other people were. Unable to express ourselves honestly in most of our daily interactions... Love nourished itself through perpetual criticism of outsiders. The finest proof of our loyalty towards one other was our monstrous disloyalties towards everyone else.

Powering most love stories are obstacles; struggle against odds confirms and enriches the bond. The classic romance couple proves the strength of its love by the vigour with which it overcomes adversities. For us, there isn’t much adventure or struggle around to be had (I guess so), but joint experiences – encounter on things we see, do, or hear, help to create a common heritage.

‘A man can acquire anything in solitude except a character.’ – Stendhal
  • Why you should stay single
"... we were always sure to draw a laugh and neutralize a frustration. Humour meant there was no need for a direct confrontation... making a criticism without needing to spell it out. It may be a sign that two people have stopped loving one another when they are no longer able to spin differences into jokes."

There are certain basic truths to be learned. First, it's the easiest to accept happiness when it is brought about through things that one can control, that one has achieved after much effort and reason. But in a relationship, you have a lack of control over the happiness-inducing element; you're taking on the risk of basing one's life around another human being (living in spiritual bondage to another). The over-dependence on the other person makes you self-insufficient.

"One has to go into relationship with equal expectations, ready to give as much as the other – not with one person wanting a fling and the other real love. I think that's where all the agony comes from."

A relationship may have been nice, but people drift apart. Just like passions, they can't last forever, but it's always better to have lived and loved. You can't blame someone for their inability to understand you. Why should others think any better of us than they of ourselves? How great can one be if one is understood by everyone?

The world is an entity that would spin regardless of wheter you are in love or out of it, happy or unhappy, alive or dead.

"If commitment is seen as a group of eggs, then to commit oneself to the present is to risk putting all one’s eggs in the present basket, rather than distributing them between the baskets of past and future."

"... the definitive end of my love for her would mean nothing less than the death of a part of me."

There are always better things to do. Real geniuses always have a hard time getting their work accepted; perhaps not everyone needs to be in a relationship. Holding up an ideal life (being in love )to contrast with the present can be demotivating; living in the future perfect tense (I will have met/accomplished) fools you into believing that the future is somehow better than your current situation. Most likely, it's not going to be as ideal as you imagined; therefore, don't expect too much. I've always been taught to go with the things I believe in. All of us should make an effort to look inside ourselves. We are beautiful people, and we must learn to love ourselves first before we step onto any path.

That's it about this book. From a philosophical, mature, and psychological perspective, Alain de Botton shared his own insights on this fascinating topic. Towards the end of the book, my heart ached (as they broke up). "The more one suffers, the more virtuous one must be," so leave the less pleasant for time to heal while you go and prioritize other things that matter most. This book is one of my favourite reads of the year, and I will keep coming back to it again and again.