Over and over again, I’ve found myself recommending this book by Alain de Botton (author of How Proust Can Change Your Life) and I think it’s because it so easily resonates for anyone who’s ever been in a committed relationship. If you don’t want to think about love, I do NOT recommended reading this. Young or old, male or female, gay, straight or what have you… if you’ve ever experienced the fall (or something like it), you’ll find yourself relating to the narrator or his beloved and imperfect Chloe.
The book itself takes an analytical approach to love and brings the subject down to the barest of circumstances making each stage of love (from the first jump to the extremely depressing end) universal in every sense of the word. His obsessive dissection asserts that love is not individualistic and it is only believed so because what we want in the end is to have the beloved love us for who we are, not what we represent. As such we convince ourselves that the love we share with our special someone is unique and it is only that person who truly understands us at our core.
On a personal note, reading the book brought me back to my one and only real relationship which ended about 3 years ago. During the 7 years we were together, I definitely felt my share of experiences relatable to both narrator & Chloe but one passage that really evoked some old emotions that have long been put away was this:
One does not get angry with a donkey for not being able to sing, for the donkey’s constitution never gave it a chance to do anything but snort. Similarly, one cannot blame a lover for loving or not loving, for it is a matter beyond their choice and hence responsibility—though what makes rejection in love harder to bear than donkeys who can never sing is that one did once see the love loving. One finds it easier not to blame the donkey for not singing because it never sang, but the lover loved, perhaps only a short while ago, which makes the reality of the claim I cannot love you anymore all the harder to digest.
The arrogance of wanting to be loved had emerged only now it was unreciprocated—I was left alone with my desire, defenseless, beyond the law, shockingly crude in my demands: Love me! And for what reason? I had only the usual paltry, insufficient excuse: Because I love you….
At one point of the us that once was, I played the narrator. I was left feeling deserted and out of control and damaged. I looked back on the years we had shared and deemed him despicable. Just as we so often believe that “…the one who rejects is labeled evil, & the one who is rejected comes to embody the good,” I followed suit and played the role of martyr remarkably well. Then we came back to each other, years passed and we came full circle but in the end, I was Chloe. I was the aggressor, the hateful person who could somehow wound a loved one, the vile betrayer of a love once shared. Unsurprisingly, while the world hated a way (at least for a spell), I thought I was doing the right thing. Freeing the person who I cared for but for whom I no longer loved in the way that makes a romantic relationship work.
The book is in so many ways a tour de force. It made me laugh, cry and I still find myself picking it up from my bedside table to reread old chapters even after I’ve moved on to my next good read [Blindness by Saramago if you were curious]. Though the narrator definitely has his lows, the book ends on a positive note (somewhat): “We are all more intelligent than we are capable & awareness of the insanity of love has never saved anyone from the disease.” In the end, though he realizes to fall is a folly… it is one that is unavoidable and absolutely worth the risk.
I figure, I’ll get there one day. Naturally, of course.