“Essays in Love” by Alain de Botton
(First publication as “On Love”: 1993 / This edition: Picador Classics 2015)
Taken during brunch one hot afternoon at Tha Maharaj
One of love’s greatest drawbacks is that, for a while at least,
it is in danger of making us seriously happy. (p.132)
I was having dinner one evening at a mall when one of my best friends messaged me asking if I’ve read anything by Alain de Botton. I said ‘No’, and she said that he’s “very insightful” and that he’s her “all-time favorite author since long ago”. I got confused with Anthony Bourdain at first, so thought she meant food and travel books. She recommended a few, and intrigued, I headed to Kinokuniya after dinner. Fortunately, it was in the same mall.
“Essays in Love” was the only de Botton the store had in stock, and my friend mentioned that title—or, with some editions it’s called “On Love”—so I just bought it, kind of impulsively. Right after, I messaged her saying I got it. She was glad and said that it’s her book to read when she goes through break-ups. So, a bit startled, I asked her ‘…but…what if I’m still in love?’
SO. In “Essays in Love”, Alain de Botton writes in first-person about a relationship, from beginning to break-up to post-relationship: the first encounter, the first conversations, the building of the relationship, the happy days, the “loving fights”, the “climax” of the relationship, how it all goes spiraling down, depression, recovery, and etc. It’s definitely “very insightful”, as my friend had commented, because he goes through the psychology and the philosophy of two people getting together and how they kind of create their own world, religion, and rules. At the same time, by learning about the other, each become more understanding of his/her own individual identity as well.
It’s very insightful.—my friend chose the best adjective for it, I think. A lot of things he wrote made me chuckle because it’s like he’s saying, ‘I know you know what I’m talking about and I know you do it too.”—such as having nicknames for my boyfriend, obsessing about “fate”, being dependent on him, or talking to him as if I’m lecturing him and know him better than he knows himself, etc, etc.
Alain de Botton explores different emotions and kind of puts a philosophical spin on them, which makes this so much fun to read. The book consists of essays but then at the same time, it’s a novel as well—so it’s pretty unique and amazing how he combined the two so perfectly. I tend to not enjoy reading essays that much, but since this one had characters and plots and whatnot, it was very enjoyable. I kept thinking that in some ways, it’s like reading Milan Kundera. Also, I kept thinking that if this was a movie, it would be like the ‘Before Sunrise’ trilogy—but with Ethan Hawke (Jessie) doing all the narrating throughout the whole movie, with every scene.
To be honest, I think I enjoyed just the beginning up until halfway. All the writing is very good and enjoyable, but just for personal reasons, I realized that this is not the perfect time for me to read it and my feelings weren’t in it—I was maybe (for lack of better words) “in denial”, and I want to stay that way for now (*knock on wood*). I told my friend that I’m still “so happy and lovey-dovey” in my relationship right now, and all the things Alain de Botton pointed out kind of depresses me. For example, he talks about how when people get into a relationship, they obsess with tracing events of all the things that happened for them to meet—that it’s “fate” and the universe had laid it out for them. I often
talk gush about things like that with my boyfriend, happily, and it makes me feel “bleh” when de Botton makes it sound like every relationship has the same conversations—like it’s a formula, a pattern. I guess It’s like when you know something is true and makes sense, but you choose to look the other way and not listen—until you are ready to.
After a 2/3 into the book, I just kind of sped through it and zoned out a lot—not very interested in break-ups right now. 😉
I’d still recommend this book though…BUT for those that are not in a relationship, those that are actually contemplating on breaking up, or those in the late-recovery stage after a break-up. If you’re in a relationship and you’re happy, this book will probably just bring you down. It’s good to read it at least once in your life though, so you understand more and be more “prepared”. It will probably help you through the next time you are feeling doubtful or confused about a relationship. (*knock on wood*)
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book. I underlined so many; there’s some pages where I underlined every single line.
Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved. (p.108)
One has to go into relationships with equal expectations, ready to give as much as the other—not with one person wanting a fling and the other real love. I think that’s where all the agony comes from. (p.24)
Certainly travellers had returned from the heart and tried to represent what they had seen, but love was in the end like a species of rare colored butterfly, often sighted, but never conclusively identified. (p.80)
Without love, we lose the ability to possess a proper identity, within love, there is a constant confirmation of ourselves. (p.108)
I was afforded a chance to mature thanks to the insights into my personality that Chloe afforded me. It takes the intimacy of a lover to point out facets of character that others simply don’t bother with. (p.109)
Happiness with other people seems bounded by two kinds of excess: suffocation and loneliness. (p.110)