I grew up watching rom-com’s, reading sweet 16 like it was candy, and swooning over Cinderella-like stories (ok I’m lying I don’t swoon, but you get the idea). While I gobbled up all this sugar, I was well aware that all of it was fiction. I was a jaded girl who knew ‘there were no forever’s’ and ‘relationships were a burden.’ All of this can be attributed to my parents failed marriage and every nasty thing that went with that.
Soon enough, when Mary (Iphigene) met Psychology, I grew less jaded and became more realistic. Love is rarely the issue, it’s the other things mixed up in love that gets us all crazy. When I read Alain de Botton’s A Course in Love, I found myself nodding in agreement, fact is we get into a relationship because of love, but it’s rarely that we get out of it or give up because of love.
Written by: Alain de Botton
Published by: Simon & Schuster, 2017 ISBN: 0241962137 (ISBN13: 9780241962138)
Bought own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
Before we get further into discussion, full disclosure: I am an Alain de Botton fan, not for anything but for his ability to challenge our notions of the world and propose something different, something that makes you step back and assess your own thoughts and ideas.
In the first page of his book The Course of Love, de Botton writes:
“A marriage doesn’t begin with a proposal, or even an initial meeting. It begins far earlier, when the idea of love is born, and more specifically the dream of a soul mate.”
This becomes the thesis statement, the guide by which the reader navigates alongside the two main couples as they go through the course of love—getting to know each other, dating, marriage, children, and adultery.
The book alternates between a story of love and marriage and a commentary, that reads like a “how to” in love. Many ask the question, while reading this book, “is de Botton pro- or anti-marriage.” To ask this is to miss the point. The Course of Love does not propose that we shouldn’t get married, what it proposes is that if we do get into marriage, should we choose to enter marriage, it is best to do with eyes wide open—a proposition that I believe to be true with my whole heart.
De Botton tackles the romance we have been fed with by fairy tales and media, evident in a culture that asks “how did you meet?” as if a love story begins and ends in the fairy tale manner by which two people meet. For the true measure of love according to De Botton is in the question “How do you manage to be together?” The Course of Love is sobering, it’s the splash of reality to our romance-drunk notions of love, something we all need.
We expect love to know everything, De Botton proposes. We expect that because this other person loves us, that s/he knows everything about us–can read us like an open book. This expectation is unwarranted and yet each couple gets into marriage carrying this with them (along with every single issue they have as an individual) and expect their spouses to understand, because they have professed their love. The Course of Love tells us that these expectations hurt marriages, when all is required that one sits down with their spouse and talk about their expectation—that at times they need their spouses’ reassurance or give them that extra hug when they are anxious.
Maturity means acknowledging that Romantic love might only constitute a narrow and perhaps rather mean-minded aspects of emotional life, one principally focused on a quest to find love rather than to give it, to be loved rather than to love.
The beauty of this book is that it’s real. It doesn’t sugarcoat, over dramatize, nor does it preach. What it does, if anything, is ask us to step back and think of love and marriage outside of the romance. Promising forever isn’t for the weak-hearted, nor does this forever come and go with our emotions, that forever, very much as it is with love, is a decision. We choose to love a person forever. We choose to fight with them to be together. We choose not the perfect person our romance-tinted glasses has promised, but the imperfect human who at times shouts when they’re scared or shuts down when their anxious.
The Course of Love is not pure fiction, though we do follow this fictional couple, it is a proposition, a worthwhile lesson on how to love. After reading this, all I wanted to do was let everyone I know who is married to read it—because inside my therapy room, I often have to remind my clients that most of the time, their spouses didn’t really change, it’s just that time has gotten rid of their romance-tinted glasses.