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After listening to Michael Krasny’s interview of Alain de Botton on KQED’s Forum, I headed out to see him speak in Corte Madera that evening. The bookstore north of San Francisco was already filled thirty minutes before the event; I was pleased to see that there were other people of color there who were eager to hear about what he had to say about love.
But it all begins and ends with romance. As soon as de Botton took the stage, he started talking about romanticism right away.
All sorts of other notions run through romanticism: for all of us, there is a soul mate out there. Maybe we’ve met them, maybe we haven’t met them so we keep swiping left, right, left, right. When we find them, it will be delightful — we will never be lonely again. All of our questions, all of our doubts about our purpose, meaning and significance in life will be answered by someone who understands us totally and reconciles us in every way we exist.
Peals of laughter grew as he pointed out other notions of Romanticism that we’ve come to normalized, things we’ve never questioned before. Just like in the book, he launched into a clear-eyed examination of our feelings about love and the way we’ve related to potential partners or lovers on all aspects.
- Love is a skill, not an enthusiasm.
- What we look for in love unconsciously are patterns of childhood familiarity.
- One of love’s oddities: sulking.
- The opposite of nagging is negotiating and understanding patiently.
- Teaching our partners may be one of love’s greatest gifts.
Just as I was talking about the book’s main characters Rabih and Kirsten in that post and ways of looking at love, I want to probe even deeper. I’m interested in extending the conversation beyond what we already know and have come to accept. My goal is to understand the process that de Botton writes about:
It will take Rabih many years and frequent essays in love to reach a few different conclusions, to recognize that the very things he once considered romantic — wordless intuitions, instantaneous longings, a trust in soul mates — are what stand in the way of learning how to be with someone. 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.