“The Course of Love” by Alain de Botton
(First publication: 2016; This edition: Penguin Random House 2016
Taken during a morning coffee at 6 Degrees Coffee House in Leicester
It may come very fast, this certainty that another human being is a soulmate. We needn’t have spoken with them; we may not even know their name. Objective knowledge doesn’t come into it. What matters instead is intuition: a spontaneous feeling that seems all the more accurate and worthy of respect because it bypasses the normal processes of reason. (pg.4)
It was back in June when this book first came into my life. I remember I had received my subscription of The Monocle magazine before I went out that day and one of the books it recommended was this one. Being a fan of Alain de Botton’s (even though I had only read one book of his back then—“Essays in Love”), I went straight to Kinokuniya to get myself a copy. I was surprised that they even had it in stock because it was so new.
Anyway, so I got to reading it—and I was enjoying it, even though it gave me this funny feeling in my stomach. It made me a little depressed, actually. Or, more on the verge of turning very cynical and pessimistic. Anyway, back to that later. I read it to about halfway over a few days. Then, one evening I went to have drinks with a friend—and then after we left the restaurant, I realized that I had lost the book. I went back to the restaurant twice, checked the bathroom twice, and couldn’t find it anywhere.
(Above: The FIRST book I got—and lost.)
Getting very off-track here, but… it’s my “tradition” to always write my name and the date of purchase on the title page of every book I buy. And it’s “extra good” to do that before I even begin to read it—hell, “extra best” if I do that before the book even gets back to my apartment. Anyway, for some reason, I didn’t write my name and date in this book… and a small, superstitious place in mind keeps insisting that that was why I lost it.
So that was that. I didn’t want to go buy another copy because 1) there were—and are—only hardcovers available (code word for extra expensive), and 2) it was making me a bit depressed, even though I was enjoying it and was curious to see how it would continue.
I was in London a few weeks ago and went to Foyles—one of the most amazing bookstores I’ve ever stepped foot in. I didn’t have a particular book I wanted in my mind, but I needed to get something from such a special bookstore. Of course I wanted one by a British author. And so, I thought of Alain de Botton and this book.
So I got it again.
And this time, to secure its ownership, I wrote my name and date in it right when I got to a coffee shop afterwards.
I started again, from the halfway mark, and finished it after a couple of days—I was absorbed.
Okay, so onto the actual book…
To be honest, I went into the book without expecting much because… well, “The Course of Love” and “Essays in Love“… how different from each other could I expect them to be. And I was right, partially. It started off talking about the beginning of a relationship, naturally, and the mindsets of the two people. The book is in the same format as “Essays in Love” where it’s part “novel” and part “essay” at the same time—just flipping back and both between the two.
The obvious difference is that “The Course of Love” is more about two people in a marriage and coping with the beauty and the difficulties of living together and having a family. The two people meet, fall in love, get married, and have kids—like any typical family, like any relationship. Alain de Botton explores the psychology in marriage-love (or family-love) and the different emotional situations, such as jealousy, potentially-insensitive fantasies, transference of love, household roles, infidelity, misunderstandings, insecurities, and boredom.
Kind of more heavy on the “negative” situations, huh.
To be honest, (like “Essays in Love”) it got me kind of depressed.
I remember when I realized I lost the book, my friend was asking me what it’s about. I said something like, “It’s about love and marriage. It makes me depressed and it makes me not want to get married.”
It just makes me feel like there’s nothing to look forward to and that “marriage” is just not worth it. And that was only halfway through the book so you can imagine how heavy the content is.
The second half didn’t get that much lighter either—things between the couple got more nasty—with cheating and boredom—and I feel like I’m supposed to just accept that this is probably how things are in every marriage. And I’ve encountered situations of infidelity one too many times in my life (and I’m sure that’s the same for most people)—both directly and indirectly, so reading this just made me feel kinda… bummed.
I remember I was sitting next to my boyfriend in a coffee shop after reading this book and said, “Everybody cheats.”
And I realize that that’s pretty sad; that I’m now cynical and have the mindset that cheating is inevitable and I just have to “get used” to it.
The story is really not as depressing as I’ve made it sound. (I’m just overly dramatic and sensitive.) The read was very insightful, and typical of Alain de Botton’s writing, it makes you realize a lot more about yourself. You also learn more about the people you’re surrounded with—whether it be your family or your friends. I guess it just made me accept (less reluctantly, with all his psychological explains to back up) that it might not be all “rainbows and butterflies”.
I recommend this book to everyone. I think everyone should read it once—even though I’m doing a horrible job at selling it. Yes, it got me depressed, but I’m grateful to have read it as I feel like it’s made me more “prepared”, more realistic, and more determined to be independent and strong. It also makes me rethink about how I should love a person and what it means to be loved (even though I’m so far from marriage). I guess I just wish everyone would also understand it.
This book is enlightening. You just kind of leave with a tired sigh.
Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
What dangers are posed by those touchingly insecure men who, unsure of their own powers of attraction, need to keep finding out whether they are acceptable to others. (pg.153)
The accusations we direct at our lovers make no particular sense. We would utter such unfair things to on one else on earth. But our wild charges are a peculiar proof of intimacy and trust, a symptom of love itself—and, in their own way, a perverted manifestation of commitment. Whereas we can say something sensible and polite to any stranger, it is only in the presence of the lover we wholeheartedly believe in that we can dare to be extravagantly and boundlessly unreasonable. (pg.89)
Sexiness might at first appear to be a merely physiological phenomenon, the result of awakened hormones and stimulated nerve endings. But in truth it is not so much about sensations as it is about ideas—foremost among them, the idea of acceptance, and the promise of an end to loneliness and shame. (pg.24)
The particulars of what arouses us may sound odd and illogical, but seen from close up they carry echoes of qualities we long for in other, purportedly saner areas of existence: understanding, sympathy, trust, unity, generosity, and kindness. Beneath many erotic triggers lie symbolic solutions to some of our greatest fears, and poignant allusions to our yearnings for friendship and understanding. (pg.29)
He becomes aware, for the first time in his life, of the beauty of flowers. He remembers harboring a near-hatred of them as an adolescent. It seemed absurd that anyone should take joy in something so small and so temporary when there were surely greater, more permanent things on which to pin ambitions. He himself wanted glory and intensity. To be detained by a flower was a symbol of a dangerous resignation. Now he is beginning to get the point. The love of flowers is a consequence of modesty and an accommodation with disappointment. Some things need to go permanently wrong before we can start to admire the stem of a rose or the petals of a bluebell. But once we realize that the larger dreams are always compromised in some way, with what gratitude we may turn to these minuscule islands of serene perfection and delight. (pg.207)
The courage not to be vanquished by anxiety, not to hurt others out of frustration, not to grow too furious with the world for the perceived injuries it heedlessly inflicts, not to go crazy and somehow to manage to persevere in a more or less adequate way through the difficulties of married life—this is true courage, this is a heroism in a class all its own. (pg.222)