Learning · Philosophy · Psychology · Relationships

Being realistic about love

Another Alain de Botton interview, this time with Krista Tippett whose “On Being” podcast often covers interesting topics on relationships, spirituality etc.

I am a romantic and an optimist, yet I find such wisdom in Alain’s kind and compassionate realism and anti-romanticism. If you are serious about your relationships (with lovers, friends or colleagues) I think there is a lot to learn from Mr De Botton and I would strongly encourage you to listen to it.

The most read article in the New York Times in 2016, the year of the US election and Brexit, was Alain de Bottons article “Why you will marry the wrong person”. What does that tell us about us as a species? Relationships are what we are about.

Here are some of my memorable take-aways from this jam-packed episode

  • It is better to come to a relationship on your first date with a starting point of “I am flawed, I am crazy in the following ways, in what ways are you crazy?” rather than “I will pretend I am perfect and you will only find out how I am flawed over time as the facade fades”. Accept that we are two flawed people trying to come together.
  • “We are all deeply damaged people.”
  • If we think we are easy to live with then by definition we are going to be hard to live with and don’t have much of an understanding about ourselves. You have wisdom if you know that living with you, just like every one else, is pretty difficult. No one really gives you this feedback. Your friends, your lovers never tell you (during the good times) that you are difficult to live with because they don’t want to upset the relationship.
  • The great enemy of good relationships and good friendships is self-righteousness.
  • The ancient Greeks described love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to be the best version of themselves
  • We only get into a sulk with people we feel should understand us, but don’t. We expect out partners to read our minds. We operate with this mad idea that true love means we should have an intuitive understanding of what the other needs.
  • As adults we are incredibly generous towards children, we look for a benevolent reason for their behaviour, but we take it personally when we have a difficult experience with an adult. We need to go behind the facade to understand where the behaviour came from rather than taking umbrage and offence.
  • One of the greatest sorrows we have in love, is realising that our lover doesn’t understand part of us. A certain heroic acceptance of loneliness seems to be one of the key ingredients of forming a good relationship. If you think your lover must understand everything about you, then you are going to be furious most of the time.
  • “Asking someone that you love and admire to be in a relationship with you is a pretty cruel thing to do.”
  • Marriage is a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind, gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they ar,e or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of, and have very carefully avoided investigating.
  • Realism, accepting reality and acceptance of complexity is ultimately the friend of love.
  • Children are hard on a marriage.
  • There is a lot of mundanity in life and in relationships, and we don’t give enough significance to the every day activities that make up our lives.
  • A functioning society requires love and politeness
  • Love in society is a capacity to imaginatively enter into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree; to look for the more charitable explanations for behaviour that does not appeal to you, or could even seem plain wrong; not to immediately tell people how stupid they are.
  • Politeness is an attempt to not say everything; an understanding that there is a role for private feelings which, if they were to emerge, would do damage to everyone. Our culture has a orientation towards self disclosure that “if I am not telling you exactly what I think, all time, then I am not doing the right thing or being true to myself”.
  • Compatibility with each other is the achievement of love, not the precondition for love.
  • We are used to being strong, what we don’t know is how to make ourselves safely vulnerable – which is what we need to do in a good relationship.
  • Flirtation is the attempt to awaken someone else to their attractiveness.
  • Freud is wrong: Psychological Dynamics are not all driven by sex. Rather Psychological Dynamics are everywhere including in sex. The meaning we infuse into sex is that “I accept you in a very intimate way.”
  • We have this idea that good relationships must be conflict-free relationships and we are quick to terminate relationships when conflict develops.
  • “We have a long way to go: a narcissism of our time is that we think we are far along in the development of the world. Rather we are at the very beginning in our understanding of ourselves as emotional creatures. We are taking the first baby steps in our understanding of love. We need a lot of compassion for ourselves, as we do make horrific mistakes all of the time.”
  • We have an enormous loneliness around our difficulties. We need solace for the sense that we are suffering for not being perfect in a culture that is oppressive in its demands for perfection.
  • We need a certain amount of pessimistic realism about our relationships, which is still totally compatible with hope, laughter and good humour.

To quote Alain in conclusion:

We must realise that in our relationships, however well-matched we are, the issues we face are common to all: we have to learn how to love well – it’s something we can progress – it’s not just enthusiasm, it’s a skill – it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination and a million things besides. We must fiercely resist the idea that true love means conflict-free love and that the course of true love is smooth: it’s rocky and bumpy at the best of times, and that’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are; it’s to do with being human, and the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we will have of doing the true hard work of love.

Here is the podcast

http://feeds.soundcloud.com/stream/306909014-alain-de-botton-the-true-hard-work-of-love-and-relationships.mp3

The ideas covered in this podcast are similar or connected to a number of other podcasts that cover similar topics include the amazing Esther Perel for anyone looking for more wisdom on relationships. I will cover her in a future blogpost.

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