Last week we chatted about romantic love [A Valentine for those who dream, Viewpoints, Feb. 8]. This week, as Valentine’s Day approaches, let’s talk about the troubled relationship between romantic love and pragmatic love. My inspiration was to listen On being Last Sunday morning (WBEZ-FM, 7 a.m., rerun Tuesday, 9 p.m.) as Krista Tippett interviewed novelist Alain de Botton, founder of The School of Life, including the opinion piece, “Why You’ll Marry the Wrong Person” was the most-read New York Times article of 2016.
To give you an idea of ââhow de Botton approaches the subject, he states in this article: âIn a wiser and more self-aware society than ours, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: ‘And how are you mad?’
In other words, the realist is firmly in control while de Botton considers the landscape of modern love.
“We’re weirdly obsessed with the love race,” he told Tippett. “And what we call a love story is really just the beginning of a love story. Most of us [are] interested in long term relationships. We’re not just interested in the moment that makes us love it; we are interested in the survival of love over time. OK.
He also said, âWe must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean love without conflict, that the course of true love is fluid. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. This is the best we can manage as creatures that we are. It is neither my fault nor yours; it has to do with being human. And the more generous we are to this imperfect humanity, the more chance we have of doing the true hard work of love.
Much of what he says makes sense – that is, he appeals to the realist on the inside.
“If you tell people, ‘Look, love is a painful, poignant and touching attempt by two imperfect individuals to try to meet the needs of the other in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance of who they are. and who the other person is, but we’re ‘going to do our best’, that’s a much more generous starting point, âhe said. âSo accepting ourselves as imperfect creatures seems to me what love really is. Love is needed most when we are weak, when we feel incomplete, and we need to show love for each other at these times.
He adds: âCompatibility is an accomplishment of love. It cannot be his precondition “and” as well matched, every couple will encounter these problems, that love is something that we have to learn, and with which we can progress, and that it is not only an enthusiasm. ; it is a skill.
De Botton even praises the notion of a “good enough” relationship. “It’s really good,” he said. âFor a human, it’s great. And that’s the attitude I think we should have.
The realist in me loves it. Romantic? Not really. It’s good as far as it goes. The problem is, it doesn’t go far enough. Accepting ourselves and our loved ones as imperfect individuals and becoming more generous to one another is good advice and could make marriages more functional, but it can also be a prescription for maintaining marital mediocrity. This kind of arrangement leaves little room for genuine passion and romance. In fact, such notions are looked down upon – illusions of grandeur that run counter to our modest hopes for happiness.
Romance can certainly be delusional, but a “well-adjusted” relationship can also be an understatement for emotional dormancy.
Not everyone is supposed to have or even want “great love,” but some of us do and do, and de Botton’s perspective does not include that possibility.
“Romanticism has been useless to us,” he concluded in his popular NY Times editorial last May. âIt’s a tough philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage to seem exceptional and appalling. We find ourselves alone and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal”. We should learn to adapt to the ‘fake’, always striving to adopt a more forgiving, humorous, and benevolent perspective on its multiple aspects.examples in ourselves and among our partners.
The problem I have is that he defines romantic exceptionalism with the greatest disparagement a realist can muster: it’s unrealistic because he expects love to be conflict-free. and may the lovers be perfect. But I bet that few great loves expect or experience smooth sailing. Indeed, they can go through many trials and go through them in large part because of a remarkable quality that the two individuals cannot really explain – a mystery greater than both of them.
De Botton accuses traditional romanticism of believing that it should transcend the mundane, that lovers never have to do laundry. But perhaps he never experienced the transcendent moments that are possible just standing next to each other in a kitchen preparing a meal – finding the sacred in the ordinary, which allows great love.
He allows that in âgood enoughâ relationships, âthere are islands and times of beautiful connection, but we have to be modest about how often they are going to happen. He doesn’t seem to believe that couples are able to experience such moments more often than they are now.
Why do we have to be modest? The romantic in me insists that the extraordinary is accessible to all couples, because true love makes the extraordinary possible. It is not theoretical. It’s true.
The question then is: how do “pragmatic” lovers come into contact with their respective romantics to nurture a greater and more intense connection – not with the hope that one can live in that state forever, but with the realistic expectation that we can experience it more often than we do now, imperfect and imperfect as we are?
My realist says that pragmatic love can coexist with romantic love.
My romantic says, you have to.