On Love is the debut novel of best selling author Alain de Botton, filled with profound observations about love. He is also the author of The Architecture of Happiness, How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel.
Chloe and Alain meet in a plane flying from Paris to London and fall in love. Their romance lasts only about a year, and after they have parted the narrator/author uses scenes from their time together as illustrations of his philosophical anatomy of romantic love.
Can we not be excused for believing that we are fated one day to run into the man or woman of our dreams?
Until one is close to death, it must be difficult to declare anyone as the love of one’s life.
What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idelize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves.
Is there not in every coup de foudre a certain willful exaggeration of the qualities of the beloved, an exaggeration which distracts us from our habitual pessimism and focuses our energies on someone in whom we can believe in a way we have never believed in ourselves?
The subtext of seduction
For those in love with certainty, seduction is no territory in which to stray.
The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once—we soon feel ungrateful—or those who never allow us to kiss them—we soon forget them—but those who know how to carefully administer varied doses of hope and despair.
Mind and Body
I kiss. Therefore, I don’t think.
Few things are as antithetical to sex as thought. Sex is instinctive, unreflective, and spontaneous, while thought is careful, uninvolved, and judgmental. To think during sex is to violate a fundamental law of intercourse.
We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as ideal as we are corrupt. But what if such a being were one day to turn around and love us back?
To be loved by someone is to realize how much they share the same needs that lie at the heart of our own attraction to them. Albert camus suggested that we fall in love with people because, from the outside, they look so whole, physically whole and emotionally together, when subjectively we feel dispersed and confused. We would not love if there were no lack within us, but we are offended by the discovery of a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we find only the duplicate of our own problem.
There is usually a Marxist moment in every relationship, the moment when it becomes clear that love is reciprocated. The way it is resolved depends on the balance between self-love and self-hartred. If self-hatred gains the upper hand, then the one who has received love with declare that the beloved (on some excuse or other) is not good enough for them (not good enough by virtue of associating with no-goods). But if self-love gains the upper hand, both partners may accept that seeing their love reciprocated is not proof of how low the beloved is, but of how lovable they have themselves turned out to be.
Marsilio Ficino defined love as “the desire for beauty.” But what has to do beauty with love?
Does beauty give birth to love or does love give birth to beauty?
Do we need others to legitimize our existence?
Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing; that we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying; that in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.
The problem with needing others to legitimize our existence is that we are very much at their mercy to have a correct identity ascribed to us.
The fear of happiness
‘All of man’s unhappiness comes from an inability to stay in his room alone’, said Pascal.
Lovers may kill their own love story for no other reason that they are unable to tolerate the uncertainty, the sheer risk, that their experiment in happiness has delivered.
We start trying to be wise when we realize that we are not born knowing how to live, that living ones’ life is a skill that has to be acquired, like learning to ride a bicycle or play the piano.
Mature love: is marked by an active awareness of the good and bad within each person, it is full of temperance, it resists idealization, it is free of jealousy, masochism, or obsession, it is a form of friendship with a sexual dimension, it is pleasant, peaceful, and reciprocated.
Immature love: is a story of chaotic lurching between idealization and disappointment, an unstable state where feelings of ecstasy and beatitude combine with impressions of drowning and fatal nausea, where the sense that one has finally found the answer comes together with the feeling that one has never been so lost.