I thought I knew a lot about love until I heard philosopher and author, Alain de Botton, speak.
His ideas on love, long-term relationships and the modern world are at once unnerving and and assuring in their insightfulness. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect, as lately different friends have confided the same thing in me:
That those heady days of a new romance are a distant memory.
That they’ve been married for ten years, survived the delirious ‘baby years’ and now they’ve come up for air, only to wonder, ‘Is this it?”
When did happily-ever-after become more about the drudgery, stress and logistics of busy family life? How did they manage to lose sight of their marriage along the way?
So, I thought I’d share with you five things I learnt from Alain de Botton about what we’ve got wrong about love:
1. Giving up on perfection may just be the most romantic thing you do
The feeling that the person you’re with should be perfect is one of the most damaging things you can bring to a relationship. Instead, de Botton (hilariously) suggests that one of the greatest gifts you could give your partner on your wedding day is a manual called ‘Why I’m Difficult to Live With!’
“Most of the time we make discoveries about how difficult people are at the moment where those difficulties have actually hurt us,” says de Botton. “And therefore we’re not likely to be forgiving or that sympathetic about what happened to them which made them that difficult.” But if we can get the information in good time, in a way that doesn’t scare or surprise us, we would no longer need people to be perfect in relationships.
2. Secrets are okay
We have this idea that as a sign of true love you should always tell your partner the truth about everything. That keeping secrets is a betrayal of the relationship.
“The idea of honesty is sublime,” says Alain de Botton. “Yet in order to be kind, and in order to sustain the relationship, it ultimately becomes necessary to keep a great many thoughts out of sight.”
Now, de Botton isn’t suggesting that you withhold information for the sake of harm, more a dedication to not rubbing someone up against the true, hurtful aspects of your own nature. “Just as no parent tells a child the whole truth, so we should accept the ongoing need to edit our full reality,” he explains.
3. Love is not a feeling
De Botton suggests that love is not a feeling, nor is it something that should be guided by instinct. Instead, he argues that it is a skill that we need to learn. “The idea that we’re going to get through a long-term relationship just by a hunch is naive at best” explains de Botton. “What we need to do is systematically learn how to love. It sounds unromantic, but so be it.”
4. Criticism is not a breach of love, it’s the beginning
Most of us are hardwired with the view that, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t criticise me.” But the thing about relationships, is that they give us a ringside seat on somebody else’s flaws.
Instead, de Botton urges us to start thinking of love as teaching each other how to be the best version of ourselves. “Both partners should educate one another, they should be in a rotating position of teacher and student to important sides of their characters. But mostly what happens, and this is how relationships get very bitter, is that both people are trying to teach other things, but they deny the legitimacy of the lesson. So both people have got their arms crossed, going, ‘You don’t need to tell me anything. I’m perfect already,’ and that gets very brittle.”
5. Start thinking of your partner as a two year old
The idea that has had the biggest impact on my approach to love and relationships is the most simple – start thinking of your partner as you might a child. This isn’t a license to be condescending! It’s about showing the compassion and tenderness you view your child’s vulnerabilities and character faults with, yet forget to use with your partner. Or as de Botton so perfectly puts it, “be incredibly generous in your interpretation of your partner’s behaviour.”
For more Alain de Botton goodness you might like to check out this video.