Essays in Love by Alain De Botton

9781447275336essays in love_6

Some people would never have fallen in love if they had never heard of love.  La Rochefoucauld 

Life ought to be lived well. That being said, I appreciate my own lack of knowledge on what exactly constitutes this vague yet pointed phrase of ‘living well’. There’s a beautiful quote I stumbled across recently while foraging in the bushlands of social media: to do everything artfully is yoga. Living well is an art and like all other arts requires two things: the first is knowledge, the second is practice; the consequence is wisdom. Is there, for all intents and purposes, a subject in which we are more like the men in Plato’s Cave than in the topic of love?

We are all more intelligent than we are capable, and awareness of the insanity of love has never saved anyone from the disease.

Alain has several talks on the topic of love, two of which I watch with the religiosity that should be spared for the Sabbath: Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person and On Love. Alain proposes that our notions of love are greatly influenced by the era of romanticism. Romanticism followed the period of arranged marriages and can perhaps be termed as its antithesis. Arranged marriages were the product of reasoned out considerations (financially mostly) of the compatibility of two people. Romanticism came in to stress that marriage ought to be borne of love and love is instinctual, it does not bow to the dictates of reason.

Moh Awudu

Art by Moh Awudu

Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves, all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity.

We are an age that is cynical about most things yet manage to shed the skin of our cynicism upon the altar of our idealised conceptions of love. If Cinderella, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty have taught us anything it is to wait upon the cleansing inferno and the salvation that love supposedly brings. They have left us pining for the Dante to our Beatrice. This presents a great problem; if you believe that love is instinctual then you feel no need to learn about it. We are comfortable floundering in the dark in the belief that the laws of how to love grow out of our skin as hair does. Thich Nhat says that loving without knowing how to love hurts those that we love.

Though love might never be painless and was certainly not wise, neither could it be forgotten. It was as inevitable as it was unreasonable and its unreason was unfortunately no argument against it.

Albert Camus in The Fall says something beautiful: that there was a man who for days slept on the floor of his room because his friend was imprisoned and he could not imagine enjoying a comfort that his friend was deprived of. Camus follows this with a question, “Who, cher monsieur, will sleep on the floor for us?” It’s a profound question, imbued with an earnestness that borders on desperation. But then I sat back and wondered, who would we sleep on the floor for?

Dwayne Jones 2

Art by Dwayne Jones

Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.

Do you see where our problem lies? It is rooted in the fact that for years we have known only how to be loved and have never known how to love. Our entire childhood was centered in being the recipients of love. We have mastered the art of receiving love and we wrongly assume that this is the skill we will need in our adult relationships. Yet, we are for the most part completely ignorant in the sphere of giving love.

We should never fall at first glance. We should reserve our leap until we have completed a clear-eyed investigation of the depths and nature of the waters. Only after we have undertaken a thorough exchange of opinions on parenting, politics, art, science, and appropriate snacks for the kitchen should two people ever decide they are ready to love each other.

Love is an art-form, it is a skill, it is a practice. We need to spend more time learning how to love and learning how to love correctly. Learning any art is difficult and this will not be an exception. I do believe that it essential to learn the right way to love instead of doing what we are doing now which is harboring a fear and distrust of it. To love correctly is to love gracefully, to love graciously, to love wholly and without the need to control and to possess. The golden rule in love (and the only rule, lest you slip into tyranny) as in life, do unto another as you would wish them to do unto you.

The philosophy of mature love is marked by an active awareness of the good and bad within each person, it is full of temperance, it resists idealization, it is free of jealousy, masochism, or obsession, it is a form of friendship with a sexual dimension, it is pleasant, peaceful, and reciprocated.

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