The Course of Love – Alain de Botton

CITATE DIN CARTE:

  • „The Romantic faith must always have existed, but only in the past few centuries has it been judged anything more than an illness; only recently has the search for a soulmate been allowed to take on the status of something close to the purpose of life. An idealism previously directed at gods and spirits has been rerouted towards human subjects – an ostensibly generous gesture nevertheless freighted with forbidding and brittle consequences, since it is no simple thing for any human being to honour over a lifetime the perfections he or she might have hinted at to an imaginative observer in the street, the office or the adjoining aeroplane seat.”
  • „A person cannot be at once a libertine and a married Romantic, however compelling both paradigms might be.”
  • „We start off in childhood believing parents might have access to a superior kind of knowledge and experience. They look, for a while, astonishingly competent. Our exaggerated esteem is touching, but also intensely problematic, for it sets them up as the ultimate objects of blame when we gradually discover that they are flawed, sometimes unkind, in areas ignorant and utterly unable to save us from certain troubles. It can take a while, until the fourth decade or the final hospital scenes, for a more forgiving stance to emerge. Their new condition, frail and frightened, reveals in a compellingly physical way something which has always been true psychologically: that they are uncertain vulnerable creatures motivated more by anxiety, fear, a clumsy love and unconscious compulsions than by godlike wisdom and moral clarity – and cannot, therefore, forever be held responsible for either their own shortcomings or our many disappointments.”
  • „Romantic idea of love: he has found the right person; he has opened his heart to her; and he has been accepted. But he is, of course, nowhere yet. He and Kirsten will marry, they will suffer, they will frequently worry about money, they will have a girl first, then a boy, one of them will have an affair, there will be passages of boredom, they’ll sometimes want to murder one another and on a few occasions to kill themselves. This will be the real love story.”
  • „The Romantic vision of marriage stresses the importance of finding the “right” person, which is taken to mean someone in sympathy with the raft of our interests and values. There is no such person over the long term. We are too varied and peculiar. There cannot be lasting congruence. The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace.    Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate dissimilarity that is the true marker of the “right” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn’t be its precondition.”
  • „He will need to learn that love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.”
  • „We too often act from scripts generated by the crises of long ago that we’ve all but consciously forgotten. We behave according to an archaic logic which now escapes us, following a meaning we can’t properly lay bare to those we depend on most. We may struggle to know which period of our lives we are really in, with whom we are truly dealing and what sort of behaviour the person before us is rightfully owed. WE can be a little tricky to be around.”
  • „The start receives such disproportionate attention because it isn’t deemed to be just one phase among many; for the Romantic, it contains in concentrated form everything significant about love as a whole. Which is why in so many love stories there is simply nothing else for the narrator to do with a couple after they have triumphed over a range of initial obstacles other than to consign them to an ill-defined contented future – or kill them off. What we typically call love is only the start of love.”
  • „The stories of relationships maintained over decades, without obvious calamity or bliss, remain – fascinatingly and worryingly – the exceptions among the narratives we dare to tell ourselves about love’s progress.”
  • „Love stories begin not when we fear someone may be unwilling to see us again, but when they decide they would have no objection to seeing us all the time; not when they have every opportunity to run away, but when they have exchanged solemn vows promising to hold us, and be held captive by us, for life. Our understanding of love has been hijacked and beguiled by its first distractingly moving moments. We have allowed our love stories to end way too early. We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue.”
  • „Marriage, to Rabih, feels like the high point of a daring path to total intimacy; proposing has all the passionate allure of shutting one’s eyes and jumping off a steep cliff, wishing and trusting that the other will be there to catch one.”
  • „Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completion.”
  • „Love is also, and equally, about weakness, about being touched by another’s fragilities and sorrows, especially when (as happens in the early days) we ourselves are in no danger of being held responsible for them. Seeing our lover despondent and in crisis, in tears and unable to cope, can reassure us that, for all their virtues, they are not alienatingly invincible. They, too, are at points confused and at sea, a realization which lends us a new supportive role, reduces our sense of shame about our own inadequacies and draws us closer to each other around a shared experience of pain.”
  • „The terms avoidant and anxious are hardly typical in a love story, but if Romantic is taken to mean “helpful to the progress of love,” then they turn out to be among the most romantic words Kirsten and Rabih will ever stumble upon, for they enable them to grasp patterns that have been destructively at work between them every day of their married lives.”
  • „The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and grace.”
  • „We don’t need to be constantly reasonable in order to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane.”
  • „Cynics are merely idealists with unusually high standards.”
  • „Few in this world are ever simply nasty; those who hurt us are themselves in pain. The appropriate response is hence never cynicism nor aggression but, at the rare moments one can manage it, always love.”
  • „Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate.”
  • „A marriage doesn’t begin with a proposal, or even an initial meeting. It begins far earlier, when the idea of love is born, and more specifically the dream of a soul mate.”
  • „There is no one more likely to destroy us than the person we marry.”
  • „In an ideal world, marriage vows would be entirely rewritten. At the altar, a couple would speak thus: „We accept not to panic when, some years from now, what we are doing today will seem like the worst decision of our lives. Yet we promise not to look around, either, fro we accept that there cannot be better options out there. Everyone is always impossible. We are a demented species.  After the solemn repetition of the last sentence by the congregation, the couple would continue: „We will endeavor to be faithful. At the same time, we are certain that never being allowed to sleep with anyone else is one of the tragedies of existence. We apologize that our jealousies have made this peculiar but sound and non-negotiable restriction very necessary. We promise to make each other the sole repository of our regrets rather than distribute them through a life of sexual Don Juanism. We have surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is to each other we have chosen to bind ourselves.” Spouses who had been cheated upon would no longer be at liberty furiously to complain that they had expected their partner to be content with them alone. Instead they could more poignantly and justly cry, „I was relying on you to be loyal to the specific variety of compromise and unhappiness which our hard-won marriage represents.”  Thereafter, an affair would be a betrayal not of intimate joy but of a reciprocal pledge to endure the disappointments of marriage with bravery and stoic reserve.”
  • „It’s not just children who are childlike. Adults, too, are – beneath the bluster – intermittently playful, silly, fanciful, vulnerable, hysterical, terrified, and pitiful and in search of consolation and forgiveness.  We’re well versed at seeing the sweet and the fragile in children and offering them help and comfort accordingly. Around them, we know how to put aside the worst of our compulsions, vindictiveness and fury. We can recalibrate our expectations and demand a little less than we normally do; we’re slower to anger and a bit more aware of unrealised potential. We readily treat children with a degree of kindness that we are oddly and woefully reluctant to show to our peers.  It is a wonderful thing to live in a world where so many people are nice to children. It would be even better if we lived in one where we were a little nicer to the childlike sides of one another.”
  • „We take this idea of love with us into adulthood. Grown up, we hope for a re-creation of what it felt like to be ministered to and indulged. In a secret corner of our mind, we picture a lover who will anticipate our needs, read our hearts, act selflessly and make everything better. It sounds ‘romantic’; yet it is a blueprint for disaster.”
  • „At the heart of sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worth of one. We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love”
  • „We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favor when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant. We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronizing to be thought of as younger than we are; we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with—and forgive—the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.”
  • „Pronouncing a lover “perfect” can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.”
  • „Why, then, the peculiar and somehow outsized response? The behavior makes little sense when one tries to understand it according to the current facts. It’s as if some aspect of the present scenario were drawing energy from another source, as if it were unwittingly triggering a pattern of behavior that the other person originally developed long ago in order to meet a particular threat which has now somehow been subconsciously re-evoked. The overreactor is responsible, as the psychological term puts it, for the “transference” of an emotion from the past onto someone in the present—who perhaps doesn’t entirely deserve it. Our minds are, oddly, not always good at knowing what era they are in. They jump a little too easily, like an erstwhile victim of burglary who keeps a gun by the bed and is startled awake by every rustle. What’s worse for the loved ones standing in the vicinity is that people in the throes of a transference have no easy way of knowing, let alone calmly explaining, what they are up to; they simply feel that their response is entirely appropriate to the occasion. Their partners on the other hand may reach a rather different and rather less flattering conclusion: that they are distinctly odd—and maybe even a little mad.”
  • „Taking trauma to be a primary route to growth and depth, Rabih wants his own sadness to find an echo in his partner’s character. He therefore doesn’t much mind, initially, that Kirsten is sometimes withdrawn and hard to read, or that she tends to seem aloof and defensive in the extreme after they’ve had an argument. He entertains a confused wish to help her without, however, understanding that help can be a challenging gift to deliver to those who are most in need of it. He interprets her damaged aspects in the most obvious and most lyrical way: as a chance for him to play a useful role. We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity. We are looking to re-create, within our adult relationships, the very feelings we knew so well in childhood and which were rarely limited to just tenderness and care. The love most of us will have tasted early on came entwined with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his or her anger, or of not feeling secure enough to communicate our trickier wishes. How logical, then, that we should as adults find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong but because they are a little too right—in the sense of seeming somehow excessively balanced, mature, understanding, and reliable—given that, in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign and unearnt. We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”
  • „The particulars of what arouses us may sound odd and illogical, but—seen from close up—they carry echoes of qualities we long for in other, purportedly saner areas of existence: understanding, sympathy, trust, unity, generosity, and kindness. Beneath many erotic triggers lie symbolic solutions to some of our greatest fears, and poignant allusions to our yearnings for friendship and understanding.”
  • „He will surmise that love can endure only when one is unfaithful to its beguiling opening ambitions, and that, for his relationships to work, he will need to give up on the feelings that got him into them in the first place. He will need to learn that love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.”
  • „Children may end up being the unexpected teachers of people many times their age, to whom they offer—through their exhaustive dependence, egoism, and vulnerability—an advanced education in a wholly new sort of love, one in which reciprocation is never jealously demanded or fractiously regretted and in which the true goal is nothing less than the transcendence of oneself for the sake of another.”
  • „It is precisely when we hear little from our partner which frightens, shocks or sickens us that we should begin to be concerned, for this may be the surest sign that we are being gently lied to or shielded from the other’s imagination, whether out of kindness or from a touching fear of losing our love. It may mean that we have, despite ourselves, shut our ears to information that fails to conform to our hopes, hopes which will thereby be endangered all the time.”
  • „Although it often struggles to be heard in respectable circles, there is an alternative to the Christian-Romantic tenet that sex and love should always be inseparable. The libertine position denies any inherent or logical link between loving someone and needing to be unfailingly sexually loyal to them. It proposes that it can be entirely natural and even healthy for partners in a couple occasionally to have sex with strangers for whom they have little feeling but to whom they nonetheless feel strongly attracted. Sex doesn’t always have to be bound up with love. It can sometimes, this philosophy holds, be a purely physical, aerobic activity engaged in without substantive emotional meaning. It is, so its adherents conclude, just as absurd to suppose that one should only ever have sex with the person one loves as it would be to require that only those in committed couples ever be permitted to play table tennis or go jogging together. This remains, in the current age, the minority view by a very wide margin. „
  • „Compatibility is an achievement of love; it shouldn’t be its precondition.”
  • „Sexiness might at first appear to be a merely physiological phenomenon, the result of awakened hormones and stimulated nerve endings. But in truth it is not so much about sensations as it is about ideas—foremost among them the idea of acceptance and the promise of an end to loneliness and shame.”
  • „Repression, a degree of restraint, and a little dedication to self-editing belong to love just as surely as a capacity for explicit confession.”
  • „The love of flowers is a consequence of modesty and an accommodation with disappointment… Held up against certain ideals of success, his life has been a deep disappointment. But he can also see that it is, in the end, no great achievement simply to fixate on the failure. There is valour in being able to identify a forgiving, hopeful perspective on one’s life, in knowing how to be a friend to oneself, because one has a responsibility to others to endure.”
  • „They are two people who need one another badly and yet are simultaneously terrified of letting on just how much they do so. Neither stays with an injury long enough truly to acknowledge or feel it, or to explain it to the person who inflicted it. It takes reserves of confidence they don’t possess to keep faith with the one who has offended them. They would need to trust the other sufficiently to make it clear that they aren’t really “angry” or “cold” but are instead, and always, something far more basic, touching, and deserving of affection: hurt.”
  • „Insomnia can, when it goes on for weeks, be hell. But in smaller doses – a night here and there – it doesn’t always need a cure. It may even be an asset, a help with some key troubles of the soul. Crucial insights that we need to convey to ourselves can often be received only at night, like city church bells that have to wait until dark to be heard.”
  • „Maturity means acknowledging that Romantic love might constitute only a narrow, and perhaps rather mean-minded, aspect of emotional life, one principally focused on a quest to find love rather than to give it; to be loved rather than to love.”
  • „Ordinary life rewards a practical, unintrospective outlook. There’s too little time and too much fear for anything else. We let ourselves be guided by an instinct for self-preservation: we push ourselves foward, strike back when we’re hit, turn the blame on to others, quell stray questions and cleave closely to a flattering image of where we’re headed. We have little option but to be relentlessly on our own side.  Only at those rare moments when the stars are out and nothing further will be needed from us till dawn can we loosen our hold on our ego for the sake of a more honest and less parochial perspective.”
  • „Choosing a person to marry is hence just a matter of deciding exactly what kind of suffering we want to endure rather than of assuming we have found a way to skirt the rules of emotional existence. We will all by definition end up with that stock character of our nightmares, ‘the wrong person.’ This needn’t be a disaster, however. Enlightened romantic pessimism simply assumes that one person can’t be everything ot another. We should look for ways to accommodate ourselves as gently and as kindly as we can to the awkward realities of living alongside another fallen creature. There can only ever be a ‘good enough’ marriage.”
  • „What makes people good communicators is, in essence, an ability not to be fazed by the more problematic or offbeat aspects of their own characters. They can contemplate their anger, their sexuality, and their unpopular, awkward, or unfashionable opinions without losing confidence or collapsing into self-disgust. They can speak clearly because they have managed to develop a priceless sense of their own acceptability. They like themselves well enough to believe that they are worthy of, and can win, the goodwill of others if only they have the wherewithal to present themselves with the right degree of patience and imagination.  As children, these good communicators must have been blessed with caregivers who knew how to love their charges without demanding that every last thing about them be agreeable and perfect. Such parents would have been able to live with the idea that their offspring might sometimes—for a while, at least—be odd, violent, angry, mean, peculiar, or sad, and yet still deserve a place within the circle of familial love.”
  • „Good listeners are no less rare or important than good communicators. Here, too, an unusual degree of confidence is the key – a capacity not to be thrown off course by, or buckle under the weight of, information that may deeply challenge certain settled assumptions. Good listeners are unfussy about the chaos which others may for a time create in their minds; they’ve been there before and know that everything can eventually be set back in its place.”
  • „The modern expectation is that there will be equality in all things in the couple—which means, at heart, an equality of suffering. But calibrating grief to ensure an equal dosage is no easy task: misery is experienced subjectively, and there is always a temptation for each party to form a sincere yet competitive conviction that, in truth, his or her life really is more cursed–in ways that the partner seems uninclined to acknowledge or atone for. It takes a superhuman wisdom to avoid the consoling conclusion that one has the harder life.”
  • „Both Rabih and Kirsten have learned how to reassure the anxious child selves concealed within their adult partners. That’s why they love each other. But they have in the process also unknowingly inherited a little of that dangerous, unfair, beautifully naive trust which little children place in their parents. Some primitive part of the grown-up Rabih and Kirsten insists that the beloved must control far more of the world than any human being in an adult relationship possibly could, which is what generates such anger and frustration when problems nevertheless arise.”
  • „The doubts only inflame desire. As Rabih has realized, the most attractive people aren’t those who accept him right away (he doubts their judgement) or those who never give him a chance (he grows to resent their indifference) but rather those who, for unfathomable reasons – perhaps a competing romantic entanglement or a cautious nature, a physical predicament or a psychological inhibition, a religious commitment or a political objection – leave him turning for a little while in the wind.”
  • „In the wake of the affair, Rabih adopts a different view of the purpose of marriage. As a younger man he thought of it as a consecration of a special set of feelings: tenderness, desire, enthusiasm, longing. However, he now understands that it is also, and just as importantly, an institution, one which is meant to stand fast from year to year without reference to every passing change in the emotions of its participants.”
  • „His clumsiness is at least an incidental sign of his sincerity: we tend not to get very anxious when seducing people we don’t much care about.”
  • „The games of submission and domination, the rule-breaking scenarios, the fetishistic interest in particular words or parts of the body: all offer opportunities to investigate wishes that are far from being simply peculiar, pointless or slightly demented. They offer brief utopian interludes in which we can, with a rare and real friend, safely cast off our normal defences and share and satisfy our longings for extreme closeness and mutual acceptance – which is the real, psychologically rooted reason why games are, in the end, so exciting.”
  • „But she’s not even remotely coping inside: it takes a certain strength to cry, the confidence that one will eventually be able to staunch the tears.”
  • „Infatuations aren’t delusions. That way they have of holding their head may truly indicate someone confident, wry, and sensitive; they really may have the humor and intelligence implied by their eyes and the tenderness suggested by their mouth. The error of the infatuation is more subtle: a failure to keep in mind the central truth of human nature: that everyone—not merely our current partners, in whose multiple failings we are such experts—but everyone will have something substantially and maddeningly wrong with them when we spend more time around them, something so wrong as to make a mockery of those initially rapturous feelings. The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well. The best cure for love is to get to know them better.”
  • „The forthrightness of the middle-aged seducer is rarely a matter of confidence or arrogance; it is instead a species of impatient despair born of a pitiful awareness of the ever-increasing proximity of death.”
  • „A world that demands high degrees of self-control, cynicism, and rationality—and is marked by extreme insecurity and competitiveness—justly sees in childhood its own counterbalancing virtues, qualities that have too sternly and definitively had to be surrendered in return for the keys to the adult realm.”
  • „We seem unwilling to allow for the possibility that the glory of our species may lie not only in the launching of satellites, the founding of companies, and the manufacturing of miraculously thin semiconductors but also in an ability—even if it is widely distributed among billions—to spoon yogurt into small mouths, find missing socks, clean toilets, deal with tantrums, and wipe congealed things off tables. Here, too, there are trials worthy not of condemnation or sarcastic ridicule but of a degree of glamour, so that they may be endured with greater sympathy and fortitude.”
  • „He feeds her his worlds.”
  • „It is of course the height of absurdity to blame them. But this is to misunderstand the rules under which love operates. It is because we cannot scream at the forces who are really responsible that we get angry with those we are sure will best tolerate us for blaming them. We take it out on the very nicest, most sympathetic, most loyal people in the vicinity, the ones least likely to have harmed us, but the ones most likely to stick around while we pitilessly rant at them.”
  • „The longing for company may be no less powerful or irresponsible in its effects than the sexual motive once was.”
  • „It’s more than mere coyness to refer to what they have done as “making love.” They haven’t just had sex; they have translated their feelings—appreciation, tenderness, gratitude, and surrender—into a physical act.”
  • „The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well. The best cure for love is to get to know them better.”
  • „Children teach us that love is, in its purest form, a kind of service. The word has grown freighted with negative connotations. An individualistic, self-gratifying culture cannot easily equate contentment with being at someone else’s call. We are used to loving others in return for what they can do for us, for their capacity to entertain, charm or soothe us. Yet babies can do precisely nothing. There is, as slightly older children sometimes conclude with a sense of serious discomfort, no ‘point’ to them; that is their point. They teach us to give without expecting anything in return, simply because they need help badly – and we are in a position to provide it. We are inducted into a love based not on an admiration for strength, but on a compassion for weakness, a vulnerability common to every member of the species and one which has been and will eventually again be our own. Because it is always tempting to overemphasize autonomy and independence, these helpless creatures are here to remind us that no one is, in the end, ‘self-made’; we are all heavily in someone’s debt. We realize that life depends – quite literally – on the capacity for love. (…) we learn, too, that being another’s servant is not humiliating – quite the opposite, for it sets us free from the wearying responsibility of continuously catering to our own twisted, insatiable natures. We learn the relief and privilege of being granted something more important to live for than ourselves.”
  • „The child teaches the adult something else about love: that genuine love should involve a constant attempt to interpret with maximal generosity what might be going on, at any time, beneath the surface of difficult and unappealing behaviour. The parent has to second-guess what the cry, the kick, the grief or the anger is really about. And what marks out this project of interpretation – and makes it so different from what occurs in the average adult relationship – is its charity. Parents are apt to proceed from the assumption that their children, though they may be troubled or in pain, are fundamentally good. As soon as the particular pin that is jabbing them is correctly identified, they will be restored to native innocence. When children cry, we don’t accuse them of being mean or self-pitying; we wonder what has upset them. When they bite, we know they must be frightened or momentarily vexed. We are alive to the insidious effects that hunger, a tricky digestive tract or a lack of sleep may have on mood. How kind we would be if we managed to import even a little of this instinct into adult relationships – if here, too, we could look past the grumpiness and viciousness and recognize the fear, confusion and exhaustion which almost invariably underlie them. This is what it would mean to gaze upon the human race with love.”
  • „A well-loved child is set a challenging precedent. In its very nature, parental love works to conceal the effort which went into generating it. It shields the recipient from the donor’s complexity and sadness – and from an awareness of how many other interests, friends and concerns the parent has sacrificed in the name of love.”
  • „What dangers are posed by those touchingly insecure men who, unsure of their own powers of attraction, need to keep finding out whether they are acceptable to others.”
  • „A few centuries from now, the level of self-knowledge that our own age judges necessary to get married might be thought puzzling, if not outright barbaric. By then, a standard, wholly non-judgemental line of enquiry (appropriate even on a first date), to which everyone would be expected to have a tolerant, good-natured and non-defensive answer, would simply be: ‘So in what ways are you mad?'”
  • „Such doubts only inflame desire. As Rabih has realized, the most attractive people aren’t those who accept him right away (he doubts their judgement) or those who never give him a chance (he grows to resent their indifference) but rather those who, for unfathomable reasons – perhaps a competing romantic entanglement or a cautious nature, a physical predicament or a psychological inhibition, a religious commitment or a political objection – leave him turning for a little while in the wind. „
  • „Beneath many erotic triggers lie symbolic solutions to some of our greatest fears, and poignant allusions to our yearnings for friendship and understanding.”
  • „The success of any relationship should be determined, not just by how happy a couple are to be together, but by how worried each partner would be about not being in a relationship at all.”
  • „We place such demands on our partners, and become so unreasonable around them, because we have faith that someone who understands obscure parts of us, whose presence solves so many of our woes, must somehow also be able to fix everything about our lives. We exaggerate the other’s powers in a curious sort of homage—heard in adult life decades down the line—to a small child’s awe at their own parents’ apparently miraculous capacities.”
  • „It’s profoundly counter-intuitive for us to think of ourselves as mad. We seem so normal and mostly so good – to ourselves. It’s everyone else who is out of step… And yet maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”
  • „Melancholy isn’t, of course, a disorder that needs to be cured. It’s a species of intelligent grief which arises when we come face to face with the certainty that disappointment is written into the script from the start.”
  • „Choosing a person to marry is hence just a matter of deciding exactly what kind of suffering we want to endure rather than of assuming we have found a way to skirt the rules of emotional existence. We will all by definition end up with that stock character of our nightmares, “the wrong person.  This needn’t be a disaster, however. Enlightened romantic pessimism simply assumes that one person can’t be everything to another. We should look for ways to accommodate ourselves as gently and as kindly as we can to the awkward realities of living alongside another fallen creature. There can only ever be a “good enough” marriage.  For this realization to sink in, it helps to have had a few lovers before settling down, not in order to have had a chance to locate “the right person,” but in order to have had an ample opportunity to discover at first hand, and in many different contexts, the truth that there isn’t any such a person; that everyone really is a bit wrong when considered from close up.”
  • „How kind we would be if we managed to import even a little of this instinct into adult relationships—if here, too, we could look past the grumpiness and viciousness and recognize the fear, confusion, and exhaustion which almost invariably underlie them. This is what it would mean to gaze upon the human race with love.”
  • „No one properly gets, or can fully sympathize with, anyone else.”
  • „How logical, then, that we should as adults find ourselves rejecting certain candidates not because they are wrong but because they are a little too right – in the sense of seeming somehow excessively balanced, mature, understanding and reliable – given that, in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign and unearned. We chase after more exciting others, not in the belief that life with them will be more harmonious, but out of an unconscious sense that it will be reassuringly familiar in its patterns of frustration.”
  • „He entertains a confused wish to help her, without, however, understanding that help can be a challenging gift to deliver to those who are most in need of it.”
  • „The accusations we make of our lovers make no particular sense. We would utter such unfair things to no one else on earth. But our wild charges are a peculiar proof of intimacy and trust, a symptom of love itself—and in their own way a perverted manifestation of commitment. Whereas we can say something sensible and polite to any stranger, it is only in the presence of the lover we wholeheartedly believe in that can we dare to be extravagantly and boundlessly unreasonable.”
  • „In a more evolved world, one a little more alive to the Greek ideal of love, we would perhaps know to be a bit less clumsy, scared, and aggressive when wanting to point something out, and rather less combative and sensitive when receiving feedback. The concept of education within a relationship would thus lose some of its unnecessarily eerie and negative connotations. We would accept that in responsible hands, both projects—teaching and being taught, calling attention to another’s faults, and letting ourselves be critiqued—might after all be loyal to the true purpose of love.”
  • „There is valour in being able to identify a forgiving, hopeful perspective on one’s life, in knowing how to be a friend to oneself, because one has a responsibility to others to endure.”
  • „He knows that perfect happiness comes in tiny, incremental units only, perhaps no more than five minutes at a time. This is what one has to take with both hands and cherish.”
  • „Despite the liberal atmosphere of our time, it would be naive to assume that the distinction between “weird” and “normal” has disappeared. It stands as secure as ever, waiting to intimidate and herd back into line those who would question the normative limits of love and sex. It may now be deemed “normal” to wear cutoff shorts, expose belly buttons, marry someone of either gender, and watch a little porn for fun, but it also remains indispensably “normal” to believe that true love should be monogamous and that one’s desire should be focused exclusively on one person. To be in dispute with this founding principle is to risk being dismissed, in public or private, with that most dispiriting, caustic and shameful of all epithets: pervert. „
  • „It is precisely when we hear little from our partner which frightens, shocks, or sickens us that we should begin to be concerned, for this may be the surest sign that we are being gently lied to or shielded from the other’s imagination, whether out of kindness or from a touching fear of losing our love. It may mean that we have, despite ourselves, shut our ears to information that fails to conform to our hopes—hopes which will thereby be endangered all the more. „
  • „There is only one person to whom we can expose our catalogue of grievances, one person who can be the recipient of all our accumulated rage at the injustices and imperfections of our lives. It is of course the height of absurdity to blame them. But this is to misunderstand the rules under which love operates. It is because we cannot scream at the forces who are really responsible that we get angry with those we are sure will best tolerate us for blaming them. We take it out on the very nicest, most sympathetic, most loyal people in the vicinity, the ones least likely to have harmed us, but the ones most likely to stick around while we pitilessly rant at them. „
  • „But calm is precisely what is absent from love’s classroom. There is simply too much on the line. The “student” isn’t merely a passing responsibility; he or she is a lifelong commitment. Failure will ruin existence. No wonder we may be prone to lose control and deliver cack-handed, hasty speeches which bear no faith in the legitimacy or even the nobility of the act of imparting advice. And no wonder, too, if we end up achieving the very opposite of our goals, because increasing levels of humiliation, anger, and threat have seldom hastened anyone’s development. Few of us ever grow more reasonable or more insightful about our own characters for having had our self-esteem taken down a notch, our pride wounded, and our ego subjected to a succession of pointed insults. We simply grow defensive and brittle in the face of suggestions which sound like mean-minded and senseless assaults on our nature rather than caring attempts to address troublesome aspects of our personality.”
  • „There is, in the early period of love, a measure of sheer relief at being able, at last, to reveal so much of what needed to be kept hidden for the sake of propriety. We can admit to not being as respectable or as sober, as even-keeled, or as “normal” as society believes. We can be childish, imaginative, wild, hopeful, cynical, fragile, and multiple; all of this our lover can understand and accept us for.”
  • „Ideally, art would give us the answers that other people don’t. This might even be one of the main points of literature: to tell us what society at large is too prudish to explore. The important books should be those that leave us wondering, with relief and gratitude, how the author could possibly have known so much about our lives.”
  • „Nature’s kind trick is to make everything happen so slowly that we don’t get as scared as we should.”
  • „To a shameful extent, the charm of marriage boils down to how unpleasant it is to be alone. This isn’t necessarily our fault as individuals. Society as a whole appears determined to render the single state as nettlesome and depressing as possible: once the freewheeling days of school and university are over, company and warmth become dispiritingly hard to find; social life starts to revolve oppressively around couples; there’s no one left to call or hang out with. It’s hardly surprising, then, if when we find someone halfway decent, we might cling.”
  • „To be mature is, we’re told, to move beyond possessiveness. Jealousy is for babies. The mature person knows that no one owns anyone.”
  • „Love reaches a pitch at those moments when our beloved turns out to understand, more clearly than others have ever been able to, and perhaps even better than we do ourselves, the chaotic, embarrassing and shameful parts of us. That someone else gets who we are and both sympathizes with and forgives us for what they see underpins our whole capacity to trust and to give. Love is a dividend of gratitude for our lover’s insight into our own confused and troubled psyche.”
  • „Romanticism is a philosophy of intuitive agreement. In real love, there is no need tiresomely to articulate or spell things out. When two people belong together, there is simply – at long last – a wondrous reciprocal feeling that both parties see the world in precisely the same way.”
  • „We might imagine that the fear and insecurity of getting close to someone would happen only once, at the start of a relationship, and that anxieties couldn’t possibly continue after two people had made some explicit commitments to one another, like marrying, securing a joint mortgage, buying a house, having a few children, and naming each other in their wills. Yet conquering distance and gaining assurances that we are needed aren’t exercises to be performed only once; they have to be repeated every time there’s been a break—a day away, a busy period, an evening at work—for every interlude has the power once again to raise the question of whether or not we are still wanted.”
  • „We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.”
  • „The business of repatriating emotions emerges as one of the most delicate and necessary tasks of love. To accept the risks of transference is to prioritize sympathy and understanding over irritation and judgment. Two people can come to see that sudden bursts of anxiety or hostility may not always be directly caused by them, and so should not always be met with fury or wounded pride. Bristling and condemnation can give way to compassion. „
  • „The very concept of trying to “teach” a lover things feels patronizing, incongruous, and plain sinister. If we truly loved someone, there could be no talk of wanting him or her to change. Romanticism is clear on this score: true love should involve an acceptance of a partner’s whole being. It is this fundamental commitment to benevolence that makes the early months of love so moving. Within the new relationship, our vulnerabilities are treated with generosity. Our shyness, awkwardness, and confusion endear (as they did when we were children) rather than generate sarcasm or complaint; the trickier sides of us are interpreted solely through the filter of compassion. From these moments, a beautiful yet challenging and even reckless conviction develops: that to be properly loved must always mean being endorsed for all that one is. „
  • „We are never through with the requirement for acceptance. This isn’t a curse limited to the inadequate and the weak. Insecurity may even be a peculiar sign of well-being. It means we haven’t allowed ourselves to take other people for granted, that we remain realistic enough to see that things could genuinely turn out badly and that we are invested enough to care.”
  • „By the standards of most love stories, our own, real relationships are almost all damaged and unsatisfactory. No wonder separation and divorce so often appear inevitable. But we should be careful not to judge our relationships by the expectations imposed on us by a frequently misleading aesthetic medium. The fault lies with art, not life. Rather than split up, we may need to tell ourselves more accurate stories – stories that don’t dwell so much on the beginning, that don’t promise us complete understanding, that strive to normalise our troubles and show us a melancholy yet hopeful path through the course of love.”
  • „Without patience or negotiation, there is bitterness: anger that has forgotten where it came from. There is a nagger who wants it done now and can’t be bothered to explain why. And there is a naggee who no longer has the heart to explain that his or her resistance is grounded in some sensible counter-arguments or, alternatively, in some touching and perhaps even forgivable flaws of character.  The two parties just hope the problem – so boring to them both – will simply go away.”
  • „Our romantic lives are fated to be sad and incomplete, because we are creatures driven by two essential desires which point powerfully in entirely opposing directions. Yet what is worse is our utopian refusal to countenance the divergence, our naive hope that a cost-free synchronisation might somehow be found: that the libertine might live for adventure while avoiding loneliness and chaos. Or that the married Romantic might unite sex with tenderness, and passion with routine.”
  • „Insecurity is a sign of well-being. It means we haven’t allowed ourselves to take other people for granted, that we remain realistic enough to see that things could genuinely turn out badly and that we are invested enough to care.”
  • „Never having been betrayed sets up poor preconditions for remaining faithful. Evolving into genuinely more loyal people requires us to suffer through some properly innoculative episodes, in which we feel for a time limitlessly panicked, violated and on the edge of collapse. Only then can the injunction not to betray our spouses evolve from a bland bromide into a permanently vivid moral imperative.”
  • „I will never be able to do or be everything you want, nor vice versa, but I’d like to think we can be the sort of people who will dare to tell each other who we really are. The alternative is silence and lies, which are the real enemies of love.”
  • „But fantasies are often the best thing we can make of our multiple and contradictory wishes; they allow us to inhabit one reality without destroying the other. Fantasizing spares those we care about from the full irresponsibility and scary strangeness of our urges.”
  • „The world upsets, disappoints, frustrates and hurts us in countless ways at every turn. It delays us, rejects our creative endeavours, overlooks us for promotions, rewards idiots and smashes our ambitions on its bleak, relentless shores. And almost invariably, we can’t complain about any of it. It’s too difficult to tease out who may really be to blame; and too dangerous to complain even when we know for certain (lest we be fired or laughed at). There is only one person to whom we can expose our catalogue of grievances, one person who can be the recipient of all our accumulated rage at the injustices and imperfections of our lives. It is of course the height of absurdity to blame them. But this is to misunderstand the rules under which love operates. It is because we cannot scream at the forces who are really responsible that we get angry with those we are sure will best tolerate us for blaming them. We take it out on the very nicest, most sympathetic, most loyal people in the vicinity, the ones least likely to have harmed us, but the ones most likely to stick around while we pitilessly rant at them. The accusations we direct at our lovers make no particular sense. We would utter such unfair things to no one else on earth. But our wild charges are a peculiar proof of intimacy and trust, a symptom of love itself – and, in their own way, a perverted manifestation of commitment. Whereas we can say something sensible and polite to any stranger, it is only in the presence of the lover we wholeheartedly believe in that we can dare to be extravagantly and boundlessly unreasonable.”

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