Alain De Botton – On Love
I recently had the privilege of seeing Alain de Botton speak at the Opera House, in Sydney. One of the most impressive thinkers of our time, De Botton is a cultural entrepreneur, a writer and a philosopher. Notorious for hitting the mark on those overarching areas of tenderness and human fragility; love, passion, eroticism, despair and compassion there’s no limitations to his explorations. His work functions not only to educate and entertain but has the ability to twist your brain in a seductively, involuntary way. Listening to De Botton, you’re either uncomfortable or enlightened.
De Botton writes about everything from art to psychotherapy to architecture but his recently published novel, and, this talk delves into love. After all,
“Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love.” – Susan Sontag
No finding, no matter how poignant or precise will ever put a stop to humans investigating love. Although it’s a well-trodden journey De Botton still manages to bring a fresh perspective to the way we see it. This time his primary insights evolve from the suggestion that a couple don’t know one another until they’ve each exposed exactly how uniquely ‘crazy’, they are, and that our flaws remain carefully hidden until after the initial haze of lust that opens our hearts, finally dissipates.
To counteract all of the secrets diligently swept under the rug he suggests that we candidly ask each other outright, “How are you crazy?” as an introduction by fire. This is because, as De Botton delivers bluntly, we’re all crazy. Every single one of us. And, every single one of us also thinks that we are an exception to the rule, that we are low maintenance and easy to live with. In reality, the human condition allows for very minimal self-awareness. Of course, to us, we are easy to read, because we are us, but no other individual is granted the same insight into our minds. So, how can we expect another detached being (with their own brand of craziness) to understand intimately our personal set of neurotises, insecurities, default thought patterns and habits? For most of us it’s a daily struggle to work ourselves out.
De Botton goes on to describe love as an individual story that changes with us and in spite of us. Noting that we are now living in an age of romanticism, where our ideals of love, marriage and sex stem from romance at the core, he challenges the fact that we all tend to displace reality for fanciful, bohemian notions known to tug on heart strings.
My lover is perfect, our love is perfect and I am perfect.
Love is a skill he reminds us, and one that we need to work on because the truth is, none of us want to be alone. It’s because of this; our own misguided, manipulation of false hopes that we are genuinely stumped when we find ourselves sliding from dangerous, dizzying levels of infatuation to chastising our lover for eating Granola like a bovine creature. Again De Botton succeeds in unwinding our nonsense. His answer to this? That the very process of falling in love neglects the precise core of things that loving another human being really asks you to understand, overlook and love in spite of.
“We don’t need to be constantly reasonable to have good relationships; all we need to have mastered is the occasional capacity to acknowledge with good grace that we may, in one or two areas, be somewhat insane.” Alain De Botton – On Love