1. Everyone has a love story to tell, and while each is beautiful, the skills of its teller magnify the charm of each story.
The longing for a destiny is nowhere stronger than in our romantic life. All too often forced to share our bed with those who cannot fathom our soul, can we not be forgiven if we believe ourselves fated to stumble one day upon the man or woman of our dreams? Can we not be excused a certain superstitious faith in a creature who will prove the solution to our relentless yearnings?
You can imagine me cheering for de Botton after these opening sentences–urging him, challenging him even, to go on: You have a good start, and you better tell me more.
It was a sure way to have me and my psycho-analyzing self engage in a commitment with a novel, and endear myself with its story and characters–to revisit my college room mates, Barthes, Nietzsche, and the others. [Oh gods, how I longed to forget them, only to meet them again in this gorgeous novel and get to know them in a new light.]
2. Alain de Botton skillfully weaves the big wigs in his first book, On Love (The British had it published first as Essays in Love). The charms of this relatively short novel, I highly suspect, came from his ability to make an ordinary love affair of more ordinary couple, to liven with his wit, diagrams, jokes, conversations, and the occasional insights of Wittgenstein, Marx, and the many other tongue-twisting names I still can’t pronounce and spell correctly. It was written in the form of essays, and they resemble some of my college papers, only, he wrote them tons better than I did.
Taken in Potipot Island, Zambales, because I didn’t know any better than
to bring de Botton in an island as beautiful as this story.
On Love was so small and pretty with its red cover, font, and paper, and ah, tactile romance again, but it was packed with too much of Alain de Botton: of his skills as a good storyteller, of the rawness and intricacies of the often neglected details he chose to elaborate, and of the universality of his theme. I bought it with me to work, but I felt too exposed when I read it on my way to the office, in the train, or in my work chair. It demanded solitude to fully feel the absurdity, quirkiness, and cleverness of each paragraph.
After the tenth time of telling friends these stories of Chloe at the dry cleaner or Chloe and me at the cinema, or Chloe and I buying takeout, these stories with plot and less action, just the central character standing in the center of an almost motionless tale, I was forced to acknowledge that love was a lonely pursuit.
For all its 194 pages, it took me more than a week to finish reading, because it needed my undivided attention–to enjoy the whirlwind ride with Chloe and her nameless lover/narrator, to savor the beauty of each carefully crafted essay, and to not miss the love lessons de Botton shared.
Unrequited love may be painful, but it is safely painful, because it does not involve inflicting damage on anyone but oneself, a private pain that is as bittersweet as it is self-induced. But as soon as love is reciprocated, one must be prepared to give up the passivity of simply being hurt to take on the responsibility of perpetrating hurt onseself.
Lovers cannot be philosophers for long; they should give way to the religious impulse, which is to believe and have faith, as opposed to the philosophic impulse, which is to doubt and inquire. They should prefer the risk of being wrong and in love to being in doubt and without love.
3. Oftentimes, I found myself exclaiming “That’s me!” or sometimes, “That’s him!” “I’m not alone!” or almost “Hah! I knew that was not crazy.” I fought the urge to put On Love under my pillow and scream, because he, again, hit too close to home.
The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful) or those who never allow us to kiss them (we soon forget them) but those who we know how to carefully administer varied doses of hope and despair.
One has to go into relationships with equal expectations, ready to give as much or the other–not with one person wanting a fling and the other real love. I think that’s where all the agony comes from.
4. Sometimes, I think it’s safer to acknowledge my life as an assimilation of the stories that I read, than to freak out that my experiences are shared by people across the world, and that they are immortalized through books that are bought and loved by many. My issues with becoming too personal with strangers, and of putting my guard down too long conflict with my goal of finding myself through the books that I read.
Words like “love” or “devotion” or “infatuation” were exhausted by the weight of successive love stories, by the layers imposed on them through the uses of others.
And here lies the danger of such thinking: when things turn sour, what would be left for me to do? Do I continue living vicariously through these characters and wait, with them, for that turn towards the better?
As the plane pierced through the clouds, I tried to imagine a future: a period of life is coming brutally to an end, and I had nothing to replace it with, only a terrifying absence.
It was no longer her absence that wounded me, but my growing indifference to it. Forgetting, however calming was also a reminder of infidelity to what I had at one time held so dear.
5. There are books that you think you should have written, and there are some that you wish you could have written. On Love was one of the latter, and the added phrase can’t.
Alain de Botton wrote On Love while he was at the young years, all the 23 year old vigor and brilliance of his made this utterly charming book. I am turning 22 in July, and, bah, non-sequitur.
“Lovers may kill their own love story for no other reason that they are unable to tolerate the uncertainty, the sheer risk, that their experiment in happiness has delivered.”