alain de botton essays in love quotes

Quotes from Essays in Love

Alain de Botton ·  211 pages

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“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 within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“We are all more intelligent than we are capable, and awareness of the insanity of love has never saved anyone from the disease.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“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 who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. But what if such a perfect being should one day turn around and decide they will love us back? We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“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 so dear.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

alain de botton essays in love quotes

“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.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“The more familiar two people become, the more the language they speak together departs from that of the ordinary, dictionary-defined discourse. Familiarity creates a new language, an in-house language of intimacy that carries reference to the story the two lovers are weaving together and that cannot be readily understood by others.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“.. if you asked most people whether they believed in love or not, they’d probably say they didn’t. Yet that’s not necessarily what they truly think. It’s just the way they defend themselves against what they want. They believe in it, but pretend they don’t until they’re allowed to. Most people would throw away all their cynicism if they could. The majority just never gets the chance.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Must being in love always mean being in pain?” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Perhaps the easiest people to fall in love with are those about whom we know nothing. Romances are never as pure as those we imagine during long train journeys, as we secretly contemplate a beautiful person who is gazing out of the window – a perfect love story interrupted only when the beloved looks back into the carriage and starts up a dull conversation about the excessive price of the on-board sandwiches with a neighbour or blows her nose aggressively into a handkerchief.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“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 coyly lead us between the two extremes.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“If cynicism and love lie at opposite ends of a spectrum, do we not sometimes fall in love in order to escape the debilitating cynicism to which we are prone? 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?” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“The telephone becomes an instrument of torture in the demonic hands of a beloved who doesn't call.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Unrequited love may be painful, but it is safely painful, because it does not involve inflicting damage on anyone but oneself, a private pain that is as bitter-sweet as it is self-induced. But as soon as love is reciprocated, one must be prepared to give up the passivity of simply being hurt to take on the responsibility of perpetrating hurt oneself.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“There is a longing for a return to a time without the need for choices, free of the regret at the inevitable loss that all choice (however wonderful) has entailed.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“In the oasis complex, the thirsty man images he sees water, palm trees, and shade not because he has evidence for the belief, but because he has a need for it. Desperate needs bring about a hallucination of their solution: thirst hallucinates water, the need for love hallucinates a prince or princess. The oasis complex is never a complete delusion: the man in the desert does see something on the horizon. It is just that the palms have withered, the well is dry, and the place is infected with locusts.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Her lie was symptomatic of a certain pride she took in mocking the romantic, in being unsentimental, matter-of-fact, stoic; yet at heart she was the opposite: idealistic, dreamy, giving, and deeply attached to everything she liked verbally to dismiss as "mushy.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“The inability to live in the present lies in the fear of leaving the sheltered position of anticipation or memory, and so of admitting that this is the only life that one is ever likely (heavenly intervention aside) to live.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“The longing for destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“We wanted to test each other's capacity for survival: only if we had tried in vain to destroy one another would we know we were safe.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“As Proust once said, classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Perhaps because the origins of a certain kind of love lie in an impulse to escape ourselves and out weaknesses by an alliance with the beautiful and noble. But if the loved ones love us back, we are forced to return to ourselves, and are hence reminded of the things that had driven us into love in the first place. Perhaps it was not love we wanted after all, perhaps it was simply someone in whom to believe, but how can we continue to believe the the beloved now that they believe in us?” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“In the end, I've found that it doesn't really matter who you marry. If you like them at the beginning, you probably won't like them at the end. And if you start off hating them, there's always the chance you'll end up thinking they're all right.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are. Our selves could be compared to an amoeba, whose outer walls are elastic, and therefore adapt to the environment. It is not that the amoeba has no dimensions, simply that it has no self-defined shape. It is my absurdist side that an absurdist person will draw out of me, and my seriousness that a serious person will evoke. If someone thinks I am shy, I will probably end up shy, if someone thinks me funny, I am likely to keep cracking jokes.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“We had often read the same books at night in the same bed, and later realized that they had touched us in different places: that they had been different books for each of us. Might the same divergence not occur over a single love-line? I felt like a dandelion releasing hundreds of spores into the air - and not knowing if any of them would get through.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“Yet we can perhaps only ever fall in love without knowing quite who we have fallen in love with. The initial convulsion is necessarily founded on ignorance.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“In Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes accounts for this feeling of familiarity by claiming that the loved one was our long-lost 'other half to whose body our own had originally been joined. In the beginning, all human beings were hermaphrodites with double backs and flanks, four hands and four legs and two faces turned in opposite directions on the same head. These hermaphrodites were so powerful and their pride so overweening that Zeus was forced to cut them in two, into a male and female half – and from that day, every man and woman has yearned nostalgically but confusedly to rejoin the part from which he or she was severed.” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

“By forty, everyone has the face they deserve,’ wrote George Orwell,” ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love

About the author

alain de botton essays in love quotes

Alain de Botton Born place: in Zurich, Switzerland See more on GoodReads

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103 Alain de Botton Quotes to Understand Passion and Love

It’s no surprise that a great part of human existence revolves around love and our relationships with others. We are social creatures. Thus, it’s natural that there’s a need to feel loved and to give out affection to others. 

Understanding each other beyond what’s superficial is something everybody desires. However, putting in the work and effort that’s necessary to reach it isn’t something everybody does or wants to do. 

Love’s a really special part of life, be it friendly, romantic, or familial love. Though, romantic love is the one that everyone idealizes. Movies , books , and society make it out to be something that should just happen and that doesn’t require anything else. 

Something that also plays into any kind of relationship is who you are as a person and how much you are able to speak truthfully about yourself. How you feel and what you think is as important as what other people feel and think. 

Alain de Botton is a contemporary philosopher, who discusses themes that are relevant to everyday life.  His TED talk on love is one of the most famous, and his book Essays in Love from 1993 became a bestseller. So when it comes to love, Alain de Botton knows a thing or two. 

If you’ve been in a love-fever mood, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll find the most touching Alain de Botton quotes.  

“The largest part of what we call ‘personality’ is determined by how we’ve opted to defend ourselves against anxiety and sadness.” 
“There are things that are not spoken about in polite society. Very quickly in most conversations you’ll reach a moment where someone goes, ‘Oh, that’s a bit heavy,’ or ‘Eew, disgusting.’ And literature is a place where that stuff goes; where people whisper to each other across books, the writer to the reader. I think that stops you feeling lonely – in the deeper sense, lonely.” 
“We don’t really learn anything properly until there is a problem, until we are in pain, until something fails to go as we had hoped … We suffer, therefore we think.” 
“Must being in love always mean being in pain?” 
“Cynics are merely idealists with unusually high standards.” 
“Bitterness: anger that forgot where it came from.” 
“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 coyly lead us between the two extremes.” 
“The telephone becomes an instrument of torture in the demonic hands of a beloved who doesn’t call.” 
“The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.” 
“It is perhaps sad books that best console us when we are sad, and to lonely service stations that we should drive when there is no one for us to hold or love.” 
“Pronounce a lover ‘perfect’ can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.” 
“The sole cause of a man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” 
“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 who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.” 
“Maturity: knowing where you’re crazy, trying to warn others of the fact and striving to keep yourself under control.” 
“Our homes do not have to offer us permanent occupancy or store our clothes to merit the name. To speak of home in relation to a building is simply to recognise its harmony with our own prized internal song. Home can be an airport or a library, a garden or a motorway diner.” 
“Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate.” 
“We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture—and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds.” 
“Those who divorce aren’t necessarily the most unhappy, just those neatly able to believe their misery is caused by one other person.” 
“You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.” 
“We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.” 
“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.” 
“The only people we can think of as normal are those we don’t yet know very well.” 
“Being content is perhaps no less easy than playing the violin well: and requires no less practice.” 
“Endeavoring to purchase something we think beautiful may in fact be the most unimaginative way of dealing with the longing it excites in us, just as trying to sleep with someone may be the bluntest response to a feeling of love.” 
“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.” 
“As adults, we try to develop the character traits that would have rescued our parents.” 
“One kind of good book should leave you asking: how did the author know that about me?” 
“Bad architecture is in the end as much a failure of psychology as of design. It is an example expressed through materials of the same tendencies which in other domains will lead us to marry the wrong people, choose inappropriate jobs and book unsuccessful holidays: the tendency not to understand who we are and what will satisfy us.” 
“Good sex isn’t just fun; it keeps us sane and happy. Having sex with someone makes us feel wanted, alive and potent.” 
“Life seems to be a process of replacing one anxiety with another and substituting one desire for another–which is not to say that we should never strive to overcome any of our anxieties or fulfill any of our desires, but rather to suggest that we should perhaps build into our strivings an awareness of the way our goals promise us a respite and a resolution that they cannot, by definition, deliver.” 
“Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books written because authors couldn’t find anyone to talk to.” 
“Nothing satisfies the man who is not satisfied with a little.” 
“I will never be able to do or be everything you want, nor vice versa, but I’d like to think we can be the sort of people who will dare to tell each other who we really are. The alternative is silence and lies, which are the real enemies of love.” 
“A danger of travel is that we see things at the wrong time, before we have had a chance to build up the necessary receptivity and when new information is therefore as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a connecting chain.” 
“Intuition is unconscious accumulated experience informing judgment in real time.” 
“We don’t exist unless there is someone who can see us existing, what we say has no meaning until someone can understand, while to be surrounded by friends is constantly to have our identity confirmed; their knowledge and care for us have the power to pull us from our numbness.” 
“It is in books, poems, paintings which often give us the confidence to take seriously feelings in ourselves that we might otherwise never have thought to acknowledge.” 
“We used to build temples, and museums are about as close as secular society dares to go in facing up to the idea that a good building can change your life (and a bad one ruin it).” 
“It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value.” 
“One’s doing well if age improves even slightly one’s capacity to hold on to that vital truism: “This too shall pass.” 
“It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Acquaintance with grief turns out to be one of the more unusual prerequisites of architectural appreciation. We might, quite aside from all other requirements, need to be a little sad before buildings can properly touch us.” 
“Forgiveness requires a sense that bad behaviour is a sign of suffering rather than malice.” 
“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 within it will somehow be free of our faults. We locate inside another a perfection that eludes us within ourselves, and through our union with the beloved hope to maintain (against the evidence of all self-knowledge) a precarious faith in our species.” 
“There may be significant things to learn about people by looking at what annoys them most.” 
“It seems, in fact, that the more advanced a society is, the greater will be its interest in ruined things, for it will see in them a redemptively sobering reminder of the fragility of its own achievements. Ruins pose a direct challenge to our concern with power and rank, with bustle and fame. They puncture the inflated folly of our exhaustive and frenetic pursuit of wealth.” 
“If it is true that love is the pursuit in another of qualities we lack in ourselves, then in our love of someone from another culture, one ambition may be to weld ourselves more closely to values missing from our own culture.” 
“Everyone returns us to a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are.” 
“The attentions of others matter to us because we are afflicted by a congenital uncertainty as to our own value, as a result of which affliction we tend to allow others’ appraisals to play a determining role in how we see ourselves. Our sense of identity is held captive by the judgments of those we live among.” 
“The finest proof of our loyalty toward one another was our monstrous disloyalties towards everyone else.” 
“What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.” 
“The longing for destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life.” 
“The best cure for one’s bad tendencies is to see them in action in another person.” 
“Out of the millions of people we live among, most of whom we habitually ignore and are ignored by in turn, there are always a few that hold hostage our capacity for happiness, whom we could recognize by their smell alone and whom we would rather die than be without.” 
“Few in this world are ever simply nasty; those who hurt us are themselves in pain. The appropriate response is hence never cynicism nor aggression but, at the rare moments one can manage it, always love.” 
“Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone – and finding that that’s ok with them.” 
“Though we sometimes suspect that people are hiding things from us, it is not until we are in love that we feel an urgency to press our inquiries, and in seeking answers, we are apt to discover the extent to which people disguise and conceal their real lives.” 
“We pick our friends not only because they are kind and enjoyable company, but also, perhaps more importantly, because they understand us for who we think we are.” 
“The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and grace.” 
“The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations of very good ones.” 
“Love is an incurable disease. In love, there is permanent suffering. Those who love and those who are happy are not the same.” 
“That said, deciding to avoid other people does not necessarily equate with having no desire whatsoever for company; it may simply reflect a dissatisfaction with what—or who—is available. Cynics are, in the end, only idealists with awkwardly high standards. In Chamfort’s words, ‘It is sometimes said of a man who lives alone that he does not like society. This is like saying of a man that he does not like going for walks because he is not fond of walking at night in the forêt de Bondy.” 
“What is a snob? A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are. That is snobbery.” 
“In an ideal world, marriage vows would be entirely rewritten. At the altar, a couple would speak thus: “We accept not to panic when, some years from now, what we are doing today will seem like the worst decision of our lives. Yet we promise not to look around, either, for we accept that there cannot be better options out there. Everyone is always impossible. We are a demented species.” 
“The mind does most of its best thinking when we aren’t there. The answers are there in the morning.” 
“Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition.” 
“One rarely falls in love without being as much attracted to what is interestingly wrong with someone as what is objectively healthy.” 
“Unrequited love may be painful, but it is safely painful, because it does not involve inflicting damage on anyone but oneself, a private pain that is as bitter-sweet as it is self-induced. But as soon as love is reciprocated, one must be prepared to give up the passivity of simply being hurt to take on the responsibility of perpetrating hurt oneself.” 
“We wanted to test each other’s capacity for survival: only if we had tried in vain to destroy one another would we know we were safe.” 
“We are sensitized by the books we read. And the more books we read, and the deeper their lessons sink into us, the more pairs of glasses we have. And those glasses enable us to see things we would have otherwise missed.” 
“Instead of bringing back 1600 plants, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small unfêted but life-enhancing thoughts.” 
“People only get really interesting when they start to rattle the bars of their cages.” 
“Insecurity is a sign of well-being. It means we haven’t allowed ourselves to take other people for granted, that we remain realistic enough to see that things could genuinely turn out badly and that we are invested enough to care.” 
“The lesson? To respond to the unexpected and hurtful behavior of others with something more than a wipe of the glasses, to see it as a chance to expand our understanding.” 
“One of the best protections against disappointment is to have a lot going on.” 
“When two people part, it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches.” 
“We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.” 
“We are not always humiliated by failing at things; we are humiliated only if we first invest our pride and sense of worth in a given achievement, and then do not reach it.” 
“Feeling lost, crazy and desperate belongs to a good life as much as optimism, certainty and reason.” 
“Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first – the story of our quest for sexual love – is well known and well charted, its vagaries form the staple of music and literature, it is socially accepted and celebrated. The second – the story of our quest for love from the world – is a more secret and shameful tale. If mentioned, it tends to be in caustic, mocking terms, as something of interest chiefly to envious or deficient souls, or else the drive for status is interpreted in an economic sense alone. And yet this second love story is no less intense than the first, it is no less complicated, important or universal, and its setbacks are no less painful. There is heartbreak here too.” 
“There is no one more likely to destroy us than the person we marry.” 
“It’s hard loving those who don’t much like themselves: “If you’re so great, why would you think I’m so great.” 
“We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull. But what if such a perfect being should one day turn around and decide they will love us back? We can only be somewhat shocked-how can they be as wonderful as we had hoped when they have the bad taste to approve of someone like us?” 
“Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go.” 
“Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire. Every time we yearn for something we cannot afford, we grow poorer, whatever our resources. And every time we feel satisfied with what we have, we can be counted as rich, however little we may actually possess.” 
“What is so frightening is the extent to which we may idealize others when we have such trouble tolerating ourselves” 
“Never too late to learn some embarrassingly basic, stupidly obvious things about oneself.” 
“To look at the paper is to raise a seashell to one’s ear and to be overwhelmed by the roar of humanity.” 
“We had often read the same books at night in the same bed, and later realized that they had touched us in different places: that they had been different books for each of us. Might the same divergence not occur over a single love-line? I felt like a dandelion releasing hundreds of spores into the air – and not knowing if any of them would get through.” 
“The more familiar two people become, the more the language they speak together departs from that of the ordinary, dictionary-defined discourse. Familiarity creates a new language, an in-house language of intimacy that carries reference to the story the two lovers are weaving together and that cannot be readily understood by others.” 
“Insomnia is his mind’s revenge for all the tricky thoughts he has carefully avoided during the daylight hours.” 
“We may be powerless to alter certain events, but we remain free to choose our attitude towards them, and it is in our spontaneous acceptance of necessity that we find our distinctive freedom.” 
“Beauty is a promise of happiness.” 
“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” 
“Being incomprehensible offers unparalleled protection against having nothing to say…but writing with simplicity requires courage, for there is a danger that one will be overlooked, dismissed as simpleminded by those with a tenacious belief that the impassable prose is a hallmark of intelligence.” 
“The inability to live in the present lies in the fear of leaving the sheltered position of anticipation or memory, and so of admitting that this is the only life that one is ever likely (heavenly intervention aside) to live.” 
“A good half of the art of living is resilience.” 
“The desire for high status is never stronger than in situations where “ordinary” life fails to answer a median need for dignity and comfort.” 
“We don’t need to be constantly reasonable in order 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.” 
“If cynicism and love lie at opposite ends of a spectrum, do we not sometimes fall in love in order to escape the debilitating cynicism to which we are prone? 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 moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.” 
“A ‘good job’ can be both practically attractive while still not good enough to devote your entire life to.” 
“Most of our childhood is stored not in photos, but in certain biscuits, lights of day, smells, textures of carpet.” 
“There is a longing for a return to a time without the need for choices, free of the regret at the inevitable loss that all choice (however wonderful) has entailed.” 

Alain de Botton Life

Who Is Alain de Botton?  

Alain de Botton’s a British author and philosopher who’s originally from Switzerland. He’s written books where he talks about current matters, including philosophy and romantic relationships and our perception of what love should be. 

De Botton comes from a wealthy family and attended the University of Cambridge, where he graduated with honors, and then got a Master’s in Philosophy at King’s College. He did try to get a Ph.D. in French Philosophy at Harvard, but he decided against it in favor of furthering his career as a writer. 

De Botton has written many books, within both the fiction and non-fiction genre. His first work, called Essays in Love , describes the process of falling in and out of love. This book was later adapted into a film, and De Botton wrote a sequel to it called The Course of Love which was published in 2016. 

De Botton has also ventured into business. He’s a co-founder of The School of Life , which is an educational company that creates content on YouTube and other platforms. He also has a project called Living Architecture that builds holiday rental houses in the UK. 

Wrapping Up 

Alain de Botton’s observations, quotes, and sayings showcase his views on love, life , and relationships. He talks about sex, passion, and all types of love, trying to understand what makes relationships work and what we need as humans when it comes to love.  

After reading these quotes, it’s clear that social relationships, especially romantic ones, are very abstract and come with their own set of issues. It’s natural for things to get difficult but you should always strive for understanding one another. 

One thing that’ll help you better your relationship with other people is understanding that you are an individual first. Know and understand yourself first, find your boundaries, and define what you want.  

Check out our quotes on love for more inspiration!  

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Alain de Botton: the three ingredients for love

The philosopher and author writes about the meaning of love and why the lonely are the real experts

If ever there was a time to celebrate love it's in the darker periods when we most need our faith restored. It's why Laura Lambert, the founder of ethical jewellery brand Fenton, decided to call on her favourite writers to compile an anthology of expressions of love - what it means and how it manifests itself.

Notes on Love was curated during the first lockdown, and was self-published in October, featuring contributions from high-profile names such as Candice Brathwaite, Elizabeth Day and Alain de Botton. Here, we share an abridged version of de Botton's essay on the three components that characterise love - and why the lonely are the best placed to be experts on the subject.

Alain de Botton: What is love?

One way to get a sense of why love should matter so much, why it might be considered close to the meaning of life, is to look at the challenges of loneliness. Too often, we leave the topic of loneliness unmentioned: those without anyone to hold feel shame; those with someone (a background degree of) guilt. But the pains of loneliness are an unembarrassing and universal possibility. We shouldn’t – on top of it all – feel lonely about being lonely. Unwittingly, loneliness gives us the most eloquent insights into why love should matter so much. There are few greater experts on the importance of love than those who are bereft of anyone to love. It is hard to know quite what all the fuss around love might be about until and unless one has, somewhere along the way, spent some bitter unwanted passages in one’s own company.

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When we are alone, people may well strive to show us kindness; there may be invitations and touching gestures, but it will be hard to escape from a background sense of the conditionality of the interest and care on offer. We are liable to detect the limits of the availability of even the best disposed companions and sense the restrictions of the demands we can make upon them. It is often too late – or too early – to call. A radical editing of our true selves is the price we must pay for conviviality.

All these quietly soul- destroying aspects of single life, love promises to correct. In the company of a lover, there need be almost no limits to the depths of concern, care, attention and license we are granted. We will be accepted more or less as we are; we won’t be under pressure to keep proving our status. It will be possible to reveal our extreme, absurd vulnerabilities and compulsions and survive. It will be OK to have tantrums, to sing badly and to cry. We will be tolerated if we are less than charming or simply vile for a time. We will be able to wake them up at odd hours to share sorrows or excitements. Our smallest scratches will be of interest.

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In the presence of the lover, evaluation will no longer be so swift and cynical. They will lavish time. As we tentatively allude to something, they will get eager and excited. They will say ‘go on’ when we stumble and hesitate. They will accept that it takes a lot of attention to slowly unravel the narrative of how we came to be the people we are. They won’t just say ‘poor you’ and turn away. And instead of regarding us as slightly freakish in the face of our confessions, they will kindly say ‘me too.’ The fragile parts of ourselves will be in safe hands with them. We will feel immense gratitude to this person who does something that we had maybe come to suspect would be impossible: know us really well and still like us. Surrounded on all sides by lesser or greater varieties of coldness, we will at last know that, in the arms of one extraordinary, patient and kindly being worthy of infinite gratitude, we truly matter.

2. Admiration

In Plato’s dialogue, The Symposium, the playwright Aristophanes suggests that the origins of love lie in a desire to complete ourselves by finding a long lost ‘other half’. At the beginning of time, he ventures in playful conjecture, all human beings were hermaphrodites with double backs and flanks, four hands and four legs and two faces turned in opposite directions on the same head. These hermaphrodites were so powerful and their pride so overweening that Zeus was forced to cut them in two, into a male and female half – and from that day, each one of us has nostalgically yearned to rejoin the part from which he or she was severed. We don’t need to buy into the literal story to recognise a symbolic truth: we fall in love with people who promise that they will in some way help to make us whole. At the centre of our ecstatic feelings in the early days of love, there is a gratitude at having found someone who seems so perfectly to complement our qualities and dispositions. We do not all fall in love with the same people because we are not all missing the same things.

Our personal inadequacies explain the direction of our tastes

The aspects we find desirable in our partners speak of what we admire but do not have secure possession of in ourselves. We may be powerfully drawn to the competent person because we know how our own lives are held up by a lack of confidence and tendencies to get into a panic around bureaucratic complications. Or our love may zero in on the comedic sides of a partner because we’re only too aware of our tendencies to sterile despair and cynicism. Our personal inadequacies explain the direction of our tastes. We hope to change a little in their presence, becoming – through their help – better versions of ourselves.

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We shouldn’t expect to get there all by ourselves. We can, in certain areas, be the pupils and they the teachers. We usually think of education as something harsh imposed upon us against our will. Love promises to educate us in a very different way. Through our lovers, our development can start in a far more welcoming and energising way: with deep excitement and desire. Love gives us the energy to construct and hold on to the very best story about someone. We are returned to a primal gratitude. We thrill around apparently minor details: that they have called us, that they are wearing that particular pullover, that they lean their head on their hand in a certain way, that they have a tiny scar over their left index finger or a particular habit of slightly mispronouncing a word... It isn’t usual to take this kind of care over a fellow creature, to notice so many tiny touching, accomplished and poignant things in another. This is what parents, artists or a God might do. We can’t necessarily continue in this vein forever, the rapture is not necessarily always entirely sane, but it is one of our noblest and most redemptive pastimes – and a kind of art all of its own – to give ourselves over to appreciating properly for a time the real complexity, beauty and virtue of another human being.

One of the more surprising and at one level perplexing aspects of love is that we don’t merely wish to admire our partners; we are also powerfully drawn to want to possess them physically. The birth of love is normally signalled by what is in reality a hugely weird act; two organs otherwise used for eating and speaking are rubbed and pressed against one another with increasing force, accompanied by the secretion of saliva. We can only start to understand the role of sexuality in love if we can accept that it is not – from a purely physical point of view – necessarily a uniquely pleasant experience in and of itself, it is not always a remarkably more enjoyable tactile feeling than having a scalp massage or eating an oyster.

Through sexual love, we are accepted for who we really are

Yet nevertheless, sex with our lover can be one of the nicest things we ever do. The reason is that sex delivers a major psychological thrill. The pleasure we experience has its origin in an idea: that of being allowed to do a very private thing to and with another person. Another person’s body is a highly protected and private zone. We’re implicitly saying to another person through our unclothing that they have been placed in a tiny, intensely policed category of people: that we have granted them an extraordinary privilege. Sexual excitement is psychological. It’s not so much what our bodies happen to be doing that turns us on. It’s what’s happening in our brains: acceptance is at the centre of the kinds of experiences we collectively refer to as ‘getting turned on.’ It feels physical – the blood pumps faster, the metabolism shifts gear, the skin gets hot – but behind all this lies a very different kind of change: a sense of an end to our isolation.

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In general, civilisation requires us to present stringently edited versions of ourselves to others. It asks us to be cleaner, purer, more polite versions of who we might otherwise be. The demand comes at quite a high internal cost. Important sides of our character are pushed into the shadows. The person who loves us sexually does something properly redemptive: they stop making a distinction between the different sides of who we are. They can see that we are the same person all the time; that our gentleness or dignity in some situations isn’t fake because of how we are in bed and vice versa. Through sexual love, we have the chance to solve one of the deepest, loneliest problems of human nature: how to be accepted for who we really are.

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The Marginalian

Alain de Botton on Love, Vulnerability, and the Psychological Paradox of the Sulk

By maria popova.

Alain de Botton on Love, Vulnerability, and the Psychological Paradox of the Sulk

“Nothing awakens us to the reality of life so much as a true love,” Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother . “Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp?” philosopher Martin Heidegger asked in his electrifying love letters to Hannah Arendt . “Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves.” Still, nearly every anguishing aspect of love arises from the inescapable tension between this longing for transformative awakening and the sleepwalking selfhood of our habitual patterns. True as it may be that frustration is a prerequisite for satisfaction in romance , how are we to reconcile the sundering frustration of these polar pulls?

The multiple sharp-edged facets of this question are what Alain de Botton explores in The Course of Love ( public library ) — a meditation on the beautiful, tragic tendernesses and fragilities of the human heart, at once unnerving and assuring in its psychological insightfulness. At its heart is a lamentation of — or, perhaps, an admonition against — how the classic Romantic model has sold us on a number of self-defeating beliefs about the most essential and nuanced experiences of human life: love, infatuation, marriage, sex, children, infidelity, trust.

Alain De Botton

A sequel of sorts to his 1993 novel On Love , the book is bold bending of form that fuses fiction and De Botton’s supreme forte , the essay — twined with the narrative thread of the romance between the two protagonists are astute observations at the meeting point of psychology and philosophy, spinning out from the particular problems of the couple to unravel broader insight into the universal complexities of the human heart.

In fact, as the book progresses, one gets the distinct and surprisingly pleasurable sense that De Botton has sculpted the love story around the robust armature of these philosophical meditations; that the essay is the raison d’être for the fiction.

Art from Strong as a Bear by Katrin Stangl

In one of these contemplative interstitials, De Botton examines the paradoxical psychology of one of the most common and most puzzling phenomena between lovers: sulking. He writes:

At the heart of a sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one. We should add: it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk; it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.

Sulking, De Botton suggests, stems from a form of magical thinking — the belief, endearing in its origin but deleterious in its effect, that an impossibility is possible:

Sulking pays homage to a beautiful, dangerous ideal that can be traced back to our earliest childhoods: the promise of wordless understanding. In the womb, we never had to explain. Our every requirement was catered to. The right sort of comfort simply happened. Some of this idyll continued in our first years. We didn’t have to make our every requirement known: large, kind people guessed for us. They saw past our tears, our inarticulacy, our confusions: they found the explanations for discomforts which we lacked the ability to verbalize. That may be why, in relationships, even the most eloquent among us may instinctively prefer not to spell things out when our partners are at risk of failing to read us properly. Only wordless and accurate mind reading can feel like a true sign that our partner is someone to be trusted; only when we don’t have to explain can we feel certain that we are genuinely understood.

But rather than bemoaning the sulk as a fatal flaw of a relationship, De Botton wrests from it evidence of the most hopeful and generous capacity of the human heart:

We would ideally remain able to laugh, in the gentlest way, when we are made the special target of a sulker’s fury. We would recognize the touching paradox. The sulker may be six foot one and holding down adult employment, but the real message is poignantly retrogressive: “Deep inside, I remain an infant, and right now I need you to be my parent. I need you correctly to guess what is truly ailing me, as people did when I was a baby, when my ideas of love were first formed.” We do our sulking lovers the greatest possible favor when we are able to regard their tantrums as we would those of an infant. We are so alive to the idea that it’s patronizing to be thought of as younger than we are; we forget that it is also, at times, the greatest privilege for someone to look beyond our adult self in order to engage with — and forgive — the disappointed, furious, inarticulate child within.

alain de botton essays in love quotes

Half a century after Iris Murdoch consoled a heartbroken friend by reminding her that “love is better than no love, though it can hurt so much,” De Botton revisits another facet of the same bewildering dynamic in a section on the interplay between trust and blame:

The most superficially irrational, immature, lamentable, but nonetheless common of all the presumptions of love is that the person to whom we have pledged ourselves is not just the center of our emotional existence but is also, as a result — and yet in a very strange, objectively insane and profoundly unjust way — responsible for everything that happens to us, for good or ill. Therein lies the peculiar and sick privilege of love.

Toward the end of the book, De Botton follows this paradoxical privilege to its equally paradoxical conclusion:

Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.

The Course of Love is an immensely perceptive and pleasurable read in its totality. Complement it with philosopher Erich Fromm on what is keeping us from mastering the art of loving , sociologist Eva Illouz on why love hurts , and Anna Dostoyevsky on the secret to a happy marriage , then revisit De Botton on the seven psychological functions of art and what philosophy is for .

For more of his largehearted wisdom on love and our human vulnerabilities, see his magnificent Design Matters conversation with Debbie Millman:

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways — and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

Subscribe to Design Matters here for more invigorating conversations with artists, writers, designers, and other creative thinkers.

— Published June 27, 2016 — https://www.themarginalian.org/2016/06/27/alain-de-botton-the-course-of-love/ —

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The Modern Novel

The world-wide literary novel from early 20th century onwards, de botton: essays in love.

Home » England » Alain de Botton » Essays in Love (US: On Love)

Alain de Botton: Essays in Love (US: On Love)

“I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter who you marry. If you like them at the beginning, you probably won’t like them at the end. And if you start off hating them, there’s always the chance you’ll end up thinking they’re all right.” The words are not de Botton’s but those of his girlfriend’s father. I recently read a survey which said that 80% of married American men, if given the choice, would marry the same woman. Only 50% of married American women would make the same choice. Yup, there’s still plenty to say on the subject. De Botton takes his love affair and analyzes it from every angle, upside, downside, herside, Marxside, JohnStuartMillside, yet the most profound statement about love I came away with was the above quote.

This novel has had considerable success because it is cool, it is hip, it uses big words and quotes from philosophers we have never heard of (so he went to Cambridge University) and is meant to tell us all about love but, in reality, it is not about love, it is about Alain de Botton, a topic about which, frankly, I find it hard to work up any enthusiasm. I am surprised that Chloe, the object of his affection, does. At their first post-coital repast, she makes him a slap-up meal, with five different jams but all he can do is bitch that there is no strawberry jam and goes out to buy some. Excuse me? DTMFA , I was crying. But she does not. She buys new shoes and he says she looks like a pelican but still she comes back for more. It’s not as though he is Tom Cruise. His photo (taken by one Chloe Stewart – is this the same Chloe?) makes him look like a rather ordinary looking twelve-year old but maybe it’s the light.

The love affair spins out and then spins away – shock! horror! he even contemplates suicide – and still the philosophical analysis carries on. I learned nothing. If you want hip, cool, philosophical trendiness à la Nicholson Baker , this book may well be for you. Otherwise, read Madame Bovary or, better still, do as Chloe does, read Cosmopolitan .

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First published 1993 by MacMillan

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Alain de Botton

The true hard work of love and relationships.

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February 11, 2021

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February 9, 2017

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As people, and as a culture, Alain de Botton says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. His New York Times essay, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” is one of their most-read articles in recent years, and this is one of the most popular episodes we’ve ever created. We offer up the anchoring truths he shares amidst a pandemic that has stretched all of our sanity — and tested the mettle of love in every relationship.

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Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists and How Proust Can Change Your Life . He’s also published many books as part of The School of Life’s offerings, including a chapbook created from his essay Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person .

Krista Tippett, host: Alain de Botton’s essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” is one of the most-read articles in The New York Times of recent years, and this is one of the most popular episodes we’ve ever created. As people and as a culture, he says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. I’m glad to offer up the anchoring truths he tells amidst a pandemic that has stretched all of our sanity — and tested the mettle of love in every home and relationship.

Alain de Botton: Love is something we have to learn and we can make progress with, and that it’s not just an enthusiasm, it’s a skill. And it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination, and a million things besides. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times, and the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being .

[ music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating ]

Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life, a gathering of courses, workshops, and talks on meaning and wisdom for modern lives, with branches around the world. He first became known for his book How Proust Can Change Your Life . I spoke with him in 2017.

Tippett: So we did speak a few years ago, but on a very different topic, and I’m really excited to be speaking with you about this subject, which is so close to every life. And as I’ve prepared for this, I realize that you’ve actually — I knew that you’d written the novel On Love a long time ago, but you’ve really been consistently attending to this subject and building your thoughts on it and your body of work on it, which is really interesting to me. You wrote On Love at the age of 23, which is so young, and you were already thinking about this so deeply. I think this is the first line: “Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over knowledge.”

de Botton: Well, and I think what’s striking is that our idea of what love is, our idea of what is normal in love, is so not normal.

Tippett: Is so abnormal. Right.

de Botton: So abnormal. And so we castigate ourselves for not having a normal love life, even though no one seems to have any of these.

Tippett: Or not have been loved perfectly.

de Botton: Right, right. So we have this ideal of what love is and then these very, very unhelpful narratives of love. And they’re everywhere. They’re in movies and songs — and we mustn’t blame songs and movies too much. But if you say to people, “Look, love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is, but we’re going to do our best,” that’s a much more generous starting point. So the acceptance of ourselves as flawed creatures seems to me what love really is. Love is at its most necessary when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we must show love to one another at those points. So we’ve got these two contrasting stories, and we get them muddled.

Tippett: And also, I feel like this should be obvious, but you just touched on art and culture and how that could help us complexify our understanding of this. And one of the things you point out about — I don’t know; When Harry Met Sally or Four Weddings and a Funeral — one of the things that’s wrong with all of that is that a lot of these take us up to the wedding. They take us through the falling and don’t see that — I think you’ve written somewhere — you said, “A wiser culture than ours would recognize that the start of a relationship is not the high point that romantic art assumes; it is merely the first step of a far longer, more ambivalent, and yet quietly audacious journey on which we should direct our intelligence and scrutiny.” [ laughs ]

de Botton: That’s right. We are strangely obsessed by the run-up to love. And what we call a love story is really just the beginning of a love story, but we leave that out. But most of us, we’re interested in long-term relationships. We’re not just interested in the moment that gets us into love; we’re interested in the survival of love over time.

Tippett: A lot of what you are pointing at, the work of loving over a long span of time, is inner work, right? [ laughs ] And it would be hard to film that. But I’m very intrigued by how you talk about the Ancient Greeks and their “pedagogical” view of love.

de Botton: That’s fascinating, because one of the greatest insults that you can level at a lover in the modern world, apparently, is to say, “I want to change you.” The Ancient Greeks had a view of love which was essentially based around education; that what love means — love is a benevolent process whereby two people try to teach each other how to become the best versions of themselves.

Tippett: You say somewhere, they are committed to “increasing the admirable characteristics” that they possess and the other person possesses.

de Botton: That’s right. That’s right.

Tippett: Your most recent book on this subject is The Course of Love , which is a novel, but it’s a novel that actually, I feel, you kind of weave a pedagogical narrator voice into it. Do you think that’s fair?

de Botton: That’s right. Absolutely.

Tippett: Woven into the narrative. And you say, at one point, this is the relationship between Rabih and Kirsten. And you said at one point, “Their relationship is secretly yet mutually marked by a project of improvement,” which I think we all recognize. And then there’s this moment where you say, “After the dinner party, Rabih is sincerely trying to bring about an evolution in the personality of the wife he loves. But his chosen technique is distinctive: to call Kirsten materialistic, to shout at her, and then, later, to slam two doors.” [ laughs ]

de Botton: That’s right.

Tippett: And we all recognize that scene. [ laughs ]

de Botton: [ laughs ] By the time we’ve humiliated someone, they’re not going to learn anything. The only conditions — as we know with children, the only conditions under which anyone learns are conditions of incredible sweetness, tenderness, patience — that’s how we learn. But the problem is that the failures of our relationships have made us so anxious that we can’t be the teachers we should be. And therefore, some often genuine, legitimate things that we want to get across are just — come across as insults, as attempts to wound, and are therefore rejected, and the arteries of the relationship start to fur.

Tippett: Someone recently said to me — and I’d be curious about how you would respond to this. It was a wise Jewish mother who had said to them, “Men marry women with the intention that they — with the idea that they will the stay the same. Women marry men with the idea that they will change.” Which is obviously a huge generalization, but gosh, it made a lot of sense to me, even in terms of my own life and in terms of what I see around me.

de Botton: I would argue that both genders want to change one another, and they both have an idea of who the lover “should” be. And I think a useful exercise that sometimes psychologists level at feuding couples is they say things like, “If you could accept that your partner would never change, how would you feel about that?”

Sometimes pessimism, a certain degree of pessimism can be a friend of love. Once we accept that actually it’s really very hard for people to be another way, we’re sometimes readier. We don’t need people to be perfect, is the good news. We just need people to be able to explain their imperfections to us in good time, before they’ve hurt us too much with them, and with a certain degree of humility. That’s already an enormous step.

Tippett: It’s a lot to ask, but it’s so — it’s also — it sounds reasonable, if we could really have that in our minds early enough on in a relationship.

de Botton: That’s right, and almost from the first date. My view of what one should talk about on a first date is not showing off and not putting forward one’s accomplishments, but almost quite the opposite. One should say, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.”  [ Editor’s note: Since this interview was recorded, the word “crazy” has fallen out of use as sensitivity to people who live with mental illness has grown .] And there should be a mutual acceptance that two damaged people are trying to get together, because pretty much all of us — there are a few totally healthy people — but pretty much all of us reach dating age with some scars, some wounds.

And sometimes we bring to adult relationships some of the same hope that a young child might’ve had of their parent. And of course, an adult relationship can’t be like that. It’s got to accept that the person across the table or on the other side of the bed is just human, which means full of flaws, fears, etc., and not some sort of superhuman.

Tippett: And I think that that question that you said could be a standard question on an early date — “And how are you crazy?” — there’s also something that you’re getting at that it almost seems like we must be hardwired to do this, although one of the wonderful things we’re learning in the 21st century is that we can change our brains. But a way you say it in On Love , in a scene in On Love , is, you start to be enamored in details of this new person and find things in common like, I don’t know, “both of us had two large freckles on the toe of the left foot,” [ laughs ] and then, you wrote, “Instinctively” — and this happens very quickly — “he teases out an entire personality from the details.”

But also, what I know from my own life is you tend to — when we fall in love with another person, we magnify in our minds those things that are immediately enrapturing and craft our idea of the other person almost exclusively around those wonderful qualities, which is not fair to them or to us. [ laughs ]

de Botton: That’s right. And we feel, in a way, that we know them already, and we impose on them an idea —

Tippett: And of course, we don’t. Right.

de Botton: And we don’t. We don’t. Which also explains another phenomenon that I’m fascinated by — you probably will have noticed in both novels — is the phenomenon of being in a sulk; of sulking, because sulking is a fascinating situation which takes you right into the heart of certain romantic delusions. Because what’s fascinating about sulking is that we don’t sulk with everybody. We only get into sulks with people that we feel should understand us but, rather unforgivably, haven’t understood us.

So in other words, it’s when we are in love with people and they’re in love with us that we take particular offense when they get things wrong. Because the kind of the governing assumption of the relationship is, this person should know what’s in my mind, ideally without me needing to tell them. If I need to spell this out to you, you don’t love me.

And that’s why you’ll go into the bathroom, bolt the door, and when your partner says, “Is anything wrong?” You’ll go, “Mm-mm.” And the reason is that they should be able to read through the bathroom panel into your soul and know what’s wrong. And that’s such an extraordinary demand.

Tippett: It’s so unfair. [ laughs ]

de Botton: We see it in children. This is how little children behave. They literally think that their parents can read their minds. It takes a long time to realize that the only way that one person can really learn about another is if it’s explained to them, preferably using words, quite calm ones.

Tippett: Yes, “use your words,” [ laughs ] which we say to children.

de Botton: [ laughs ] When people always say, “Communicate,” we have to be generous towards the reasons why we don’t. And we don’t because we’re operating with this mad idea that true love means intuitive understanding. And I go crazy when people say things like, “I met someone. The loveliest thing is, they understood me without me needing to speak.”

Tippett: [ laughs ] Right.

de Botton: So many alarm bells go off when I hear that, because I think, OK, well, good luck in this instance, but if you guys get together, that’s not going to go on forever. No one can intuitively understand another beyond a quite limited range of topics.

Tippett: Your children — how old are your children? They’re still pretty young, right?

de Botton: They’re 10 and 12.

Tippett: Oh, OK. So now that I have young adult children, when you hear that coming out of the mouth of your 21-year-old — “He should know. [ laughs ] He should just know” — and you just …

What I also know is that grasping this, what you’re talking about, it’s work. It is the work of life, right? It is the work of growing up.

de Botton: It’s the work of love. But it’s interesting that you mention your children and children generally, because I think — it sounds eerie, but I think that one of the kindest things that we can do with our lover is to see them as children — and not to infantilize them, but when we’re dealing with children as parents, as adults, we’re incredibly generous in the way we interpret their behavior.

If a child says — if you walk home, and a child says, “I hate you,” you immediately go, OK, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something — we’re looking around for a benevolent interpretation that can just shave off some of the more depressing, dispiriting aspects of their behavior. And we do this naturally with children, and yet we do it so seldom with adults. When an adult meets an adult, and they say, “I’ve not had a good day. Leave me alone,” rather than saying, “OK. I’m just going to go behind the facade of this slightly depressing comment…”

Tippett: And understand that that’s actually not about me; that’s about what’s going on inside them today.

de Botton: Right, exactly. We don’t do that. We take it all completely personally. And so I think the work of love is to try, when we can manage it — we can’t always — to go behind the front of this rather depressing, challenging behavior and try and ask where it might’ve come from.

Love is doing that work to ask oneself, “Where’s this rather aggressive, pained, noncommunicative, unpleasant behavior come from?” If we can do that, we’re on the road to knowing a little bit about what love really is, I think.

[ music: “The Sick System” by Lambert ]

Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being . Today, a conversation about love with writer and philosopher Alain de Botton.

Tippett: I’d love to talk about your — you used this word “pessimism,” a little while ago, and I’d love to dig into that a little bit more. And what you’re really talking about is being reality-based as opposed to being ideal-based. There’s a beautiful video that I’ve shared that’s out there; I think it’s “The Darkest Truth About Love.” Is that right? That’s the title, isn’t it?

de Botton: Yes, that’s right. Exactly. Made that for YouTube.

Tippett: From The School of Life. I’d like to talk through some of these core truths that fly in the face of this way we go around behaving and that movies have taught us to behave and that possibly our parents taught us to behave — these core truths that can put us on the foundation of reality.

de Botton: Yes, that’s very useful. We could chisel them in granite. Look, one of the first important truths is, you’re crazy. Not you; as it were, all of us; that all of us are deeply damaged people. The great enemy of love, good relationships, good friendships, is self-righteousness. If we start by accepting that of course we’re only just holding it together and, in many ways, really quite challenging people — I think if somebody thinks that they’re easy to live with, they’re by definition going to be pretty hard and don’t have much of an understanding of themselves. I think there’s a certain wisdom that begins by knowing that, of course, you, like everyone else, is pretty difficult. And this knowledge is very shielded from us. Our parents don’t tell us, our ex-lovers — they knew it, but they couldn’t be bothered to tell us. They sacked us without …

Tippett: Well, by the time they tell us, we’re dismissing what they say anyway. [ laughs ]

de Botton: Well, that’s right. And our friends don’t tell us, because they just want a pleasant evening with us. So we’re left with a bubble of ignorance about our own natures. And often, you can be way into your 40s before you’re starting to get a sense of, “Well, maybe some of the problem is in me.” Because, of course, it’s so intuitive to think that of course it’s the other person. So to begin with that sense of, “I’m quite tricky; and in these ways” — that’s a very important starting point for being good at love.

So often, we blame our lovers; we don’t blame our view of love. And so we keep sacking our lovers and blowing up relationships, in pursuit of this idea of love which actually has no basis in reality. It’s simply not rooted in anything we know.

Tippett: This right person, this creature, does not exist.

de Botton: And is in fact the enemy of good-enough relationships. I’m really fond of Donald Winnicott, this English psychoanalyst’s term, which he first used in relation to parenting, that what we should be aiming for is not perfection but a good-enough situation. And it’s wonderfully downbeat. No one would go, “What are your hopes this year?” “Well, I just want to have a good-enough relationship.” People would go, “Oh, I’m sorry your life is so grim.” But you want to go, “No, that’s really good. For a human, that’s brilliant.” And that’s, I think, the attitude we should have.

Tippett: In this “Darkest Truth About Love,” you say the idea of love in fact distracts us from existential loneliness. You are irredeemably alone. You will not be understood. But also, behind that is the — as you say, these are dark truths, but it’s also a relief, as truth always ultimately is, if we can hear it. Again, that is the work of life, is to reckon with what goes on inside us.

de Botton: I think one of the greatest sorrows we sometimes have in love is the feeling that our lover doesn’t understand parts of us. And a certain kind of bravery, a certain heroic acceptance of loneliness seems to be one of the key ingredients to being able to form a good relationship.

Tippett: Isn’t that interesting? And it sounds paradoxical.

de Botton: Of course. If you expect that your lover must understand everything about you, you will be — well, you’ll be furious pretty much all the time. There are islands and moments of beautiful connection, but we have to be modest about how often they’re going to happen. I think if you’re lonely with only — I don’t know — 40 percent of your life, that’s really good going. You may not want to be lonely with over 50 percent, but I think there’s certainly a sizable minority share of your life which you’re going to have to endure without echo from those you love.

Tippett: You know, I debated over whether I would discuss this with you, but I think I will. I’m single right now and have been for a few years, and it’s actually been a great joy. Not that I think I will be single forever or want to be single forever, although actually I think I would be all right if I were, which is a real watershed. And also, what this chapter of life has taught me to really enjoy more deeply and take more seriously are all the many forms of love in life aside from just romantic love or being coupled. Do people talk to you about that?

de Botton: Well, it’s funny, because just as you were saying, “I’m single,” I was about to say, “You’re not.” Because we have to look at what this idea of singlehood is. We’ve got this word, “single,” which captures somebody who’s not got a long-term relationship.

Tippett: But I have so much love in my life.

de Botton: That’s right. And another way of looking at love is connection. We’re all the time, we are hardwired to seek connections with others. And that is in a sense, at a kind of granular level, what love is. Love is connection. And insofar as one is alive and one is in buoyant, relatively buoyant spirit some of the time, it’s because we are connected. And we can take pride in how flexible our minds ultimately are about where that connection is coming.

And I think it’s also worth saying that, for some people, relationships are not necessarily the place where they encounter their best selves; that, actually, the person that they are in a relationship is not the person that they want to be or that they can be in other areas of life; that they feel that there are other possibilities that they’d like to explore. And I think getting into a relationship with someone, asking someone to be with you is a pretty cruel thing to do to someone that you love and admire and respect, because the job is so hard. Most people fail at it.

When you ask someone to marry you, for example, you’re asking someone to be your chauffeur, co-host, sexual partner, co-parent, fellow accountant, mop the kitchen floor together, etc., etc., and on and on the list goes. No wonder that we fail at some of the tasks and get irate with one another. It’s a burden. And I think sometimes, the older I get, sometimes I think one of the nicest things you can do to someone that you really admire is leave them alone. Just let them go. Let them be. Don’t impose yourself on them, because you’re challenging.

Tippett: I want to read this definition of marriage that you’ve written in a few places — I think it’s wonderful — and just talk about this. “Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.”

de Botton: Well, yes. [ laughs ] It’s challenging. And it’s certainly contrary to the romantic view. But again, this kind of realism or acceptance of complexity, I think, is ultimately the friend of love. I’m not — look, it’s also worth adding — I don’t believe that everybody should stay in exactly the relationship that they’re in, and that any relationship is worth sticking with, and that, in a way, the fault is always the fault of the lovers, if it’s not — both lovers, if it’s not happy. There are legitimate reasons to leave a relationship.

But when you’re really being honest, if you ask yourself, “Why am I in pain?” and you can’t necessarily attribute all the sorrows that you’re feeling to your lover, if you recognize that some of those things are perhaps endemic to existence or endemic to all human beings or something within yourself, then what you’re doing is encountering the pain of life with another person, but not necessarily because of another person.

Tippett: And, for example, you are in fact arguing — as you said before, some marriages are meant to end. And there’s certainly reasons for marriages to end or to end marriages. But you also point out this very contradictory fact that the thing that’s ultimately wrong with adultery as an easy out to what’s going wrong in the marriage is that it is based on the same idealism that certain ideas of marriages are based on that go wrong.

de Botton: That’s right, in a way that you’re just redirecting your hope elsewhere.

Tippett: Imagining this is the perfect one, right? This is the one person with whom you won’t ever be lonely again; who will understand you completely.

de Botton: That’s right. And so it’s — on and on the cycles of hurt continue.

Tippett: Something else you name about marriage that I feel is not often enough just named is that — we spoke a little while ago about children coming into a marriage. And of course, children teach us so much. One thing you say that’s beautiful, that “children teach us that love in its purest form is a kind of service”; that the love we have for our children — I certainly know this with myself — that the love I have for my children has changed me, and it is distinct from all the other loves I’ve ever known.

But also that children are hard on marriages, right? And I think, on a more complicated level, if there are problems in a marriage, that can get amplified when children are there. And it’s also partly because you just get — everybody’s tired. Right? [ laughs ]

de Botton: That’s right. It’s interesting; in a way, there’s a lot of mundanity in relationships. And one of the things that romanticism does is to teach us that the great love stories should be above the mundane. So in none of the great, say, 19th-century novels about love does anyone ever do the laundry, does anyone ever pick up the crumbs from the kitchen table, does anyone ever clean the bathroom. It just doesn’t happen, because it’s assumed that what makes or breaks love are just feelings, passionate emotions, not the kind of day-to-day wear and tear.

And yet, of course, when we find ourselves in relationships, it is precisely over these areas that conflicts arise, but we refuse to lend them the necessary prestige. There’s no arguments as vicious as when two people are arguing about something, but both of them think the argument is trivial. So they’ll say things like, “Oh, it’s absurd, we’re arguing over who should hang up the towels in the bathroom. That’s for stupid people.”

Tippett: [ laughs ] Right — “That has nothing to do with …”

de Botton: And you know that that’s going to be trouble. And so we need, in a way — one of the lessons of love is to lend a bit of prestige to those issues that crop up in love, like who does the laundry and on what day. We rush over these decisions. We don’t see them as legitimate. We think it’s fine to …

Tippett: But they are.

de Botton: But they are. As you say, there’s a lot of life that is extremely mundane.

Tippett: It is the stuff of life. Right. It’s the stuff of our days. There’s this wonderful line from The Course of Love about these two parents with children: “The tired child inside each of them is furious at how long it has been neglected and in pieces.”

de Botton: That’s right. And in a way — it’s so funny. If I can be indiscreet on air, my wife used to say to me, in the early days of our marriage, she sometimes would say to me things like, “My father would never have said something like” — and I would say something, “It’s not my turn to make the tea” or something. She’ll go, “My father would never have said it. He would always do this for us.”

And then I had to point out that there was really a — she wasn’t comparing like with like. She was comparing this man, her father, as a father, but not as a lover. And in the end, what I say to her, did end up saying to her was, “In a way, I’m probably behaving exactly like your father, but just not the father that you saw when he was around you.”

Tippett: The way he behaved towards your mother. [ laughs ]

de Botton: [ laughs ] That’s right. Exactly. And so one of the things we do as parents is to edit ourselves, which is lovely in a way, for our children. But it gives our children a really unnatural sense of what you can expect from another human being, because we’re never as nice to probably anyone else on Earth as we are to our children. I’m saying this is the cost of good parenting.

[ music: “Red Virgin Soil” by Agnes Obel ]

Tippett: After a short break, more with Alain de Botton. You can always listen again, and hear the unedited version of this and every conversation I have on the On Being podcast feed, wherever podcasts are found.

I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being . Today, we are exploring the true hard work of love with the writer and philosopher Alain de Botton. This is one of the most popular shows we’ve ever created. And it’s an offering of anchoring truths in a pandemic that has tested the mettle of love in every home and relationship.

Tippett: I’d like to go a slightly different place with all of this. The things you’ve been saying, pointing out about how love really works — that people don’t learn when they’re humiliated; that self-righteousness is an enemy of love — I’m thinking a lot right now, these days, about how and if we could apply the intelligence we actually have with the experience of love — not the ideal, but the experience of love in our lives — to how we can be, as citizens, moving forward. There’s a lot of behavior in public — I’m just speaking for the United States, but I think there are forms of this in the UK, as well — we’re kind of acting out in public the way we act out at our worst in relationships. [ laughs ]

de Botton: I think that’s fascinating; I think you’re onto something huge and rather counterintuitive, because we associate the word “love” with private life. We don’t associate it with life in the republic; with civil society. But I think that a functioning society requires — well, it requires two things that, again, just don’t sound very normal, but they require love and politeness. And by “love” I mean a capacity to enter imaginatively into the minds of people with whom you don’t immediately agree, and to look for the more charitable explanations for behavior which doesn’t appeal to you and which could seem plain wrong; not just to chuck them immediately in prison or to hold them up in front of a law court, but to —

Tippett: Or just tell them how stupid they are, right?

de Botton: Right. Exactly. We’re permanently — all sides are attempting to show how stupid every other side is. And the other thing, of course, is politeness, which is an attempt not necessarily to say everything: to understand that there is a role for private feelings, which, if they were to emerge, would do damage to everyone concerned.

But we’ve got this culture of self-disclosure. And as I say, it spills out into politics as well. The same dynamic goes on of, like, “If I’m not telling you exactly what I think, then I may develop a twitch or an illness from not expunging my feelings.” To which I would say, “No, you’re not. You’re preserving the peace and good nature of the republic, and it’s absolutely what you should be doing.”

Tippett: Yes. And I guess — I’ve been having this conversation with a lot of people this year — the truth is, more than ever before perhaps in our world, we are in relationship. We are connected to everyone else. And that’s a fact. Their well-being will impact our well-being; is of relevance to our well-being, and that of our children.

But we have this habit and this capacity in public — and also we know that our brains work this way — to see the other — to see those strangers, those people, those people on the other side politically, socioeconomically, whatever, forgetting that in our intimate lives and in our love lives, in our circles of family and friends and in our marriages and with our children, there are things about the people we love the most, who drive us crazy, that we do not comprehend, and yet we find ways to be intelligent, to be loving — because it gets a better result. [ laughs ]

de Botton: That’s right. And families are at this kind of test bed of love, because we can’t entirely quit them. And this is what makes families so fascinating, because you’re thrown together with a group of people who you would never pick, if you could simply pick on the grounds of compatibility. Compatibility is an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be the precondition of love, as we nowadays, in a slightly spoiled way, imagine it must be.

Tippett: Yes. Wonderful. I think this is deeply politically relevant.

de Botton: Totally. And I think if we just try and explore the word “political,” political really means “outside of private space.” And we’re highly socialized creatures who really take our cues from what is going on around us. And if we see an atmosphere of short tempers, of selfishness, etc., that will bolster those capacities within ourselves. If we see charity being exercised, if we see good humor, if we see forgiveness on display: again, it will lend support to those sides of ourselves. And we need to take care what we’re exposing ourselves to, because too much exposure to the opposite of love makes us into very hostile and angry people.

Tippett: Yes, and I think it’s also such an important thing to bear in mind, that the import of our conduct, moment to moment — that that is having effects that we can’t see.

de Botton: That’s right. We’re far more sensitive than we allow for. And we need to build a world that recognizes that if somebody goes “mm-hmm” rather than this, or “thanks” rather than “yes,” or whatever it is, this can ruin our day. And we should think about that as we approach not just our personal relationships, but also our social and political relationships. These things are humiliating. Little things can deeply wound and humiliate.

Let’s not forget that one of the things that makes relationships so scary is, we need to be weak in front of other people. And most of us are just experts at being pretty strong. We’ve been doing it for years. We know how to be strong. What we don’t know how to do is to make ourselves safely vulnerable, and so we tend to get very twitchy, preternaturally aggressive, etc., when we’re asked to — when the moment has come to be weak.

Tippett: And I feel like there’s almost this calling now, because the stakes are so high, for emotional intelligence in public, which of course, we don’t — none of us gets perfectly in our intimate lives, but we do know these things about people we love. And they’re also true of people we don’t know and don’t think we love.

But I want to return a little bit to love and sex and eros and all of this. I have to say, one thing I really love and appreciate and learned from in your writing is your reflection on flirting [ laughs ] as an art, the art of flirting; that it can be something edifying, a pleasurable gift. And you have this phrase, a “good flirt.” So would you describe what a “good flirt” is?

de Botton: Well, if you think about what flirtation is, in many ways flirtation is the attempt to awaken somebody else to their attractiveness. I think it would be such a pity if we had to drive something as important as validation and self-acceptance and a pleasant view of oneself through the gate of — the rather narrow gate of sex.

And flirtation is a kind of act of the imagination. And what’s fun about flirtation is that it often happens between really quite unlikely people. Two people meet, and maybe they’re both with someone, or there’s a difference in status or background, etc., and they can find that they’re in a little conversation about the weather, and both parties will recognize, there’s something a little bit flirtatious going on. And it’s got really nothing to do with sex, as such; it’s just two people delighting in awakening one another …

Tippett: It’s pleasant. Right.

de Botton: … to the fact that they’re quite nice people, and they’re quite attractive, and that that’s OK.

Tippett: You also have this lovely film, it’s one of these School of Life films, about this, a good flirt. You can make these assumptions that this other person maybe would love to sleep with us, won’t sleep with us, and the reason why they won’t has nothing to do with any deficiency on our part. But it’s also not, as you say, a deception. It’s a natural, pleasurable human experience.

de Botton: That’s right. The other thing that we get quite wrong in our culture is the whole business of what sex actually is, because we’ve come from a Freudian world. Freud has told us that there’s a lot more going on in sex than we want to believe and that a lot of it is quite weird, and darker than we’d ever want to imagine, and that sex is everywhere in life, even in places where we don’t think it is or perhaps should be.

But, in a way, I’ve got a sort of different view of this. I think that it’s not so much that sex is everywhere, it’s that psychological dynamics are everywhere, even in sex. And so often we think of sex as just a sort of pneumatic activity, but really, it’s a psychological activity. And if you try to imagine why people are excited by sex, it’s not so much that it’s a pleasurable nerve-ending business. It’s ultimately that it’s about acceptance.

If you think about, why is it exciting to kiss someone for the first time? It’s probably more fun eating an oyster or flossing your teeth or watching TV than kissing. It’s a bit weird. What’s this odd thing we call kissing? It’s like sort of trying to inflate somebody else’s mouth. It’s just odd.

Tippett: [ laughs ]

de Botton: Nevertheless, we like it, not because of its physical feeling but because of what it means, the meaning we infuse. And the meaning we infuse into it is, “I accept you. And I accept you in a way that is incredibly intimate and that would be quite revolting with anyone else. I’m allowing you into my private space as a way of signaling, ‘I like you.’” And what really — we call it getting “turned on,” but what we’re really, as it were, excited by is that someone accepts us with remarkable — in all our…

Tippett: Takes delight in us.

de Botton: Right; takes delight in us. And that’s what’s exciting about it. In other words, sex is continuous with a lot of things that we’re interested in outside of the bedroom.

Tippett: And you say that flirting is one way to experience, in the course of ordinary life, in a way that’s completely nonthreatening to whatever your commitments are, what is enjoyable about sex that’s not necessarily the act itself: the fact that we are sexual beings.

de Botton: That’s right. That’s right. But we feel often conflicted about it. “I shouldn’t be flirting. I can’t flirt,” etc. So there’s a lot of fear of — there’s a lot of fear of slippery slopes. In many situations, we can hang on, on the slippery slope. It’s OK. We’ve got tools to hang on in there.

Tippett: I want to know — I don’t want to let you go before asking what you think about — what’s your view of online dating? Because this a new way that so many people, perhaps most people, moving forward, are meeting, are engaging this romantic side of themselves.

de Botton: Look, at one level, online dating promises to open up something absolutely wonderful, which is a more logical way of getting together with someone. The sort of dream is that the secrets of our soul and the secrets of somebody else’s soul will be sort of downloaded onto a computer and that we will find the best possible match for who we are.

The darker side of online dating is that it encourages the idea that a good relationship must mean a conflict-free relationship. And therefore, any relationship which has conflict in it, which has unhappiness and areas of tension in it, is wrong and can be terminated, because we have this wonderful backup, which is alternatives. So, like any tool, it’s got its pluses and minuses and has to be used correctly. And I think what I mean by “correctly” is, it has to broaden the pool of people from which we’re choosing our lovers, while not giving us the illusion that there is such a thing as a perfect human being.

Tippett: Right. So then you’re back to the basic truth, [ laughs ] the darker truth about love. Also, what online dating does is it introduces you to people, but then, really, the whole thrust of your thinking is that loving is really what comes next. That’s what comes after the meeting.

de Botton: That’s right. Silicon Valley has been incredibly interested in getting us to that first stage of meeting the person, and that’s great. But the next stage has been abandoned. Where is the app that will tell you how to read, how to interpret somebody else’s confused signals of distress or that will remind you, at a certain point, to look charitably upon someone’s behavior because you remember their childhood, etc.? So we have a long way to go.

Our technology is still — look, we’re still — it sounds odd, because it’s one of the sort of narcissisms of our time that we think we’re living late on in the history of the world. We think we’re sort of — we’re latecomers to the party. We’re still at the very beginning of understanding ourselves as human, emotional creatures. We’re still taking our first baby steps in the understanding of love, and we need a lot of compassion for ourselves. And no wonder we make horrific mistakes pretty much all the time.

[ music: “Turquoise” by Mooncake ]

Tippett: I happened to see your tweet at the end of 2016, when The New York Times released its most-read articles of the year, [ laughs ] and your “Why You’ll Marry the Wrong Person” was No. 1, which is really extraordinary; the most-read article in a year of the Brexit vote, the presidential election, war, refugee crisis. I wonder what that tells you about us as a species.

de Botton: Look, it was deeply fascinating and quite extraordinary. And apparently, it was first by a long way. It’s just peculiar. And I think that — look, first of all, it tells us that we have an enormous loneliness around our difficulties. One could write a follow-on piece — I may or may not — called, “Why You Will Get Into the Wrong Job,” which would probably score quite highly too, and “Why You’ll Have the Wrong Child” and “Why You’ll Go on the Wrong Vacation” and “Why Your Body Will Be the Wrong Shape” and “Why You’ll Think You Live in the Wrong Country,” etc. And in a way, we need solace for the sense that we have gone wrong in an area, whatever it may be, where perfection was possible.

And anyone who comes along and says, “You know, it’s normal that you are suffering. Life is suffering,” is doing a quite unusual thing in our culture, which is so much about optimism. It sounds grim; it is in fact enormously consoling and alleviating and helpful, in a culture which is oppressive in its demands for perfection. So I think a certain kind of pessimistic realism — which is totally compatible with hope, totally compatible with laughter, good humor, a sense of fun — it doesn’t have to be dour.

Tippett: It’s how comedy and tragedy belong together.

de Botton: Right. Exactly. So I’m a great fan of gallows humor. We’re all on our way to the gallows in one way or another, and we can hug and give each other laughs and point out the more pleasant sides as we head towards the scaffold.

Tippett: [ laughs ] That may be your last word. I just want to ask you, when we first began to speak about On Love , which you wrote — which was published when you were 23 in the late ‘90s — you’ve now been married for over a dozen years. What did you really not know? And that book was so wise. And in fact, that book that you published when you were 23, On Love , really presented a lot of the themes that you’ve carried forward in time. But I do wonder what you really did not know; what you’ve learned; what you continue to learn about love at this stage in your life.

de Botton: I genuinely thought at that time that problems in love are the result of being with people who are, in one way or another, defective. And in 2002, this belief was severely tested, in that I met someone who was really absolutely wonderful in every way. And through much effort, I pursued her and eventually married her and discovered something very surprising. She was great in a million ways. She was very right. And yet, oddly, there were all sorts of problems.

And I think it’s been the path that I’ve been on, to realize that those problems had nothing to do with her being a deficient person or indeed with me being a horribly deficient person. They were to do with the challenges of being a human being trying to relate to another human being in a loving relationship; that I was encountering some endemic issues that every couple, however well-matched — and there is no such thing as a perfect match, but however well-matched, every couple will encounter these problems; that love is something we have to learn and we can make progress with, and that it’s not just an enthusiasm, it’s a skill, and it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination, and a million things besides.

And we must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love; that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage, as the creatures we are. It’s no fault of mine or no fault of yours; it’s to do with being human. And the more generous we can be towards that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

[ music: “Semblance” by Auditory Canvas ]

Tippett: Alain de Botton is the founder and chairman of The School of Life. His books include Religion for Atheists and How Proust Can Change Your Life . He’s also published many books as part of The School of Life’s offerings — there is a chapbook, for example, created from his essay “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.”

The On Being Project is: Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Laurén Drommerhausen, Erin Colasacco, Eddie Gonzalez, Lilian Vo, Lucas Johnson, Suzette Burley, Zack Rose, Colleen Scheck, Christiane Wartell, Julie Siple, Gretchen Honnold, Jhaleh Akhavan, Pádraig Ó Tuama, Ben Katt, Gautam Srikishan, and Lillie Benowitz.

The On Being Project is located on Dakota land. Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating. And the last voice that you hear, singing at the end of our show, is Cameron Kinghorn.

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Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion

Author: Alain De Botton

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The Course of Love: A Novel

Cover of On Love: A Novel

On Love: A Novel

Author: Alain de Botton

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Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person: A pessimist’s guide to marriage, offering insight, practical advice, and consolation. (Essay Books)

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alain de botton essays in love quotes

We don't really learn anything properly until there is a problem, until we are in pain, until something fails to go as we had hoped ... We suffer, therefore we think.

Maturity: the confidence to have no opinions on many things.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.

Anyone who isn't embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn't learning enough.

Do you love me enough that I may be weak with you? Everyone loves strength, but do you love me for my weakness? That is the real test.

Everyone wants a better life: very few of us want to be better people.

The only way to be happy is to realise how much depends on how you look at things

It looks like it’s wasting time, but literature is actually the ultimate time-saver - because it gives us access to a range of emotions and events that it would take you years, decades, millennia to try to experience directly. Literature is the greatest reality simulator - a machine that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

The only people we can think of as normal are those we don't yet know very well.

Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone - and finding that that's ok with them.

You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.

One of the better guarantors of ending up in a good relationship: an advanced capacity to be alone.

Forgiveness requires a sense that bad behaviour is a sign of suffering rather than malice.

For paranoia about 'what other people think' : remember that only some hate, a very few love - and almost all just don't care.

What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we're truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it's bad enough not getting what you want, but it's even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn't, in fact, what you wanted all along.

Intuition is unconscious accumulated experience informing judgement in real time.

At the heart of every frustration lies a basic structure: the collision of a wish with an unyielding reality.

Mental health: having enough safe places in your mind for your thoughts to settle.

The best cure for one's bad tendencies is to see them in action in another person.

Sweetness is the opposite of machismo, which is everywhere-and I really don't get on with machismo. I'm interested in sensitivity, and weakness, and fear, and anxiety, because I think that, at the end of the day, behind our masks, that's what we are.

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 who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved.

The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.

Don't despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don't - surrender to events with hope.

Good books put a finger on emotions that are deeply our own - but that we could never have described on our own.

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  • Born: December 20, 1969
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Alain de Botton

Essays in love.

'De Botton is a national treasure.' - Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black A unique love story and a classic work of philosophy, rooted in the mysterious workings of the human heart and mind. 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 who can understand what we are saying in essence, we are not wholly alive until we are loved. A man and woman on a flight from Paris to London, and so begins their love story. From first kiss to first argument, infatuation to heartbreak, de Botton illuminates each stage of their relationship with a clarity both startling and tender. With the verve of a novelist and the insight of a philosopher, Essays in Love unveils the mysteries of the human heart. It is essential reading for anyone seeking instruction in the art of love.

The book's success has much to do with its beautifully modelled sentences, its wry humour and its unwavering deadpan respect for its reader's intelligence . . . full of keen observation and flashes of genuine lyricism, acuity and depth. Francine Prose, author of The Vixen and Lovers at the Chameleon Club
Witty, funny, sophisticated, neatly tied up, and full of wise and illuminating insights The Spectator
De Botton is a national treasure. Susan Hill, author of The Woman in Black

Books by Alain de Botton

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Alain de Botton: ‘an insistence on universality that borders on the smug’.

The Course of Love review – philosophy overload

Alain de Botton ’s first novel in 23 years – his quirky, autobiographical debut, Essays in Love , was written when he was just 23 – again takes love as its theme. Like its predecessor, it explores the myths and minutiae of courtship and relationships. It charts a couple’s marriage from the first flowering of attraction and the glow of the proposal to the everyday business of life as husband and wife. It maps the small shifts in their sex life and explores the way in which habits and behaviour which once endeared them to one another become sources of irritation and frustration.

Rabih and Kirsten’s story is an intentionally ordinary one. They meet, they fall in love, they marry, they encounter small obstacles in their personal and professional lives, they have children. One of them is unfaithful. The marriage strains but does not crack.

While the book is being promoted as a novel rather than a work of philosophy, De Botton’s interests as an essayist, in work, sex, happiness, in how we live and what we live for, are still very much to the fore. The narrative is intercut with a series of italicised interjections, unpicking the couple’s motivations and impulses, dissecting their decisions. For example: “Nature imbeds in us insistent dreams of success”; and “The accusations we direct at our lovers make no particular sense. We would utter such unfair things to no one else on earth.”

The contrast between these passages and the world of the characters makes for some appealing juxtapositions. Sometimes the observations are acute and telling – De Botton is good on the politics of laundry, the compromise of domesticity – but there’s an insistence on universality that borders on the smug.

He lays out his thesis, that society builds in us the expectation that our stories will play out in certain ways, that it’s healthy and necessary to document disappointment and disillusionment, that so much of the tension in a marriage is self-generated, a product of the gulf between the life people feel they should be living and the life they are living.

The Course of Love is at its strongest when De Botton steps back and allows the couple to breathe. There’s a lot of truth and humour in his account of the earliest days of their marriage as he highlights the intricate web of pressures, both self-imposed and external, that lead them to make certain choices. Rabih loves Kirsten, but he’s also tired of a life alone. They marry, in part, because they feel it is time to marry, that they are in the marrying stage of their lives, and in the beginning, for both of them, marriage is a kind of performance: they are both playing roles, the choices they make shaped as much by their own emotions as by their family histories, their upbringings, the city in which they live, and the paths their peers are going down.

While Rabih and Kirsten’s story is always engaging and there’s an ease and believability to them as a couple, the outside voice comes to feel grating and intrusive after a while, in its pronouncements and the narrowness of its outlook, in its continual desire to pin down the mess and complexity of the human experience, to bind it and box it.

The Course of Love is published by Hamish Hamilton (£14.99). Click here to buy it for £11.99

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Essays in love

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Essays in Love (On Love) by Alain de Botton

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B : weaknesses galore, but clever enough, with his trademark digressions, that we do recommend it

See our review for fuller assessment.

   From the Reviews : "Alain de Botton picks up the torch, so to speak, more or less where Stendhal left off. De Botton�s On Love reads as if Stendhal had lived into the �90s, survived modern critical theory (as he clearly has), thought it was funny (as he likely would have), but retained a novelist�s sympathy for the impulse -- which he shared -- to deconstruct and to dissect in search of some higher understanding." - Francine Prose, The New Republic "The result is something like La Rochefoucauld�s maxims crossed with Adolphe, with jokes and against a background of luggage reclaim areas and breakfast cereal packets. (...) Ingeniously pinpointed mundane details stop the novel from getting too abstract. It is witty, funny, sophisticated, neatly tied up, and full of wise and illuminating insights." - Gabriele Annan, The Spectator Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review 's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

The complete review 's Review :

       Baby-faced in appearance, Gallic in name and often in attitude, English Wunderkind De Botton has achieved notable (and somewhat galling) success at an early age, with five books to his name before he turned thirty. On Love was his first novel ( Essays in Love , as the British original had it) -- though there are also similarly themed later novels, Kiss & Tell and The Romantic Movement . Love preoccupies the young author, as well it might, and though a big subject to tackle, De Botton tackles well.        The story of this novel is simplicity itself: a love affair, from its very beginning to its very end. De Botton's narrator describes falling in love with Chloe, being in love with her, and then getting over her. An old story, the twist here is in how De Botton relates it, dwelling and (over)analyzing each and every aspect, and looking to see greater truths in them.        De Botton is intelligent, and he chooses to approach his book cleverly. Clever and intelligent do not always mix, but De Botton manages quite well. Each relatively short chapter is further divided into numbered paragraphs, each a brief point (or often a brief digression) illuminating various aspects of the love between Chloe and the narrator -- and love in general. Young, well-educated, fairly well to do, neither is completely sympathetic. Part of De Botton's success is that he shows us everyday love in characters who are not particularly appealing. He revels in considering all aspects of love, including -- or rather, especially -- the mundane and everyday and trivial. There are charts and pictures and diagrams, and some of it is too cute and forced, but overall it is indeed a clever little book.        It is a young author's book, and we occasionally grimace at some of what De Botton tries -- but it is a difficult subject to handle well. Other people's love affairs are often not the most interesting of subjects, especially when one deals with the everyday minutiae, but for most of the book De Botton keeps us hooked with his interesting thoughts on love's many aspects. The almost banal affair itself does stifle the narrative (De Botton's strength is certainly essayistic, which is why his Proust book is far superior to the novels), but there are enough well-conceived flights of fancy to keep the reader amused.        In her review Francine Prose makes particular note of the chapter entitled Marxism , where the Marxism in question is not Karl's, but rather the Groucho's who didn't want to belong to any club that would have him. It is that sort of cleverness that fills the book, and those who are put off by it should turn elsewhere. Prose is correct in expecting that those who can't appreciate this notion (which De Botton handles very cleverly) would not enjoy the book. We would argue that the book is, on some level, even more demanding than that. De Botton is intelligent, and the book is rich in allusion and reference. While most of this is enjoyable, it is perhaps the place where he truly goes wrong: the references are too clever for the quality of his narrative (he is not quite up to snuff in the story-telling department yet), and so readers are left either disappointed by the writing or confused by the references.        We still recommend this book rather highly, as an interesting failed effort, with enough quality, humor, and cleverness (and love-talk !) to satisfy. Like all of De Botton's book, it makes one think -- though without being overly taxing.

About the Author :

       English author Alain de Botton was born in Switzerland in 1969 and educated at Cambridge.

© 1999-2010 the complete review Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links

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  • The Course of Love

In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married. They have children. Society tells us this is the end of the story. In fact, it is only the beginning.

The Course of Love

The long-awaited and beguiling sequel to Essays in Love , The Course of Love charts the complex and intricate course of a long-term relationship.

We all know the headiness and excitement of love’s early days, but what can be expected over a shared lifetime? We follow our couple – Rabih and Kristen – from the first flush of infatuation through to inevitable disenchantments and then onto the freedom and insights of maturity. The Course of Love is a novel that explores not so much the start of love, as its maintenance over time; the way our ideals bend and reform under the pressures of an average existence, and the magnificent, sometimes frightening, developments we can make as we slowly realise that love is in essence a skill we need to learn rather than an enthusiasm we simply experience.

Playful, wise, and profoundly moving , The Course of Love is an unparalleled meditation on modern relationships —and a delightful return to the novel for Alain, more than 20 years after Essays in Love .

Published in 2016.

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COMMENTS

  1. On Love Quotes by Alain de Botton

    On Love Quotes Showing 1-30 of 205. "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 ...

  2. 30+ quotes from Essays in Love by Alain de Botton

    Copy text. "As Proust once said, classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination.". ― Alain de Botton, quote from Essays in Love. Copy text. "Perhaps because the origins of a certain kind of love lie in an impulse to escape ourselves and out weaknesses by an alliance with the beautiful and noble.

  3. 100 Quotes By Alain De Bottom, The Author Of Essays In Love

    Born On: December 20, 1969. Born In: Zürich, Switzerland. Founder / Co Founder: Global Asset Management. Age: 54 Years. Alain de Bottom is a Swiss born English writer, essayist, novelist, and television presenter, best known for his works such as 'The Architecture of Happiness', 'Status Anxiety', and 'The Consolations of Philosophy'.

  4. 103 Alain de Botton Quotes to Understand Passion and Love

    Alain de Botton is a contemporary philosopher, who discusses themes that are relevant to everyday life. His TED talk on love is one of the most famous, and his book Essays in Love from 1993 became a bestseller. So when it comes to love, Alain de Botton knows a thing or two. If you've been in a love-fever mood, you've come to the right place.

  5. Alain de Botton Quotes about Love

    Alain de Botton. Love is an incurable disease. In love, there is permanent suffering. Those who love and those who are happy are not the same. Alain de Botton. We fall in love because we long to escape from ourselves with someone as beautiful, intelligent, and witty as we are ugly, stupid, and dull.

  6. Alain de Botton: the three ingredients for love

    1.Care. One way to get a sense of why love should matter so much, why it might be considered close to the meaning of life, is to look at the challenges of loneliness. Too often, we leave the topic ...

  7. Alain de Botton on Love, Vulnerability, and the Psychological Paradox

    The multiple sharp-edged facets of this question are what Alain de Botton explores in The Course of Love (public library) — a meditation on the beautiful, tragic tendernesses and fragilities of the human heart, at once unnerving and assuring in its psychological insightfulness. At its heart is a lamentation of — or, perhaps, an admonition ...

  8. Essays in Love

    Essays in Love is a novel about two young people, who meet on an airplane between London and Paris and rapidly fall in love. The structure of the story isn't unusual, but what lends the book its interest is the extraordinary depth with which the emotions involved in the relationship are analysed. Love comes under the philosophical microscope.

  9. de Botton: Essays in Love

    Alain de Botton: Essays in Love (US: On Love) "I've found that it doesn't really matter who you marry. If you like them at the beginning, you probably won't like them at the end. And if you start off hating them, there's always the chance you'll end up thinking they're all right." The words are not de Botton's but those of his ...

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    It's drab and boring but quiet. Alain de Botton. Sweetness is the opposite of machismo, which is everywhere - and I really don't get on with machismo. I'm interested in sensitivity and weakness and fear and anxiety because I think that, at the end of the day, behind our masks, that's what we are. Alain de Botton.

  11. 6 Quotes by Alain DE Botton That Will Change the Way You View Love

    Alain de Botton is a modern-day philosopher inspired by the likes of Camus and Proust. He talks about the trials and triumphs that come with loving and human connectedness. De Botton wrote several…

  12. Alain de Botton

    As people, and as a culture, Alain de Botton says, we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love. His New York Times essay, "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," is one of their most-read articles in recent years, and this is one of the most popular episodes we've ever created. We offer up the anchoring truths he shares amidst a pandemic that has stretched ...

  13. TOP 25 QUOTES BY ALAIN DE BOTTON (of 372)

    Alain de Botton (2006). "On Love: A Novel", p.134, Grove/Atlantic, Inc. 123 Copy quote. Everyone wants a better life: very few of us want to be better people. Alain de Botton. People, Want, Better Life. 30 Copy quote. The only way to be happy is to realise how much depends on how you look at things. Alain de Botton.

  14. 25 Quotes By Alain De Botton, The Author Of Essays In Love

    Alain de Bottom is a Swiss born English writer, essayist, novelist, and television presenter, best known for his works such as 'The Architecture of Happiness...

  15. Essays In Love by Alain de Botton

    A man and woman on a flight from Paris to London, and so begins their love story. From first kiss to first argument, infatuation to heartbreak, de Botton illuminates each stage of their relationship with a clarity both startling and tender. With the verve of a novelist and the insight of a philosopher, Essays in Love unveils the mysteries of ...

  16. The Course of Love review

    Alain de Botton's first novel in 23 years - his quirky, autobiographical debut, Essays in Love, was written when he was just 23 - again takes love as its theme. Like its predecessor, it ...

  17. Essays in love : De Botton, Alain : Free Download, Borrow, and

    Essays in love Bookreader Item Preview ... Essays in love by De Botton, Alain. Publication date 1993 Topics Romance fiction, English, Man-woman relationships -- Fiction, Man-woman relationships, English fiction Publisher London : Macmillan Collection internetarchivebooks; inlibrary; printdisabled

  18. Essays in Love (On Love)

    A. 30/10/1993. Gabriele Annan. From the Reviews: "Alain de Botton picks up the torch, so to speak, more or less where Stendhal left off. De Botton's On Love reads as if Stendhal had lived into the '90s, survived modern critical theory (as he clearly has), thought it was funny (as he likely would have), but retained a novelist's sympathy ...

  19. The Course of Love

    The Course of Love In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married. They have children. Society tells us this is the end of the story. In fact, it is only the beginning. The long-awaited and beguiling sequel to Essays in Love, The Course of Love charts the complex and intricate course of a long-term relationship. … Read more