Alain de Botton asks us to give up on romantic love?

Alain de Botton is a well renowned ‘everyday philosopher’ of the people – he makes philosophy fun and relevant by tackling topics that effect us – in this case love and dating – something the average single 32 year old male human (eg me) thinks about… all the time. Alain also started The School of Life – an international school that teaches people how to live and he has also sold millions of books about similar topics. So all in all that makes him a bit of a pop philosopher, but this does not make his ideas or arguments any less relevant!

On the contrary he has an uncanny way of making you feel like he is writing or speaking entirely about your life. Indeed, his book ‘Proust’ (which I am now reading again since hearing him speak) starts by examining how reading anything by an author, is as it were, is like reading into a part of ourselves that we never knew existed: “The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.” (from the book: How Proust Can Change Your Life)

And this is exactly how I felt hearing him talk at the Opera House last Saturday 9th of July. Here in Sydney to launch his new book “The Course of Love” – a fictional story about the ins and outs of long-term relationships, Alain was really there to make a statement… a conclusion about love that I have long been attempting to come to myself and now finally have the guts to make.

The conclusion: Romantic love is a fallacy – there is no ‘one’ and the quicker we give up on the concept that there is this ‘one’ person who will essentially complete us, the happier we will be.

According to de Botton, love isn’t an indescribable feeling – it’s a skill – and one that we have to work on. Just think about the pressure we put on our lovers to be this all encompassing love and what damaging effects it does – for one thing, we are all crazy and have a dark side and for another we can’t expect our partner to perfectly love and understand every part of us.

But Alain de Botton encourages us not to give up on the idea of marriage but only “the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning”.

The saving grace? Out of left field, de Botton offers us a new way to look at love and relationships based on a “classical” ancient greek view that we should partner with someone because of their virtues and not their shadow. We are all slightly insane and have evil tendencies and the best our partners can do is to help us become aware of these sides and help us to grow – each partner should alternate between teacher and student, student and teacher in a pursuit of growth and becoming the best version of oneself.

Listening to De Botton talk was like having one of those AHA! conversations at 4am by the fire after talking to one’s long lost best friend that you only met that night. I walked away feeling entirely satisfied and ready to commit to human beings, myself included, not as some perfect creature but as someone that has amazing virtues to love and other sides of ourselves that can learn about and grow from. Let us approach relationships in this entirely realistic way and I would like to think we will all be a lot happier for it.

Alain de Botton spoke at the Sydney Opera House on the 9th and 10th of July his book ‘The Course of Love’ is out now and available through Amazon

– Simon Jankelson
Simon is the founder of The Human Sound Project, and facilitates true human connection through story, song, and sound. Find out more about him at