Alain de Botton on the True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

Below is a great conversation with Alain de Botton On the True Hard Work of Love and Relationships with quotes from it that I found compelling. Also, below is his article on “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” which was NY Times 2016 most read article.

Quotes from Alain de Botton On the True Hard Work of Love and Relationships:

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.


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: [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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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…


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.