I recently finished reading Essays in Love by Alain de Botton. de Botton, who is now a well-published pop philosophy writer, wrote Essays in Love when he was 23 years old and recently graduated from Cambridge. What deep insights might a 23 year old have about love? That’s exactly what I wanted to find out.
Without giving anything away, it’s a terrific read, mixing a short romance story with insights and observations into attraction, relationships and human behavior. Above all, it’s an exercise in applied philosophy: how does a rational, principled person approach the exciting yet seemingly intractable issues that accompany “love.”
Below is the ending passage, which particularly resonated with me:
16. The sight of Rachel alerted me to the limits of the
stoic approach. Though love might never be painless and was
certainly not wise, neither could it be forgotten. It was as
inevitable as it was unreasonable and its unreason was
unfortunately no argument against it. Was it not absurd to
retreat into the Judaean hills in order to eat roots and
shoots? If I wanted to be courageous, were there not greater
opportunities for heroism in love? Moreover, for all the
sacrifices demanded by the stoic life, was there not
something cowardly within it? At the heart of stoicism lay
the desire to disappoint oneself before someone else had the
chance to do so. Stoicism was a crude defence against the
dangers of the affections of others, a danger that it would
take more endurance than a life in the desert to be able to
face. In calling for a monastic existence free of emotional
turmoil, stoicism was simply trying to deny the legitimacy of
certain potentially painful yet fundamental human needs.
However brave, the stoic was in the end a coward at the point
of perhaps the highest reality, at the moment of love.
17. We can always blind ourselves to the complexities of
a problem by suggesting solutions that reduce the issue to a
lowest common denominator. Both romantic positivism and
stoicism were inadequate answers to the problems raised by
the agonies of love, because both of them collapsed the
question rather than juggling with its contradictions. The
stoics had collapsed the pain and irrationality of love into
a conclusive argument against it thereby failing to balance
the undoubted trauma of our desires with the intractability
of our emotional needs. On the other hand, the romantic
positivists were guilty of collapsing a certain easy grasp of
psychological wisdom into a belief that love could be
rendered painless for all, if only we learnt to love
ourselves a little more thereby failing to juggle a need for
wisdom with the inherent difficulties of acting on its
precepts, reducing the tragedy of Madame Bovary to an
illustration of Dr Nearly’s truistic theories.
18. I realized that a more complex lesson needed to be
drawn, one that could play with the incompatibilities of
love, juggling the need for wisdom with its likely impotence,
juggling the idiocy of infatuation with its inevitability.
Love had to be appreciated without flight into dogmatic
optimism or pessimism, without constructing a philosophy of
one’s fears, or a morality of one’s disappointments. Love
taught the analytic mind a certain humility, the lesson that
however hard it struggled to reach immobile certainties
(numbering its conclusions and embedding them in neat
series), analysis could never be anything but flawed and
therefore never stray far from the ironic.
19. Such lessons appeared all the more relevant when
Rachel accepted my invitation for dinner the following week,
and the very thought of her began sending tremors through the
region the poets have called the heart, tremors that I knew
could have meant one thing only that I had once more begun
Separately from Essays, I recently continued to gather social frameworks that I found very compelling. Below is a non-exhaustive, poorly described list:
+ Social framework: supplicative, dominant, competitive and cooperative.
+ 3 things to demonstrate: playfulness, non-attention seeking and sexual.
+ Give them a reason (“because”), visual imagery and positive association
+ With strangers, give them an understandable, easy role to play.
+ Attraction framework: static, dynamic, how you present yourself, bodyg language etc.
+ Persuasive framework from Cialdini… reciprocation, social proof, whether you like, commitment, authority, scarcity
+ Empathetic framework – I hate that, and share. Asking questions is interviewing so contribute to the conversation before you withdraw.
+ Ben Horowitz Hard Thing about Hard Things – full of insights. I liked the political framework and how consensus drives towards person with lowest weakness, not the strengths you need.