Alain De Botton

Alain De Botton on Love

Many people’s careers are an attempt to fix their parents.
Marriage is not a particularly kind thing to do with someone you care about.
The pleasures of depending on someone pale next to the paralyzing fears that such dependence involves.
Hanging over every love story is the thought of how it will end.
In resolving our need to love, we do not always resolve our need to long.
At the heart of stoicism lay the desire to disappoint oneself before someone else had the chance to do so. Stoicism was a crude defence against the dangers of the affections of others.
When we were unsure of where we were going, we could hide beneath the comforting analysis of those who stood on the outside, aware only of the continuities unaware that there was nothing inviolable about the plot line.

We were first loved by people who kept secret from us the true extent of the work that went into it, who loved us but didn’t ask us to return affection in a rounded way, who rarely revealed their own vulnerabilities, anxieties or needs. They thereby created, albeit with the most benign of intentions, an illusion that has complicated consequences for us later on, insofar as it leaves us unprepared for the effort we must legitimately expend to make even a very decent adult relationship successful. We can achieve a balanced view of adult love not by remembering what it felt like to be loved as a child, but rather by imagining what it took for our parents to love us – namely, a great deal of work.

Without sex, we would be dangerously invulnerable. We might believe we were not ridiculous. We wouldn’t know rejection and humiliation so intimately… It is sex that creates a necessary havoc in the ordinary hierarchies of power, status, money and intelligence.

Pornography, like alcohol and drugs, undermines our ability to endure certain kinds of suffering which we have to experience if we are to direct our lives properly. It reduces our capacity to tolerate our ambiguous moods of free-floating worry and boredom.

A loyal marriage ought at all times to retain within it an awareness of the immense forbearance and generosity that the two parties are mutually showing managing not to sleep around (and, for that matter, in refraining from killing each other). If one partner should happen to slip, the other might forgo fury in favour of a certain bemused amazement at the stretches of fidelity and calm that the two of them have otherwise succeeded in maintaining against such great odds.

Impotence had its origins in the crease in empathy… it was the strangely troublesome fruit of our new inclination to wonder what another might be feeling and then to identify with his or her potential objections to our invasive or unsatisfactory demands… Impotence is a symptom of respect, a fear of causing displeasure through the imposition of our own desires… The fear of being disgusting, absurd or a disappointment to someone else is a first sign of morality. Impotence is an achievement of the ethical imagination.
How to Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton

Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. We fall in love hoping we won’t find in another what we know is in ourselves – all the cowardice, weakness, laziness, dishonesty, compromise and stupidity. We throw a cordon of love around the chosen one and decide that everything in it will somehow be free of our faults. What is astonishing is the extent to which we idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves.

We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as ideal as we are corrupt. But what is such a being were one day to turn around and love us back? (how can they be divine if they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?)

Being loved is always the more complicated of the two emotions.

Unable to communicate my anger, I would symbolize it in my own death (suicide).

There’s so much interest in touching bits of someone else’s body. Why? Rubbing lips and holding hands. What makes sex exciting is you allowing someone to enter your life. The backdrop to sex is loneliness – the fundamental unacceptability of who we are. Sex is a vital corrective to a haunting sense of loneliness.

We grow up having to be good boys and girls and that’s quite punishing. One of the things we want from sex is a release from the pressure to be a good boy or girl. We want to be seen as good but not having to be good. Being bad yet accepted is a really strong sexual/human fantasy.

Most of the time people blame their partner for a (childhood) dynamic that belongs to their own past.

It was no longer her absence that wounded me, but my growing indifference to it. Forgetting, however calming, was also a reminder of infidelity to what I had at one time held dear.