You totally thought this was going to be posted by OftenBen, didn't you?

Hey maybe if search wasn't borked I'd be able to find out if it already had been!


Man, I hate Alain de Botton. I hope you posted this so we could all tear it apart, because that's what I intend to do. For a more general attack on Alain de Botton's philosophy (if it can indeed be called that), I'd recommend Sam Kriss's roast of Alain de Botton.

I strongly suspect that Alain de Botton is physically incapable of love, so it's no surprise that he imagines that the rest of us are as well. I only hope not too many people read this book he's written on love, since he cannot have misunderstood love any more if he were an alien from the planet Vulcan who had no capacity for our illogical human emotions. de Botton gives various reasons why someone might get married, including desperation, teenage passion, and psychological abuse as a child. He can't understand it! Clearly, someone must have been damaged as a child to feel attraction to another human being, to fall in love, to feel the crush that they had not fade, but instead, grow into something wonderful. This must be damage, it must be that this person's mother didn't love them enough, that they had attachment problems, in order for them to do such a base, irrational, and terrible thing as fall in love.

And yet, despite this pseudo-Freudian bullshit, which only seems to be an attempt at destroying intimacy, de Botton changes the subject. He seems to claim that the reason marriages fail is incompatibility, and unreasonable expectations. Somehow, all of the little idiosyncrasies and poor habits our partners have must inevitably drive us mad. He claims that our only expectations for a partner can be either a perfect being who fits all of our needs, or a blasé, uninspiring companion who is familiar in the same way as our favorite old pair of shoes. In short, because love is difficult and can cause us to be irrational, we should forgo it altogether. The perfect solution in his mind, in order to prevent having unreasonable expectations, is to not have any expectations at all.

It's not that some people don't get married for the wrong reasons. They do. But this pessimism, this fatalistic acceptance that all people must disappoint themselves in marriage, that marriage, like the rest of Alain de Botton's world, is just a cold, wet-socks and rain feeling that we ought to pretend to be grateful for, is a dehumanizing resignation that is attempting to render us all incapable of feeling. The idea of marriage for love appalls de Botton so much not because he wants to destroy marriage, but because he wants to destroy love and intimacy.

I wouldn't be so pissed off by this if i didn't know that we are all capable of so much more, that Alain be Botton is trying to close the door on an entire universe of human experience. Love can be amorous, it can be erotic, it can be passionate, it can be companionate, and it can be so much more. Love is not a calculation, a rational equation that we use in order to better our lives Love is a messy, irrational, humanizing experience that can enlighten, can break us to pieces, can make us burn with passion, and it can and will utterly destroy us if we cannot learn to control it. But instead of crawling into a cave and becoming a troll, we can instead embrace our irrationality, we can accept that we don't love from some stupid calculation that it will make our lives better, but simply because we do, and that to deny the part of us that is capable of love is to deny an essential part of ourselves, a part that exists not for any purpose other than it's own.

One thing that humans are capable of, beyond just love, is empathy. We can, and sometimes do empathize with our partners. We are capable of understanding that as we discover our lover's little idiosyncrasies and personality flaws, that they are discovering ours at the same time. The Romantic notion that we should automatically and passively love each other's flaws, and that if we don't, our relationships are doomed to fail, is obviously garbage. de Botton knows this, but he uses it as an excuse to dismiss any feeling of passion as irrational. However, there is another solution, one far beyond his imagination, that we might be able to get better at loving our partners, that love can be an activity, not just some warm fuzzy feeling that is best to be ignored. There's a great deal of literature that's been written on the concept of "active love," the idea that love is something that we can improve at or fail at, but that's it's something that we constantly need to work at if we want it to work. And yeah, all indications seem to imply that practicing active love is pretty hard, that it's not so much a destination as a journey full of stumbling blocks and stupid fights for no reason, that knowing that active love exists and that you should do it only makes it marginally easier. But it's always better than despair.

And in a perverse way, I suppose that I do agree with the title, that most people will marry the wrong person. That is, they themselves will be passive and not active in their love, so there will never be any "right" person for them to marry at all. But that doesn't imply that we need to be pessimistic, or that we ought to give up. Rather, it should be encouragement that we ought to work harder, that although we will sometimes fail, that we are capable of creating something wonderful with another person and that we just need optimism, empathy, and someone who is willing to be irrational with us.

posted 1319 days ago