"The longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life" (pg 1).
How will this book help me in deciding...?
Many individuals talk about having a FAMILY, and allude to having children with a partner, and without that partner, they are not interested or want to have children, that is, they do not want to be single parents.
Hence, de Botton's novel is a great exploration of how to choose your best partner (regardless of the whole kid question), as well as an observation about why and how it is so easy to fall into romantic and idealistic hopes about out partners, which only dig us back into childhood (somehow, one way or another).
Don't be such a romantic, it's mere luck (or preparation meets opportunity)!
The first quarter of the novel is about two young people (Chloe and narrator) meeting on an airplane between London and Paris, and falling in deep romantic and idealistic love. The narrator describes feelings like he had never felt ever before--"I recognized in her the woman I had clumsily been seeking all my life...Because I came to feel that we were so right for one another, I grew unable to contemplate the idea that meeting Chloe had simply been a coincidence" (pg 5). He (like so many do) thinks of the probability of meeting Chloe, and acknowledging the chances of meeting her to be so low, fantasizes that they are indeed meant to be together--it is fate! But just like literally meeting any one of the other (more than) 7 billion strangers on the earth, the chances are slim. Many people like to think this way especially after finding the "one," then romanticizing their meeting. What I find interesting is that no one ever romanticizes meeting a guy they don't like, or a really bad date. It's only the good ones, especially the actual "one," that we love to create romantic love stories about. I guess that's the point of romanticism, to idealize the joining of you and another because, not only does it simply feel nice, it make us feel less alone in this chaotic and happenstance world. de Botton explains that this sort of romantic fatalism is what persuades us to believe in a destiny, that will assure us that someone has "written out story" and we are not alone (but it's all false) (pg 9).
Meeting someone you like is really all just luck--right time at the right place, but real love is where preparation meets opportunity, I think (but we'll explore this a bit later). As de Botton explains in his School of Life channel, romanticism ruined love by insisting on a lot of difficult and hard to meet expectations. Romanticism has put high standards on the type of love we should have, how long, and how many (one, forever). He calls for a post-romantic template (classical) view on love, which is more realistic, generous, emotionally mature, and practical, and also relies on self-love and self-understanding (particularly uncovering how your parents may have conditioned you to expect a specific and "familiar" kind of love. Also see this and this).
Back to the book:
Once the romanticized relationship is going, the hope for desire and seduction turns you into a "romantic paranoiac, reading meaning into everything" (pg 21). Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
And it can become very sad when, once in the middle of a thing, or after months of just "talking" (no one says "dating" anymore), you learn they really never wanted a "serious relationship" in the first place.
"One has to go into relationships with equal expectations, ready to give as much as the other-- not with one person wanting a fling and the other real love. I think that's where all the agony comes from" (pg 24).
If they tell you they don't want anything serious in the beginning, let that be your open door to walk out; trust them! Don't keep going, if you want something more, don't try to be "cool."
Yet, when one has low self-worth and low confidence, one might "play the part" and be inauthentic to try to win over their romanticized other. In the narrator's case: "My sense of inferiority bred a need to take on a personality that was not my own, a seducing self that would respond to every demand and suggestion made by my exalted companion. Love forced me to look at myself as though through Chloe's imagined eyes. 'Who could I become to please her?' I wondered. I did not tell flagrant lies, I simply attempted to anticipate everything I believed she might want to hear" (pg 27).
LOVE WILL HAPPEN TO YOU, EVEN IF IT'S SELF-LOVE
Rather quickly, the narrator begins to fall out of the romantic trance. So beautifully put, "My mistake was to confuse a destiny to love with a destiny to love a given person. It was the error of thinking that Chloe, rather than love, was inevitable" (pg 10). He describes that it was when he stopped romanticizing their random meeting that he was able to allow himself to actually see the un-idealized version of Chloe, which then made him see their meeting for what it was--an accident. He gave himself the permission and space to fall out of love with her, if he were to, rather than sticking to the romantic notion of forever.
The unhealthy romantic idealization of a person, and of the beginning of a relationship, hurts our ability to see what's right in front of our eyes. Though an individual can rationalize that no one is perfect, they may still jump to the idea of falling in love for the "romantic intoxication," and "exhilaration" of admiring someone else, even when they themselves don't have their own self-admiration or self-confidence (pg 15).
Moreover, when a lover starts to love/desire one back, de Botton explores the possibility of the self-sabotaging phenomena that may occur because one can't actually imagine someone liking them, since they don't really like themselves, and if that person that they like actually likes them back, the thought is, how could they? Ironically so, right when the one they want starts wanting them back, they decide they don't like them. Additionally, instead of romanticizing the idea of them liking you, once they actually do, you're forced to get out of the trance, and you're forced to also see their imperfections, just like your pre-existing ones.
But how does one prevent oneself from falling into such romantic spells or self-sabotaging (if it's even avoidable)? What's worse, what if one gets stuck in such a bad relationship? de Botton thinks self-love, self-understanding, and being compassionate are the answers to finding a good partner and not marrying the wrong person! Which is why I do think real love is partly preparation (prepared self-love, self-confidence, and self-understanding) meeting opportunity (luck)!
One doesn't have to be as cynical as Bukowski about Love, but maybe more realistic and self-compassionate like de Botton himself recommends, and more accepting of lost loves, like the poets below so tenderly illustrate.
Still, one great take-away from reading Essays in Love is that one should never feel ashamed for being single, or opting out of long-term love/relationships. If one has self-love, self-understanding, and self-compassion, one can have a good enough life to be endlessly happy, I think.
It's a romantic notion to even have a "love of ones life," though, of course do-able, and many people say they do (it's all subjective). But on this topic, I'd have to agree with de Botton: "Until one is close to death, it must be difficult to declare anyone as the love of one's life" (pg 4). Unless they both grow together, experiencing only one partner for their lives, it seems pretty stifling, not that it can't happen.
School of Life related: Art, music, and films are short and sweet compared to real life, but it seems romantic and odd to so easily fall prey to letting the arts lead our love lives. Of course, the main reason why we feel so connected to the arts is because we find it relateable and an expression of something we too want to express, but it shouldn't lead or influence our lives (say like if Beyonce drops an album about forgiving your cheating partner, it doesn't mean you should do the same...).
By Jasmine Celeste