Alain de Botton
The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

What if the first question we asked on a date were, “How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this”? Philosopher and writer Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was, amazingly, the most-read article in The New York Times in the news-drenched year of 2016. As people and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. How might our relationships be different — and better — if we understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after?

Share Episode

Guests

is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and the novel The Course of Love.

Transcript

February 9, 2017

Ms. Krista Tippett, host: “Compatibility is an achievement of love. It cannot be its precondition.” Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” was, amazingly, the most-read article in The New York Times in the news-drenched year of 2016. As people, and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. Nowhere do we realistically teach ourselves and our children how love deepens and stumbles, survives and evolves over time, and how that process has much more to do with ourselves than with what is right or wrong about our partner.

How different would our relationships be, de Botton says, if the question we asked on an early date was, “How are you crazy? I’m crazy like this,” and then understood that the real work of love is not in the falling, but in what comes after?

Mr. Alain de Botton: We must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. 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 towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.

[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]

Ms. Tippett: Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life, a gathering of courses, workshops, and talks on meaning and wisdom for modern lives, with branches around the world. He first became known for his book How Proust Can Change Your Life. His latest book is a novel, The Course of Love.

Ms. Tippett: So, we did speak a few years ago, but on a very different topic, and I’m really excited to be speaking with you about this subject, which is so close to every life. And as I’ve prepared for this, I’ve realized that you’ve actually — I knew that you’d written the novel On Love a long time ago, but you’ve really been consistently attending to this subject and building your thoughts on it and your body of work on it, which is really interesting to me. You wrote On Love at the age of 23, which is so young. And you were already thinking about this so deeply. I think this is the first line: “Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over knowledge.”

Mr. de Botton: Well, I think what’s striking is that our idea of what love is, our idea of what is normal in love is so not normal.

Ms. Tippett: Is so abnormal. Right.

Mr. de Botton: So abnormal. And so we castigate ourselves for not having a normal love life, even though no one seems to have any of these.

Ms. Tippett: Or not have been loved perfectly.

Mr. de Botton: Right, right. So we have this ideal of what love is and then these very, very unhelpful narratives of love. And they’re everywhere. They’re in movies and songs. And we mustn’t blame songs and movies too much. But if you say to people, “Look, 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, but we’re going to do our best,” that’s a much more generous starting point.

So, the acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures seems to me what love really is. Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points. So we’ve got these two contrasting stories, and we get them muddled, and…

Ms. Tippett: And also — and I feel like this should be obvious — but you just touched on art and culture and how that could help us complexify our understanding of this. And one of the things you point out about When Harry Met Sally or Four Weddings and a Funeral, one of the things that’s wrong with all of that is that they — a lot of these just take us up to the wedding. They take us through the falling and don’t see that — I think you’ve written somewhere — and you’ve said, “A wiser culture than ours would recognize that the start of a relationship is not the high point that romantic art assumes; it is merely the first step of a far longer, more ambivalent, and yet quietly audacious journey on which we should direct our intelligence and scrutiny.”

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. We are strangely obsessed by the run up to love. And what we call a love story is really just the beginning of a love story, but we leave that out. But most of us, we’re interested in long-term relationships. We’re not just interested in the moment that gets us into love; we’re interested in the survival of love over time.

Ms. Tippett: A lot of what you are pointing at, the work of loving over a long span of time, is inner work, right? [laughs] And it would be hard to film that. But I’m very intrigued by how you talk about the Ancient Greeks and their “pedagogical” view of love.

Mr. de Botton: That’s fascinating, because one of the greatest insults that you can level at a lover in the modern world apparently is to say, “I want to change you.” The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education, that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.

Ms. Tippett: Right. You say somewhere they are committed to “increasing the admirable characteristics” that they possess and the other person possesses.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right.

Ms. Tippett: Your most recent book on this subject is The Course of Love, which is a novel, but it’s a novel that actually I feel you kind of weave a pedagogical narrator voice into it. Do you think that’s fair?

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. Absolutely.

Ms. Tippett: Woven into the narrative. And you say, at one point, this is the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. And you said, at one point, “Their relationship is secretly yet mutually marked by a project of improvement,” which I think we all recognize. And then there’s this moment where you say, “After the dinner party, Rabih is sincerely trying to bring about an evolution in the personality of the wife he loves. But his chosen technique is distinctive: to call Kirsten materialistic, to shout at her, and then, later, to slam two doors.” [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: That’s right.

Ms. Tippett: And we all recognize that scene. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: [laughs] By the time we’ve humiliated someone, they’re not going to learn anything. The only conditions — as we know with children, the only conditions under which anyone learns are conditions of incredible sweetness, tenderness, patience. That’s how we learn. But the problem is that the failures of our relationships have made us so anxious that we can’t be the teachers we should be. And therefore, some often genuine legitimate things that we want to get across are just — come across as insults, as attempts to wound, and are therefore rejected, and the arteries of the relationship start to fur.

Ms. Tippett: Someone recently said to me — I’m curious about how you would respond to this. It was a wise Jewish mother who had said to them, “Men marry women with the intention that they — with the idea that they will the stay the same. Women marry men with the idea that they will change.” Which is obviously a huge generalization. But gosh, it made a lot of sense to me, even in terms of my own life and in terms of what I see around me.

Mr. de Botton: Yeah. I would argue that both genders want to change one another, and they both have an idea of who the lover should be. And I think a useful exercise that sometimes psychologists level at feuding couples is they say things like, “If you could accept that your partner would never change, how would you feel about that?”

Sometimes pessimism, a certain degree of pessimism can be a friend of love. Once we accept that actually it’s really very hard for people to be another way, we’re sometimes readier. We don’t need people to be perfect is the good news. We just need people to be able to explain their imperfections to us in good time, before they’ve hurt us too much with them, and with a certain degree of humility. That’s already an enormous step.

Ms. Tippett: It’s a lot to ask, but it’s so — it’s also — it’s sounds reasonable, right? If we could really have that in our minds early enough on in a relationship.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And almost from the first date. My view of what one should talk about on a first date is not showing off and not putting forward one’s accomplishments, but almost quite the opposite. One should say, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.” There should be a mutual acceptance that two damaged people are trying to get together because pretty much all of us — there are a few totally healthy people — but pretty much all of us reach dating age with some scars, some wounds.

And sometimes, we bring to adult relationships some of the same hope that a young child might’ve had of their parent. And of course, an adult relationship can’t be like that. It’s got to accept that the person across the table or on the other side of the bed is just human, which means full of flaws, fears, etc., and not some sort of superhuman.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. And I think that question that you said could be a standard question on an early date — “And how are you crazy?” — there’s also something that you’re getting at that — it almost seems like we must be hardwired to do this. Although, one of the wonderful things we’re learning in the 21st century is that we can change our brains. But a way you say it in On Love, in a scene in On Love is — boy meets girl, and they — you start to be enamored in details of this new person and find things in common like — I don’t know — “both of us had two large freckles on the toe of the left foot.”

And then you wrote, “Instinctively” — and this happens very quickly — “he teases out an entire personality from the details.” But also, what I know from my own life is you tend to — I think we — 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. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And we feel in a way that we know them already, and we impose on them an idea…

Ms. Tippett: And of course, we don’t. Right.

Mr. de Botton: We don’t. We don’t. Which also explains another phenomenon that I’m fascinated by — you probably would’ve noticed in both novels — is the phenomenon of being in a sulk, of sulking. Because sulking is a fascinating situation which takes you right into the heart of certain romantic delusions. Because what’s fascinating about sulking is that we don’t sulk with everybody. We only get into sulks with people that we feel should understand us, but rather unforgivably, haven’t understood us.

So in other words, it’s when we are in love with people and they’re in love with us that we take particular offense when they get things wrong. Because the kind of the governing assumption of the relationship is, this person should know what’s in my mind ideally without me needing to tell them.

If I need to spell this out to you, you don’t love me. And that’s why you’ll go into the bathroom, bolt the door, and when your partner says, “Is anything wrong?” You’ll go, “Mm-mm.” And the reason is they should be able to read through the bathroom panel into your soul and know what’s wrong. And that’s such an extraordinary demand.

Ms. Tippett: It’s so unfair. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: We see it in children. This is how little children behave. They literally think that their parents can read their minds. It takes a long time to realize that the only way that one person can really learn about another is if it’s explained to them, preferably using words, quite calm ones…

Ms. Tippett: Yes. Use your words. [laughs] Which we say to children.

Mr. de Botton: [laughs] When people always say, “Communicate,” we have to be generous towards the reasons why we don’t. And we don’t because we’re operating with this mad idea that true love means intuitive understanding. And I go crazy when people say things like, “I met someone. The loveliest thing is they understood me without me needing to speak.”

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] Right.

Mr. de Botton: And I thought — so many alarm bells go off when I hear that because I think, “OK, well, good luck in this instance, but if you guys get together, that’s not going to go on forever.” No one can intuitively understand another beyond a quite limited range of topics.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Your children — how old are your children? They’re still pretty young, right?

Mr. de Botton: Yeah. They’re 10 and 12.

Ms. Tippett: Oh, OK. So as — now that I have young adult children, when you hear that coming out of the mouth of your 21-year-old, “He should know. He should just know.” [laughs] And you just — what I also know is that grasping this, what you’re talking about, is work. It is the work of life, right? It is the work of growing up.

Mr. de Botton: It’s the work of love. But it’s interesting that you mention your children and children generally because I think — it sounds eerie, but I think that one of the most — one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children. And not to infantilize them, but when we’re dealing with children as parents, as adults, we’re incredibly generous in the way we interpret their behavior.

And if a child says — if you walk home, and a child says, “I hate you,” you immediately go, OK, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something. We’re looking around for a benevolent interpretation that can just shave off some of the more depressing, dispiriting aspects of their behavior. And we do this naturally with children, and yet we do it so seldom with adults. When an adult meets an adult, and they say, “I’ve not had a good day. Leave me alone,” rather than saying, “OK. I’m just going to go behind the facade of this slightly depressing comment…”

Ms. Tippett: And understand that that’s actually not about me; that’s actually about what’s going on inside them today.

Mr. de Botton: Right, exactly. We don’t do that. We take it all completely personally. And so I think the work of love is to try, when we can manage it — we can’t always — to go behind the front of this rather depressing challenging behavior and try and ask where it might’ve come from. Love is doing that work to ask oneself, “Where’s this rather aggressive, pained, noncommunicative, unpleasant behavior come from?” If we can do that, we’re on the road to knowing a little bit about what love really is, I think.

[music: “The Sick System” by Lambert]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, exploring the true hard work of love with writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

[music: “The Sick System” by Lambert]

Ms. Tippett: I’d love to talk about your — you used this word “pessimism” a little while ago, and I’d love to dig into that a little bit more. And what you’re really talking about is being reality-based as opposed to being ideal-based. There’s a beautiful video that I’ve shared that’s out there. I think it’s “The Darkest Truth About Love.” Is that right? That’s the title, isn’t it?

Mr. de Botton: Yes. That’s right. Exactly.

Ms. Tippett: From the School of Life?

Mr. de Botton: Yeah. Made that for YouTube.

Ms. Tippett: I’d like to talk through some of these core truths that fly in the face of this way we go around behaving and that movies have taught us to behave and that possibly our parents taught us to behave, these core truths that can put us on the foundation of reality.

Mr. de Botton: Yes, that’s very useful. We could chisel them in granite. Look, one of the first important truths is, you’re crazy. Not you, as it were; all of us, that all of us are deeply damaged people. The great enemy of love, good relationships, good friendships, is self-righteousness. If we start by accepting that of course we’re only just holding it together, and in many ways, really quite challenging people — I think if somebody thinks that they’re easy to live with, they’re by definition going to be pretty hard and don’t have much of an understanding of themselves. I think there’s a certain wisdom that begins by knowing that of course you, like everyone else, is pretty difficult. And this knowledge is very shielded from us. Our parents don’t tell us, our ex-lovers — they knew it, but they couldn’t be bothered to tell us. They sacked us without…

Ms. Tippett: Well, by the time they tell us, we’re dismissing what they say anyway. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: Well, that’s right. And our friends don’t tell us because they just want a pleasant evening with us. So we’re left with a bubble of ignorance about our own natures. And often, you can be way into your 40s before you’re starting to get a sense of, “Well, maybe some of the problem is in me.” Because of course, it’s so intuitive to think that of course it’s the other person. So to begin with that sense of, “I’m quite tricky and in these ways.” That’s a very important starting point for being good at love.

So often we blame our lovers; we don’t blame our view of love. And so we keep sacking our lovers and blowing up relationships all in pursuit of this idea of love which actually has no basis in reality. It’s simply not rooted in anything we know.

Ms. Tippett: This right person, this creature does not exist.

Mr. de Botton: And is, in fact, the enemy of good enough relationships. I’m really fond of Donald Winnicott, this English psychoanalyst’s term, which he first used in relation to parenting, that what we should be aiming for is not perfection but a “good enough” situation. And it’s wonderfully downbeat. No one would go, “What are your hopes this year?” “Well, I just want to have a good enough relationship.” People would go, “I’m sorry your life is so grim.” But you want to go, “No, that’s really good. That’s kind of — for a human, that’s brilliant.” And that’s, I think, the attitude we should have.

Ms. Tippett: In this “Darkest Truth About Love,” you say the idea of love in fact distracts us from existential loneliness. You are irredeemably alone. You will not be understood. But also, behind that is the — as you say, these are dark truths, but it’s also a relief, as truth always ultimately is, if we can hear it. That again, that is the work of life is to reckon with what goes on inside us.

Mr. de Botton: Yes. I think one of the greatest sorrows we sometimes have in love is the feeling that our lover doesn’t understand parts of us. And a certain kind of bravery, a certain heroic acceptance of loneliness seems to be one of the key ingredients to being able to form a good relationship.

Ms. Tippett: Isn’t that interesting? And it sounds paradoxical.

Mr. de Botton: Of course. If you expect that your lover must understand everything about you, you will be — well, you’ll be furious pretty much all the time. There are islands and moments of beautiful connection, but we have to be modest about how often they’re going to happen. I think if you’re lonely with only — I don’t know — 40 percent of your life, that’s really good going. You may not want to be lonely with over 50 percent, but I think there’s certainly a sizable minority share of your life which you’re going to have to endure without echo from those you love.

Ms. Tippett: You know, I debated over whether I would discuss this with you, but I think I will. I’m single right now and have been for a few years, and it’s actually been a great joy. Not that I think I will be single forever or want to be single forever. Although, actually, I think I would be alright if I were, which is a real watershed. And also what this part of — this chapter of life has taught me to really enjoy more deeply and take more seriously are all the many forms of love in life aside from just romantic love or being coupled. Do people talk to you about that?

Mr. de Botton: Well, it’s funny because just as you were saying, “I’m single,” I was about to say, “You’re not.” Because we have to look at what this idea of singlehood is. We’ve got this word “single” which captures somebody who’s not got a long-term relationship.

Ms. Tippett: But I have so much love in my life.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And another way of looking at love is connection. We’re all the time, we are hardwired to seek connections with others. And that is, in a sense, at a kind of granular level, what love is. Love is connection. And insofar as one is alive and one is in buoyant, relatively buoyant spirit some of the time, it’s because we are connected. And we can take pride in how flexible our minds ultimately are about where that connection is coming.

And I think it’s also worth saying that, for some people, relationships are not necessarily the place where they encounter their best selves, that actually, the person that they are in a relationship is not the person that they want to be or that they can be in other areas of life, that they feel that there are other possibilities that they’d like to explore. And I think getting into a relationship with someone, asking someone to be with you is a pretty cruel thing to do to someone that you love and admire and respect because the job is so hard. Most people fail at it.

When you ask someone to marry you, for example, you’re asking someone to be your chauffeur, co-host, sexual partner, co-parent, fellow accountant, mop the kitchen floor together, etc., etc. And on and on the list goes. No wonder that we fail at some of the tasks and get irate with one another. It’s a burden. And I think sometimes, the older I get, sometimes I think one of the nicest things you can do to someone you really admire is leave them alone. Just let them go. Let them be. Don’t impose yourself on them because you’re challenging.

Ms. Tippett: I want to read your — this definition of “marriage” that you’ve written in a few places. I think it’s wonderful. And just talk about this. “Marriage ends up as 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 avoided investigating.”

Mr. de Botton: Well, yes. It’s challenging. [laughs] And it’s certainly contrary to the romantic view. But again, this kind of realism or acceptance of complexity, I think, is ultimately the friend of love. I’m not — look, its also worth adding — I don’t believe that everybody should stay in exactly the relationship that they’re in, and that any relationship is worth sticking with, and that in a way the fault is always the fault of the lovers if it’s not — both lovers if it’s not happy. There are legitimate reasons to leave a relationship.

But if, when you’re really being honest, if you ask yourself, “Why am I in pain?” and you can’t necessarily attribute all the sorrows that you’re feeling to your lover, if you recognize that some of those things are perhaps endemic to existence, or endemic to all human beings, or something within yourself, then what you’re doing is encountering the pain of life with another person but not necessarily because of another person.

Ms. Tippett: And because we have that power, in fact — and for example, you are, in fact, arguing — as you said before, some marriages are meant to end. And there’s certainly reasons for marriages to end or to end marriages. But you also point out this very contradictory fact that the thing that’s ultimately wrong with adultery as an easy out to what’s going on in the marriage is that it is based on the same idealism that certain ideas of marriages are based on that go wrong.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. In a way that you’re just redirecting your hope elsewhere and…

Ms. Tippett: Imagining that this is the perfect one, right? This is the one person with whom you won’t ever be lonely again, who will understand you completely.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And so it’s — on and on the cycles of hurt continue.

Ms. Tippett: Something else you name about marriage that I feel is not often enough just named is that — we spoke a little while ago about children coming into a marriage. And of course, children teach us so much. One thing you say that’s beautiful that children teach us that love in its purest form is a kind of service, that the love we have for our children — I certainly know this with myself — that the love I have for my children has changed me, and it is distinct from all the other loves I’ve ever known. But also that children are hard on marriages, right? And for — I think, on a more complicated level, if there are problems in a marriage, that can get amplified when children are there. And it’s also partly because you just get — everybody’s tired. Right? [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. It’s interesting. In a way, there’s a lot of mundanity in relationships. And one of the things that romanticism does is to teach us that the great love stories should be above the mundane. So in none of the great, say, 19th-century novels about love does anyone ever do the laundry, does anyone ever pick up the crumbs from the kitchen table, does anyone ever clean the bathroom. It just doesn’t happen because it’s assumed that what makes or breaks love are just feelings, passionate emotions, not the kind of day to day wear and tear.

And yet, of course, when we find ourselves in relationships, it is precisely over these areas that conflicts arise, but we refuse to lend them the necessary prestige. There’s no arguments as vicious as when two people are arguing about something, but both of them think the argument is trivial. So they’ll say things like, “Oh, it’s just absurd we’re arguing over who should hang up the towels in the bathroom. That’s for stupid people.”

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] Right. That has nothing to do with …

Mr. de Botton: Right. And you know that that’s going to be trouble. And so we need, in a way — one of the lessons of love is to lend a bit of prestige to those issues that crop up in love like who does the laundry and on what day. We rush over these decisions. We don’t see them as legitimate. We think it’s fine to…

Ms. Tippett: But they are.

Mr. de Botton: But they are. As you say, there’s a lot of life that is extremely mundane.

Ms. Tippett: It is the stuff of life. Right. It’s the stuff of our days. There’s this wonderful line from The Course of Love about these two parents with children: “The tired child in each of them is furious at how long it’s been neglected and in pieces.”

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And in a way — it’s so funny. If I can be indiscreet on air, my wife used to say to me, in the early days of our marriage, she sometimes would say to me things like, “My father would never have said something like” — I would say something, or it’s not my turn to make the tea or something. She’d go, “My father would never have said it. He would always to do this for us.”

And then I had to point out that there was really a — she wasn’t comparing like with like. She was comparing this man, her father, as a father but not as a lover. And in the end, what I say to her, did end up saying to her was, “In a way, I’m probably behaving exactly like your father, but just not the father that you saw when he was around you.”

Ms. Tippett: The way he behaved toward your mother. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: [laughs] That’s right. Exactly. And so one of the things we do as parents is to edit ourselves, which is lovely, in a way, for our children. But it gives our children a really unnatural sense of what you can expect from another human being because we’re never as nice to probably anyone else on Earth as we are to our children. I’m saying this is the cost of good parenting.

[music: “Red Virgin Soil” by Agnes Obel]

Ms. Tippett: You can listen again and share this conversation with Alain de Botton through our website, onbeing.org.

I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.

[music: “Red Virgin Soil” by Agnes Obel]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, we are exploring the true hard work of love with the writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

Ms. Tippett: I’d like to go a slightly different place with all of this. The things you’ve been saying, pointing out about how love really works, that people don’t learn when they’re humiliated, that self-righteousness is an enemy of love. I’m thinking a lot right now these days about how and if we could apply the intelligence we actually have with the experience of love, not the ideal, but the experience of love in our lives, to how we can be as citizens moving forward. Where there’s a lot of behavior in public — I’m speaking for the United States, but I think there are forms of this in the UK as well. We’re kind of acting out in public the way we act out at our worst in relationships. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: I think that’s fascinating. I think you’re onto something huge and rather counterintuitive because we associate the word “love” with private life. We don’t associate it with life in the republic, with civil society.

But I think that a functioning society requires two things that, again, just don’t sound very normal, but they require love and politeness. And by “love” I mean a capacity to enter imaginatively into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree, and to look for the more charitable explanations for behavior which doesn’t appeal to you and which could seem plain wrong, not just to chuck them immediately in prison or to hold them up in front of a law court but to…

Ms. Tippett: Or just tell them how stupid they are, right?

Mr. de Botton: Right. Exactly. We’re permanently — all sides are attempting to show how stupid every other side is. And the other thing, of course, is politeness, which is an attempt not necessarily to say everything, to understand that there is a role for private feelings, which if they were to emerge, would do damage to everyone concerned. But we’ve got this culture of kind of self-disclosure. And as I say, it spills out into politics as well. The same dynamic goes on of, like, “If I’m not telling you exactly what I think, then I may develop a twitch or an illness from not expunging my feelings.” To which I would say, “No, you’re not. You’re preserving the peace and the good nature of the republic, and it’s absolutely what you should be doing.”

Ms. Tippett: Yes. And I guess — I’ve been having this conversation with a lot of people this year. The truth is, more than ever before perhaps, in our world, we are in relationship. We are connected to everyone else. And that’s a fact. Their well being will impact our well being, is of relevance to our well being and that of our children.

But we have this habit and this capacity in public to — and also, we know that our brains work this way — to see the other, to see those strangers, those people, those people on the other side politically, socioeconomically, whatever, forgetting that in our intimate lives, and in our love lives, in our circles of family and friends, and in our marriages, and with our children, there are things about the people we love the most who drive us crazy that we do not comprehend. And yet, we find ways to be intelligent, right? To be loving – because it gets a better result. [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And families are at this kind of test bed of love because we can’t entirely quit them. And this is what makes families so fascinating because you’re thrown together with a group of people who you would never pick if you could simply pick on the grounds of compatibility. 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.

Ms. Tippett: Yes. Wonderful. I think this is deeply politically relevant. And it’s…

Mr. de Botton: Totally. And I think if we just try and explore the world “political,” “political” really means “outside of private space.” And we’re highly socialized creatures who really take our cues from what is going on around us. And if we see an atmosphere of short tempers, of selfishness, etc., that will bolster those capacities within ourselves. If we see charity being exercised, if we see good humor, if we see forgiveness on display, again, it will lend support to those sides of ourselves. And we need to take care what we’re exposing ourselves to because too much exposure to the opposite of love makes us into very hostile and angry people.

Ms. Tippett: Yes. And I think it’s also such an important thing to bear in mind that the import of our conduct, moment to moment, that that is having effects that we can’t see.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. We’re far more sensitive than we allow for. And we need to build a world that recognizes that if somebody goes “mm-hmm” rather than “this” or “thanks” rather than “yes” or whatever it is, this can ruin our day. And we should think about that as we approach, not just our personal relationships, but also our social and political relationships. These things are humiliating — little things can deeply wound and humiliate.

Let’s not forget that one of the things that makes relationships so scary is we need to be weak in front of other people. And most of us are just experts at being pretty strong. We’ve been doing it for years. We know how to be strong. What we don’t know how to do is to make ourselves safely vulnerable, and so we get we tend to get very twitchy, preternaturally aggressive, etc., when we’re asked to — when the moment has come to be weak.

Ms. Tippett: And I feel like there’s almost this calling now because the stakes are so high for emotional intelligence in public, which of course, we don’t — none of us gets perfectly in our intimate lives. But we do know these things about people we love, and they’re also true of people we don’t know and don’t think we love.

But I want to return a little bit to love and sex and eros and all of this. I have to say one thing I really love and appreciate and learned from in your writing is your reflection on flirting as an art, the art of flirting, that it can be something edifying, a pleasurable gift. And you have this phrase, a “good flirt.” So would you describe what a “good flirt” is?

Mr. de Botton: Well, if you think about what flirtation is, in many ways, flirtation is the attempt to awaken somebody else to their attractiveness. I think it would be such a pity if we had to drive something as important as validation and self-acceptance and a pleasant view of oneself through the gate of — rather narrow gate of sex.

And flirtation is kind of an act of the imagination. And what’s fun about flirtation is that it often happens between really quite unlikely people. Two people meet, and maybe they’re both with someone, or there’s a difference in status or background, etc., and they can find that they’re in a little conversation about the weather, and both parties will realize that there’s something a little bit flirtatious going on. And it’s got really nothing to do with sex as such. It’s just two people delighting in awakening one another.

Ms. Tippett: It’s pleasant. Right.

Mr. de Botton: To the fact that they’re quite nice people, and they’re quite attractive, and that that’s OK.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I think somewhere — you also have this lovely film, one of these School of Life films about this. Here’s a “good flirt.” You can make these assumptions that this other person maybe would love to sleep with us, won’t sleep with us, and the reason why they won’t has nothing to do with any deficiency on our part. But it’s also not, as you say, a deception; it’s a natural, pleasurable human experience.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. The other thing that we get quite wrong in our culture is the whole business of what sex actually is, because we’ve come from a Freudian world. Freud has told us that there’s a lot more going on in sex than we want to believe, and that a lot of it is quite weird and darker than we’d ever want to imagine, and that sex is everywhere in life, even in places where we don’t think it is or perhaps should be.

But in a way, I’ve got a sort of different view of this. I think that it’s not so much that sex is everywhere; it’s that psychological dynamics are everywhere, even in sex. And so often, we think of sex as just a sort of pneumatic activity, but really, it’s a psychological activity. And if you try to imagine why people are excited by sex, it’s not so much that it’s a pleasurable nerve-ending business; it’s ultimately that it’s about acceptance.

If you think about — why is it exciting to kiss someone for the first time? It’s probably more fun eating an oyster or flossing your teeth or watching T.V. than kissing. It’s a bit weird. What’s this odd thing we call kissing? It’s like we’re trying to inflate somebody else’s mouth. And it’s just odd.

Ms. Tippett: [laughs]

Mr. de Botton: Nevertheless, we like it. Not because of its physical feeling, but because of what it means, the meaning we infuse. And the meaning we infuse into it is, “I accept you. And I accept you in a way that is incredibly intimate and that would be quite revolting with anyone else. I’m allowing you into my private space as a way of signaling, ‘I like you.’” And what really — we call it getting “turned on,” but what we’re really, as it were, excited by is that someone accepts us with remarkable — in all our…

Ms. Tippett: Takes delight in us.

Mr. de Botton: Right. Takes delight in us. And that’s what’s exciting about it. In other words, sex is continuous with a lot of things that we’re interested in outside of the bedroom.

Ms. Tippett: And you say that flirting is one way to experience, in the course of ordinary life, in a way that’s completely nonthreatening to whatever your commitments are, what is enjoyable about sex that’s not necessarily the act itself, the fact that we are sexual beings.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. That’s right. But we feel often conflicted about it. I shouldn’t be flirting. I can’t flirt, etc. So there’s a lot of fear of — there’s a lot of fear of slippery slopes. In many situations, we can hang on on the slippery slope. It’s OK. We’ve got tools to hang on in there.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I want to know — I don’t want to let you go before asking what you think about — what’s your view of online dating because this a new way that so many people, perhaps most people, moving forward are meeting, are engaging this romantic side of themselves.

Mr. de Botton: At one level, online dating promises to open up something absolutely wonderful, which is a more logical way of getting together with someone. The sort of dream is that the secrets of our soul and the secrets of somebody else’s soul will be sort of downloaded onto a computer and that we will find the best possible match for who we are.

The darker side of online dating is that it encourages the idea that a good relationship must mean a conflict-free relationship, and therefore, any relationship which has conflict in it, which has unhappiness and areas of tension in it, is wrong and can be terminated because we have this wonderful backup, which is alternatives. So, like any tool, it’s got its pluses and minuses and has to be used correctly. And I think — what I mean by “correctly” is it has to broaden the pool of people from which we’re choosing our lovers while not giving us the illusion that there is such a thing as a perfect human being.

Ms. Tippett: Right. So then you’re back to the basic truth, the darker truth about love. Also, that what online dating does is it introduces you to people, but then really, the whole thrust of your thinking is — that loving is really what comes next. That’s what comes after the meeting.

Mr. de Botton: That’s right. Silicon Valley has been incredibly interested in getting us to that first stage of meeting the person. And that’s great, but the next stage has been abandoned. Where is the app that will tell you how to read, how to interpret somebody else’s confused signals of distress, or that will remind you at a certain point to look charitably upon someone’s behavior because you remember their childhood, etc? So we have a long way to go.

Our technology is still — look, we’re still — it sounds odd because we — it’s one of the sort of narcissisms of our time that we think we’re living late on in the history of the world. We think we’re sort of — we’re late comers to the party. We’re still at the very beginning of understanding ourselves as human emotional creatures. We’re still taking our first baby steps in the understanding of love, and we need a lot of compassion for ourselves. And no wonder we make horrific mistakes pretty much all the time.

[music: “Turquoise” by Mooncake]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, a conversation about love with writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

[music: “Turquoise” by Mooncake]

Ms. Tippett: I happened to see your tweet at the end of 2016 when The New York Times released its most-read articles of the year. And your “Why You’ll Marry the Wrong Person” was number 1, which is really extraordinary, the most-read article in a year of the Brexit vote, the presidential election, war, refugee crisis. I wonder what that tells you about us as a species.

Mr. de Botton: Look, it was deeply fascinating and quite extraordinary. And apparently, it was first by a long way. It’s just peculiar. And I think that — look, first of all, it tells us that we have an enormous loneliness around our difficulties. One could write a follow-on piece — I may or may not — called “Why You’ll Get Into the Wrong Job,” which would probably score quite highly too, and “Why You’ll Have the Wrong Child,” and “Why You’ll Go on the Wrong Vacation,” and “Why Your Body Will Be the Wrong Shape,” and “Why You’ll Think You Live in the Wrong Country,” etc. And in a way, we need solace for the sense that we have gone wrong in an area, whatever it may be, where perfection was possible.

And anyone who comes along and says, “You know, it’s normal that you are suffering. Life is suffering,” is doing a quite unusual thing in our culture, which is so much about optimism. It sounds grim. It is, in fact, enormously consoling, and alleviating, and helpful in a culture which is oppressive in its demands for perfection. So I think a certain kind of pessimistic realism, which is totally compatible with hope, totally compatible with laughter, good humor, a sense of fun — it doesn’t have to be dour.

Ms. Tippett: It’s how comedy and tragedy belong together.

Mr. de Botton: Right. Exactly. I’m a great fan of gallows humor. We’re all on our way to the gallows in one way or another, and we can hug and give each other laughs and point out the more pleasant sides as we head towards the scaffold.

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] That may be your last word. I just want to ask you — when we first began to speak about On Love, which you wrote — which was published when you were 23 in the late ‘90s. You’ve now been married for over a dozen years. What did you really not know? And that book was so wise. And in fact, that book that you published when you were 23, On Love, really presented a lot of the themes you’ve carried forward in time. But I do wonder what you really did not know, what you’ve learned, what you continue to learn about love at this stage in your life.

Mr. de Botton: I genuinely thought at that time that problems in love are the result of being with people who are, in one way or another, defective. And in 2002, this belief was severely tested in that I met someone who was really absolutely wonderful in every way. And through much effort, I pursued her and eventually married her and discovered something very surprising. She was great in a million ways. She was very right. And yet, oddly, there were all sorts of problems.

And I think it’s been the path that I’ve been on to realize that those problems had nothing to do with her being a deficient person or indeed with me being a horribly deficient person. They were to do with the challenges of being a human being trying to relate to another human being in a loving relationship, that I was encountering some endemic issues that every couple, however well-matched — and there is no such thing as a perfect match — but however well-matched, every couple will encounter these problems, that love is something we have to learn, and we can make progress with, and that 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, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. 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, that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

[music: “Semblance” by Auditory Canvas]

Ms. Tippett: Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists, How Proust Can Change Your Life, and the novel The Course of Love.

[music: “Semblance” by Auditory Canvas]

Ms. Tippett: Love takes many forms, and there’s more love in our lives than we often realize. We’ve teamed up with some incredible artists at Bear Fox Chalk to craft beautiful hand-illustrated postcards, each with a quote evoking one of the four types of love — friendship, romance, compassion, or lovingkindness towards a neighbor or stranger or oneself. Head over to onbeing.org and fill in a little about a person you care about. We’ll mail them a hand-designed quote card in your name. We’re calling this celebration #FourKindsOfLove. So join us in celebrating love in its many shapes.

[music: “A Dividing Line” by The End of the Ocean]

Staff: On Being is Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Bethanie Mann, Selena Carlson, and Rigsar Wangchuck.

Ms. Tippett: Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoe Keating. And the last voice you hear singing our final credits in each show is hip-hop artist Lizzo.

On Being was created at American Public Media. Our funding partners include:

The Fetzer Institute, helping to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Find them at fetzer.org.

Kalliopeia Foundation, working to create a future where universal spiritual values form the foundation of how we care for our common home.

The Henry Luce Foundation, in support of Public Theology Reimagined.

The Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders’ interests in religion, community development, and education.

Books + Music

Recommended Reading

Author: Alain De Botton
Publisher: Vintage
Binding: Paperback, (320)Pages
Author: Alain De Botton
Publisher: Vintage
Binding: Paperback, (208)Pages
Author: Alain de Botton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Binding: Hardcover, (240)Pages
Author: Alain de Botton
Publisher: Grove Press
Binding: Paperback, (240)Pages

Music Played

Artist: Zoe Keating
Label: Zoe Keating
Artist:
Label:
Artist: Agnes Obel
Label: Pias America
Artist: Mooncake
Label: CD Baby
Artist:
Label: Decalcified
Artist:
Label: futurerecordings

About the Image

People participate in the World's Biggest Eye Contact Experiment in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Share a Reflection

  • Michèle Drivon

    De Botton makes a decent effort to outline the challenges of relationship, but for the most effective guidance on how to actively, responsibly participate in conscious partnership, see Alison Armstrong’s work at http://www.understandmen.com. We aren’t “flawed”, we act instinctively based on our evolutionary wiring. A compassionate understanding of instinct is the only thing that can allow us to harness it, distinguish and interact from our nobility, and engage proactively with the differences of opinion that enriching partnership requires. De Botton’s suggestion that we interact with a lover as if they were a(n innocent) child mirrors Armstrong’s suggestion to consider, “What if no one is misbehaving?”. She comprehensively dismantles the flawed premise that anticipating someone’s needs (or having them anticipate yours, via mind-reading) in her program, Loving More By Sacrificing Less. There are abundant free recordings of teleconferences, as well as written material and numerous interviews documenting her 25 years of relationship research and programming on her website.

  • Katherine Murphy

    In the beginning of the unedited podcast Krista and Alain discuss a lack of exemplars of long relationships in film, books, and songs. As I listened, I see the intro to the Pixar film, Up. In that opening sequence, we see the whole, long sweep of a relationship. The rest of film shows love in many other types of relationships. While this insight may see simple but go back and watch those first few minutes.

    • dlp333

      love that movie. Good call.

    • Oh thanks Katherine for the reminder for me to see the movie.

  • Susan Harness

    “I’m crazy in this way; how are you crazy?” This was essentially how the first date of my husband and I began, in a Pizza Hut in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We’re getting ready to celebrate 36 years. And Alain de Botton is right, love is rocky, it’s challenging, but it is the most gratifying of relationships when honesty of our flawedness becomes the center of our conversations. Thank you for this beautiful, honest and thoughtful/thought-provoking interview.

  • Louis Schmier

    My wife and I have just celebrated our 50th anniversary. My angelic and beloved Susan and I have what I call an “E-marriage.” It rests on our “E-love.” How’s that for up-to-date marital tags. No, we do not have an Electronic-love and marriage. And, I don’t mean that for these past tfiftyr years we’ve had an Easy-love and marriage. I mean we have an Everyday-love and marriage, an Effort love and marriage, and an Enduring love and marriage. I do know that a good marriage is a merger not only of two people, but of love and work. It’s not enough to say I love you. You have to work at loving you and being lovable. We had that one fairy tale incredible moment when we both knew, when I got so knocked off my feet that I still haven’t been able to get up. But, we had to work for that ONE moment to grow into a few, and then into several, and then into many, and then into always; we had to work for that moment to grow into an hour,
    into a day, into a week, into a month, into a year, into fifty years. We worked to make sure that each day was a beginning and part of a continuation, that each day we fell in love as if we were long lost lovers, that each day was like a flirting date, that each day was like a slow dance by candlelight, that each day was like an adventure. No great speeches of commitment. No grand gestures of devotion. No proclamations of devotion. Just little and mostly unspoken little things a smile here, a glassy gaze there, a slight caress everywhere. The small everyday romantic whispers, small everyday enchanting touches, everyday playful acts, everyday tender surprises, everyday quiet cuddles, everyday nibbles and pecks, everyday tease, everyday giddy and zany gestures are great events for heightening and perpetuating the passion, adoration, spontaneity, romance, excitement, respect, and trust–and have gotten us through the wet sand of challenges and crises, the betters and worses, sicknesses and healths, the sorrows and joys. We listen more than we talk; we talk more with our eyes than with our mouths. All of this has allowed us to venture together, explore together, discover together, grow together, change together. Over the decades, we learned what Jack Kornfield meant, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”

    • Grace Xue Lun Liu

      love this

  • Gabby

    Having read a number of pieces of work by de Botton on this subject, I have found most important the idea that relationships run aground when one or both parties withhold communication, holding the other to a standard that they should be able to understand their beloved almost entirely by guessing.
    De Botton puts forward that such a behavior may signify a desire to return to to the time when an infant could expect his mother simply to anticipate his needs. An alternative view is that withholding communication can sometimes be a willful act of power, a failure to help or a deliberate obstruction as a simple prelude to judgment, blaming, and undervaluing.
    A parent can deliberately set up a child for failure by withholding communication, a child can set up a parent, or an employer can set up employees.
    Real love rather than power relations require a commitment to sustained communication rather than such withholding or withdrawal.

  • Kris Fedro

    Cannot thank you for this illuminating discussion. My brain and heart both feel bigger after listening. It’s one of the best examinations I have heard or read about relationships of all sorts. Mr. De Botton is deeply wise, and Ms. Tippett asks the questions I hope she will ask, plus ones I haven’t considered. I will listen to this again and again, and share it with my beloveds. Thank you for the gifts On Being gives to the world.

  • Judy Montel

    How comforting – since he defines it as the attempts of flawed human beings to meet one another’s needs in circumstances of great uncertainty (and, I might add, often great stresses), the failure of myself and my soon to be ex-husband to succeed at this beyond the 27+ years we’ve been married feels less tragic and more heroic on both our parts!

    • Judy, if only all couples could look at their marriage for all the successes so the way forward for both is brighter. All peace to you both.

  • Nancee

    Boy of a few things I’m fairly certain… one of them, this- at the heart of any equitable and strong relationship is an enduring commitment to bare no resentment towards the other.

  • Annette Murrell

    I am nearly sixty and I have never had a significant romantic relationship and I have lived alone since my twenties. It would be nice, one Valentines, to explore ways in which single people who have no partners in their lives, can enhance their own lives. But I guess no one wants to think about us on the most romantic day of the year.

    • Gabby

      This subject is vital and has gotten much attention.
      One place is in Krista’s own book On Becoming Wise. There is a chapter about love that brings this question very much to the forefront, with Krista using her own life in part. She writes about how she moved from thinking about a state of romantic absence as a view of her life to the realization that her life had become/was full of love despite no romantic attachment.

      • Annette Murrell

        Thanks

    • Che_Che1

      Yes!

      As someone who has found herself often happier *out* of relationships than in them (for whatever reasons) — and is now holding a candle for someone, but is publicly, officially single, I want to declare this Valentine’s Day to *also* be Happy Singles Day. Where everyone shows some love to the favorite single(s) in their life.

      I hope to take some time out to treat myself, and — following the example of a friend — show my appreciation for the many (non-romantic) relationships in my life. Maybe if we try this, we can get some momentum going?

      In any case — Happy upcoming Singles Day!

      And thanks, Krista, for the lovely program, which I heard in bits and pieces. I do have to say, though, I agree (if I understood correctly) with the commenter who observed the lack of any discussion of abuse — or, I would add, addiction — dynamics in relationships. It would dovetail nicely, one would think, with the discussion of accepting flaws and deconstructing romantic paradigms of idealized love.

      Another reason for Singles Day! — imagine how many dysfunctional, even abusive relationships could be voided if people didn’t feel pressure to couple up, entertain false expectations of what it means to be in a relationship, or experience stigma and/or social exclusion when going it alone.

      Pink roses for us, I say! …for the blush of life…

    • dianawhite

      Don’t concentrate on romantic love. This is ephemeral but can lead to a deeper kind of love. Many people are addicted to erotic ‘love’ and won’t stay the course for deeper feelings to develop. I suggest you concentrate on friendship really true friends move through life with us and forgive our faults. Think of yourself on the ‘so called’ romantic day. Send a loved one a Valentine card. With love from a single but happy romantic.

    • dlp333

      Hi, Annette!
      I have many friends in my “tribe” or my “family of choice” that I have met through meetup groups. I would invite you to go to Cuddleparty.com and venture out to meet some authentic, open, accepting people to connect with. Meetup.com will have groups of people in your area that enjoy the same interests you do. Love is about connection. Study meditation and mindfulness, and you will find that you are already connected with all that is. The love you seek is inside you. Namaste, love. 🙂

  • maya kollman

    As an Imago Relationship Faculty member, I am so, so impressed with this conversation. Alain puts into such wonderful words and with humor and lightness what I have found to be so true. I am also so glad that there exists the “School of Life”. I only wish there was such a thing in the US. I would love to bring it here. What can I do? We really need this. Especially in this climate of anger and hostility and the inability to have empathy for one another.

  • Newbie1

    There are two kinds of English people: those who are genuinely good, and those who are perversely, subversively, and delusionally righteous. This man is the latter. Plus, I don’t trust ANY professional on this subject who won’t even say the word “divorce,” as if he’s married to Voldemort. One of the things these types of English people do is shirk objectivity, jettison realness, and proceed to make their whole life one big misguided public service announcement for targeted oppression. Never trust an expert on this subject who never mentions the words divorce or abuse. Back to the drawing board, sir.

    • phil

      Hi Newbie1,
      Welcome to the conversation! “Where’s this rather aggressive, pained, … unpleasant [statement] come from?” I appreciate your cynicism and spirit. I’m crazy like this.

  • 2PenniesMore

    Thank you for this wonderful and useful debunking of the unrealistic and insipid prevailing (and cultivated) images of love with their Valentine’s day climax in a bath of red chocolaty goop… “What’s love go to do with it?” one should ask.
    As I was listening live while reading the transcript, I had a good laugh when I read the title of one of the musical interludes : “The Sick System” by Lambert. How fitting!

    “Another way of looking at love is connection. We are hardwired to seek connections with others. And that is, in a sense, at a kind of granular level, what love is” Alain de Botton rightfully said… I wish he had added that “others” cannot be restricted to humans but must include minerals, plants and animals. As long as one systematically abuses these other realms, what we call love is mere anthropocentric and parochial narcissism.

  • Jnnifer

    I was totally thinking of Richard Linklater’s movie ‘Before Midnight’ right before he mentioned it!! haha Great episode, loved the conversation!

  • Betsy Pilmer

    Wonderful interview/discussion-thanks! #fourkindsoflove is not available (page could not be loaded). What a lovely idea-hope this will be fixed!

    • Hello, Betsy! Thank you so much for listening and being a part of the On Being community. We were experiencing some server difficulties this morning, which was why our website was inaccessible for a short time. The #FourKindsOfLove page is now fully functional once more (at onbeing.org/fourkindsoflove ) — as well as all other pages of our website. Thank you for your patience!

  • phil

    Planning to listen again and try to get my girlfriend to listen with me. I love the insight Mr de Botton speaks to here. Definitely going to “favorite” this one.

    “OK. I’m just going to go behind the facade of this slightly depressing comment” which is somewhere in my “bubble of ignorance about [my] own nature” ::

    Is it my imagination, or does Krista sound even more sultry, alluring and sensual than usual during this interview?

  • Paula

    Did anyone notice ways in which this can be applied to queer relationships? Obviously the larger themes apply, but I was disappointed at the pervasive heteronormativity. It saddens me that queer love is erased in an excellent show.

    • Gregory

      Paula not sure it was erased. He seems to write and share from personal experience. His is hetero so he’s being true to that perspective. It will resonate authentically within that cohort.

  • Deirdre

    Oh thank you, Krista! Your deeply kind and compassionate interviews make every day better.

  • Kathy Bell

    In 1987 my husband who is 16 years my senior and I made the wedding vows…through all the changes of our lives. I listened to this discussion of love today as a podcast. I was on my hour commute to the Memory Care facility at which my husband resides because of his Alzheimer’s. Each of us is human and has a unique child within. My lovely husband who retired from the senior executive service of the US government as a computer manager and went back to school at age 60 to become a marriage and family therapist now is reading at a pre-K level. The child in him still loves to read. I could not keep him at home because he is physically strong and two years ago was physically threatening me when I tried to change his clothes and/or get him to shower. He has hurt staff when they try to do these things. As a child he must have had the ability to put up a good fight in him because he still puts up a good fight. Whereas he no longer knows my name or that I am his wife, he still is delighted to see me, kisses me and tells me he loves me. His love continues to challenge me to learn and grow.

  • UnoNoone

    The bedrock on which our 25 year long same-sex marriage rests is this “Always be on each other’s side; even when the other is not on her own side”.

  • byron briscoe

    i believe everybody love and take care of all generations of our world-wide communities!!!!

  • Tara Laurenzi

    I whole heartedly appreciate the reflections of Mr. De Bottom, and mostly I agree. I would be curious to know if Mr. De Bottom is familiar with the Internal Family Systems model of shifting from being driven by our emotional parts into being ‘Self Lead’. I have been going through the process myself for about a year & a half and am finding that many of the ‘crueler’ behaviors that he speaks of are in fact unresolved relationships with our emotional parts and by learning to understand and appreciate these parts, we humans are more capable of being responsible for our thoughts, actions and reactions. The result is greater presence & mindfulness about my own contribution to the dynamics of my life, easing the intensity of the unpleasantness of relationship (and other circumstances) and having a greater compassion quotient. I suspect that nothing can completely be an antidote to the challenge of relationship, but its certainly a for of ‘learning how to love’ as he says.

  • blipton

    Would have been interesting to hear Alain’s thoughts on the use of love drugs.. chemicals to trick the brain into love, or to trick it to stop loving! Brain Earp has written about this, especially the later in regards to ethics, see ‘Anti-love drugs? The ethics of a chemical break up’ on youtube.

    And for a slightly different take, philospher Slavoj Zizek also talks about “falling in love”

  • Thank you Alain, as someone who officiates marriages these are the sorts of comments I incorporate into the ceremony,

  • Pingback: The Darkest Truth About Love | On Being()

  • Pingback: A Standing Meditation for Self-Care | On Being()