Alain de Botton: On Love | Sydney Opera House

Alain de Botton: On Love | Sydney Opera House

[ Applause ]>>Thank you. Thank you so much. What a pleasure to
be back in Australia to be back at the Opera House. Thank you so much for
coming out tonight. As Ann’s just said, I’ve written
a novel, but I don’t want to talk particularly
specifically about the novel. Please buy it after
if you feel inclined. But what I really want
to do is talk about some of the ideas behind the novel. And some of these people
say to me you know, ‘why did you even
bother to write a novel? I thought you were supposed
to be a nonfiction writer. And the reason I wrote a novel
is that I believe that many of our ideas on love
come from reading novels. Also, songs, films, etcetera. But essentially we
are very shaped by the love narratives
that we read. And this could seem
a little cruel. We tend to think that
we love spontaneously that we’re not influenced by
what we read and by what we see, but I think that we are. We love within a very
historical social context. It’s that lovely biting aphorism
from La Rochefoucauld he says “There are some people who
would never have fallen in love if they hadn’t heard
there was such a thing.” That’s a little extreme, but
you get the idea that really when we love we’re
taking a lot of our cues from the outside world. We honour certain
feelings that we experience because other people are
telling us to honour them. We suppress other feelings
because people have told us not to pay them particular
attention. Now we are nowadays firmly
in a very distinctive era in the history of love. We are living in the
era of Romanticism. Romanticism is an
intellectual movement that began the swallows,
studies, garrets of European
poets, novelists, writers in the middle end of the
18th century and nowadays even if you’ve never heard of a
single romantic poet or novelist from any garret in old Europe and you’re just having
your love life here in Sydney you are influenced. Because we all are
by romanticism. So whether you don’t necessarily
know about it, or feel it, or touch it, it is
all around us. In the ether. We are living, ladies
and gentleman in the era of Romanticism. Now what does Romanticism
tell us about love. It has a very distinctive
set of arguments about what love is like, what
we should expect from love and how relationships should go. And let me run you through
a few romantic assumptions. I think first, and most central
assumption is that for all of us out there, there is most
definitely a soul mate. We may not have met them
already, we may be swiping left, right furiously in order
to try and locate them. They exist. And eventually if we keep going
hard enough we will find them. And when we find them our
soul will fuse with theirs. All areas that have
previously been confused and lonely will be redeemed. We will no longer feel
ourselves worthless, agonising, melancholic for the mysteries of existence we have
found a true friend and loneliness will be banished. This, ladies and gentleman,
is the person waiting for us somewhere out there. The soul mate. How are we going to
find this person? Well, big question. The dominant answer of
romanticism is by instinct. You know for most of history
the way that people were matched up was by the elders of
the community, by parents, by other people than
the couple themselves. It was what was known
as a marriage of reason. And there were reasonable
criteria. So-called reasonable
criteria, which is maybe that you had a goat
and they had a sheep. Or you had a plot of land and
they had an adjoining part of land or whatever it was. And it was on that basis that the so-called domestic
marriages were made. And that was the way in which
people married, have married for thousands of years, really
since the beginning of time. But along comes Romanticism and
says no, we’re going to marry in a different way, we’re
going to marry by instinct. And the instinct is that somewhere along the line
you will feel a special feeling. A very, very special
feeling inside. Kind of excitement. And you don’t know when
it will strike you. Maybe you’re at the bar, maybe
you’re at the swimming pool. Maybe you’re just waiting
in line for something, you’ll spot somebody and without
necessarily knowing too much about them de the romantics
will quack in on it happening without knowing anything
about them other than simply seeing their face. You will know that’s
your soulmate. And so, that special
feeling has become venerated. And whoever, first of
all you don’t question that special feeling
so, you know if you said to your parents, and they go,
all right tell me about your, you just say I’ve had
that special feeling and everyone just, you
know the waters part and the couple moves forward because there’s been
that special feeling. So once the special
feeling has been announced, you raise the flag, the
special feeling has happened and that’s terrific. Of course if you don’t feel that special feeling
it’s a bit embarrassing. Is there something wrong with
me, etcetera, so you may start to fake the special feeling,
kind of like someone can fake that you’ve had this
romantic special feeling. And so Romanticism is very
into the notion of the crush, and the immediate
sensation of certainty that you have met
someone very special. Romanticism goes hand and
hand with the developments of the railways in Europe
in the 19th century. And an awful lot of
these meetings happened on trains in fiction. In Russian fiction alone, fiction alone you could
build a library of stories in which the hero and
heroine meet on a train and without much knowledge,
let’s say just the sight maybe of an ankle, an elbow,
curvature of a cheek, you will know that’s a soulmate
and that’s how it begins. So that’s how you’re going
to find your life partner. The romantics are very
keen on the notion of happily ever after. That love is not just a
passing phase, it is forever. Until death do us part. Strikingly many of the romantics
die quite young [laughter]. And so often the story begins,
couple falls madly in love and then [coughing],
somebody got a little cough and then tuberculosis
and [coughing] and it’s you know it’s
a beautiful love story but it does end after
a few months. But nevertheless it’s
forever in a sense. And Romanticism is also
very keen on suicide, ending things dramatically. So death has a curious
relationship with love in the romantic point of view. The other essential thing
about the romantics is that generally no
one really has a job. None of the romantics
really have jobs. So they can devote a
lot of time to love. And they’re spending a lot of
time just in each other’s arms, and also going for walks. Nature is incredibly
important for the romantics. Going out into nature
for long, long walks, very particular places. Waterfalls, very romantic place. Also places where the ocean
meets the land, dramatic cliffs, pounding of seas, very quintessentially
romantic places. Romantic times of day. Dusk is a quintessentially
romantic time. Especially when you know
there are a layer of clouds, and the underside of the
clouds are lit up by the shafts of the dying sun turning
the sky a purple-pink hew, very romantic sort of moment. A moment to enforce love
through the help of nature. The romantics have a very
distinctive take on sex. People have obviously
been having sex for all of human history and
there’s been some love. But what the romantics
do is a remarkable fusion of love and sex. They basically consecrate
sex as the summit of love and the ultimate
expression of love. So far from being merely
a mechanical action, it becomes this most sincere
expression of your feelings for another person,
almost define expression of tenderness for
another person. Very beautiful. It has a slight drawback,
which is that it turns adultery into a tragedy, a catastrophe,
because if you believe, as the romantics do that sex is
the crowning expression of love, then any interest outside of the couple will be
catastrophic in nature. And that’s why almost every
great novel of the 19th century in Europe is about adultery,
in one form or another. Starting with Flaubert’s “Madame
Bovary”, moving on to Tolstoy’s ” Anna Karenina” and on, and on. People have been having adultery
for all of human history. It’s been happening
all the time, but what’s new is the
weight that’s put on it. And as I say it is a
violation of everything that the romantics
believe that love is. Now, I should say that many of these romantic ideas
are very beautiful. They’re very exciting and
we all live through them and it would be naive
to someway dismiss them as irrelevant to
the way we live. They are everywhere
and they are the centre of how we approach love. But I also want to insist that Romanticism has been a
catastrophe for our capacity to have good long-term
relationships. And if we want to have a
chance of succeeding at love, we will have to be disloyal to
many of the romantic emotions that got us into relationships
in the first place. Romanticism has spelt trouble
for our capacity to endure and thrive in long-term
relationships. Why do I say that? Well let me run you through a
few of the areas that I believe that Romanticism
has spelt difficulty for us in relationships. So Romanticism replaced an
earlier vision of human nature, which tended to stress
how fragile, broken and very sinful
we all were. An old Christian idea. And Romanticism comes along
and dismisses this attitude as hopelessly pessimistic and
insists instead on the purity and good nature of
every human being. For the romantics, the
romantics place an awful lot of emphasis on children. And children, for the
romantics are always good, they’re always sweet. It begins with Jean-Jacques
Rousseau in the mid-18th century. The child is the purest
expression of human kind and the only thing that makes
a child bad is societies. Only society corrupts children. But basically it’s a sign
that we are born good. And the older view,
which was associated with Christian theologians
like St. Augustine, which stressed the
fundamental sinfulness. You know, St. Augustine
argued that all of us bear within us the original sin of
Adam and therefore all of us. It’s good to speak
like this at a pulpit to an audience, but [laughter]. But all of us, all of us are
sinners, or potential sinners, and therefore need to be
at the mercy of others and of the divine, in order, I’m
a secular Jew, but the divine, in order to endure life. Now Romanticism does away with
this and says to us that all of us are angelic by nature. The interesting thing is
that Romanticism coincides with the decline in
organised religion. So just as religion is
declining Romanticism rises, and it’s in many
ways a replacement, a secular alternative. So when we get together in love. You know what’s fascinating,
is the beginning of the use of the word angel to refer
not to those winged creates up in the sky, but to refer
to other human beings. And there’s a marked increase of
this in the age of Romanticism. And nowadays of course, many of us will cheerfully
call our partner angel. So we are all of us, in a
sense, and through the lens of Romanticism, good people, our wings have been
temporarily put aside, but essentially we’re pretty
perfect people not particularly tainted by original sin. Now, I think this is highly
troubling for relationships. because it leads that
absolute problematic dynamic with any relationship which
is self-righteousness. If you think that
you’re quite perfect, and that your partner
is quite perfect too. That’s trouble anyway. And if you start a relationship, you’ll soon start hitting upon
things which will lead you to think that actually maybe
they’re not that perfect. Now what do you do with that
feeling, if you’re operating against an ideology
that says that everyone, and that your partner
particularly is by nature good. Very unhelpful backdrop in which to negotiate the
troubles of relationships. It’s far better, I believe
to insist that all of us are in various ways deeply, and
I don’t mean this in any as an insult, deeply
crazy [laughter]. I may not know exactly
how you’re crazy, I can tell you later
how I’m crazy. I won’t, well I might. But basically all of
us, and none of us get through the gauntlet of
early childhood, adolescence, etcetera, with our
sanity entirely intact. We are all of us warped, distorted in very
distinctive ways. It may take us 50 years to work out exactly how we’re
distorted, but we are distorted. And this is a fundamental
piece of knowledge, which we should be taking
with us into relationships with a big warning sign over us. Now why are we so unable to
conceive of ourselves as damaged and crazy and therefore so
[inaudible] self-righteousness. Well, part of the
problem is that all of us have very low
levels of self-knowledge. And self-knowledge is really,
really hard to come by. Partly because there’s almost a
conspiracy of silence around us. People don’t quite tell
us what they think of us. And therefore we
can go through live where the average
person who’s met us for 20 minutes has a deeper
insight into many of our flaws than we might achieve over
a lifetime [laughter]. Why don’t people tell us this? Well there’s really
no motive for them to tell us this at many stages. Our parents are not going to tell us certain
things that they know. They can see things about
us, but they’re not going to tell us, because they’re
very kind, they wish us well. It’s not really their business
they’re not going to go into it and maybe they’re blinded by
their own affection for us. There’s our friends, well of
course our friends are not going to tell us certain things
about our characters, the ways in which we’re
difficult in particular, because all they really
want from us is a person to evening out [laughter]. They just, they don’t care. You don’t. You really have to care about
someone to be bothered to go into all that stuff about
their true character. And our friends, certainly, you
know they can’t be bothered. They don’t like us
enough [laughter]. So it leaves then, that
other category, our exes. Well, our exes you could expect that they will somewhere
along the lines have told us, but the thing on the whole
it’s not really worth their while either. And so they tend to take
their leave by saying things like they need to spend
more time on their own, they need to develop
their character, they’d like to go travelling. Nonsense. Of course not. They see certain
things about you. But again, they’re not
going to go through it, they can’t be bothered. They just want out, let somebody
else sort that out [laughter]. So, so the thing is that we go through life, not
really knowing. I mean it’s very tender and
poignant how sometimes some of us feel, probably some
of you in the audience feel that broadly speaking, you’re
quite easy to live with. I mean does anyone here
think that they’re, kind of broadly speaking
easy to live with, if only they met
the right person. Like [laughter]. A few people. A few people. You know that’s a very poignant
combination whereby a very romantic combination. I spent my early 20s absolutely
convinced that the only thing that was missing was
really the right person. And so long as I met the right
person then all would be well. So this notion that we
might be easy to live with is deeply misleading
and should be stamped out. Of course we’re not. Everybody from close-up is
trouble and we need to put this in mind, bear this in mind. If I was running the world,
one of the key questions that we would always ask each
other on an early dinner date without anything
pejorative meant by it is how are you crazy? So I’m crazy like
this, how about you? And then we’d be expected
to have a really thoughtful and kind of well thought
through, non-defensive, non-hysterical answer to
that question to be able to share with another person. Think of how much
time we would save. We don’t need people in
relationships to be perfect. We need them to have a
handle on their imperfections and to be able to
warn us and prepare us for more noxious sides of
their personalities outside of those critical moments when those personality
distortions have deeply upset us. But it’s very hard to do. And most of the time we
come upon discoveries about other people at moments when those discoveries
have pained us deeply, and therefore we are not likely
to be in any way sympathetic. So the calm explanation
of one’s insanities to another person is one
of the greatest gifts. And I think one of the best
wedding presents that any of us could give one another
is a large book called, you know ‘My Insanities’
that you would give. Each person would give ‘My
Insanities’ to their partner. And think how much time
I think we would save. You know the other thing that Romanticism really
gets wrong is this emphasis on instinct right, so you
know the old marriage, marriage of reason, marriage
by the family etcetera. And then you know the romantics
tell us this is marriage by instinct, that
special feeling. Well, the thing about it is
that you know you don’t need to accept or even know
much about psychoanalysis and psychotherapy to just take on board the one key
central idea of psychotherapy which is the way that we love
as adults is a reflection and deeply connected to
the way that we learnt about love as children. That is the foundation
stone of psychotherapy. So you look at an adult,
you look at how you are in adult relationships and
there are a million connexions that you can make with how we
learnt about love as children. And the problem with this is
that the way that we learnt about love as children is likely
to have been a bit problematic. It’s likely that we
received affection certainly. But that in one way or another
without necessarily meaning to, our parents did us
a great disservice. In some ways they damaged us. Not necessarily meaning to. And this has very particular
consequences for our capacity to find love as adults. Because often of what
we’re trying to do in adult love is
re-find a kind of love that we knew as children. But the kind of love
that we knew as children was not necessarily
problem free, indeed, it was very particularly
and interestingly distorted and laden with all
sorts of difficulties. And these become the new
criteria which we search for in our adult partners. So when people say that in
love what they’re looking for is someone to make them
happy, to make them content, to bring them happiness, we
can’t necessarily believe them. Really what we’re
searching for when we search for an adult partner is
someone who feels familiar. And very often the
kind of people that we meet don’t feel familiar
in the level of care, generosity and goodness that
they’re bringing to us. It just feels a little bit odd. We think I don’t
necessarily feel at home with this kind of treatment. You know how it is when you
sometimes set up a friend and on paper, you know two
people are completely perfect. You know the two
CDs match exactly. And you set them up and then
you know you have hopeful expectations for the date,
and then they come back to you and you say, you
know, ‘how did it go? How did the date go?’ And they say, ‘I don’t know. You know they’re really nice, I
just you know we’ve got so much in common in a way,
all our interests, we do all the same sports
and read the same books, but I don’t know
something was missing. And I don’t know if it’s
chemistry, something.’ And very often the thing is that
our unconscious has recognised that this simple very
nice person is perfect, except for they won’t make us
suffer in the way that we expect to be made to suffer in love. So they’ve got to be dismissed. They’re just not going to
make me unhappy in the way that I’ve learnt to expect that
love should make me unhappy. And you know we know
the situation in its most extreme form. So you know somebody who
can only take someone who will hit them,
who will strike them. But even without the extremes
of violence, there are many ways in which we are attracted
to people not so much for their positive sides but
because they feel, as I say, familiar in the degree to which
they will frustrate certain of our aspirations
for ourselves. There’s another problem
you know with Romanticism. And that’s really to do
with the idea of honesty. You know Romanticism had
extremely high regard for the concept of honesty
and that a relationship, the whole point of
a relationship is that you can be honest
with another human being. Most of the time we’ve
got to lie all the time about who we are, what we feel. ‘How are you?’ ‘I’m fine.’ And you’re breaking
down inside etcetera. You know we’re all in
tears inside we’re broken. We’ve got to put up a front, that’s what society
demands of us. But finally we can meet someone and with them the drawbridge can
come down, the walls can come down and we can be ourselves. And there are wonderful moments
in the early moments of love, in the early phase of love
when we really do feel that we have found someone
who could accept all of us. And take on board
everything that we are, we need to have no more secrets. We can be properly ourselves. And the truth is that being
yourself, fully yourself around another human
being is a truth that you should probably
spare anyone that you claim to love [laughter] because it’s
really a little problematic. Now, often it goes a
bit like this, you know, look let’s be honest,
I think no kids in the room often it’s
a little bit around sex. So, in the early days of love, you know you’ve been
a bit lonely in all areas including sex and
you meet somebody and you say, you know, ‘do you like? You know that thing that you
could do like with a rope, and like handcuffs,
like imagine if, have you ever been interested?’ And they go, ‘wow, yeah I’ve
always wanted to try that and that’s always, but I’ve
never dared to tell anyone.’ And there’s that wonderful
sense of intimacy based on the no longer
needing to be shamed. We no longer need to be
ashamed of ourselves. We can be ourselves in
the bedroom, etcetera. And this is a very
ecstatic discovery. And it really makes us feel
so powerful in the world because we no longer have to be
hunchback figure we can now go out into the world
and feel that some of our darkest secrets have
acceptance, an endorsement from another human being. This lovely phase tends to last about three months
[laughter] until, until normally the
moment goes like this. Not the same for
everybody, but a version of this tends to happen. So you’ve been sharing
everything, you’ve been sharing
you know the thing, and the thing, and
the handcuffs. And it’s all fun. And then you’re sitting
in a café with you know with your lover with whom
you’ve opened your soul, and they’ve opened their soul. And you spot a really
quite interesting member of the waiting team, and you
go, ‘see the waiter over there, like wouldn’t it be fun
if like you know the thing with the you know
thing that we do, what about tonight
if they got involved? If we asked them
to get involved? And like gave a number
and they could come and then you could be
watching and then.’ And then you turn to
your partner and rather than being this kind of
open, they’re actually look in quite a big state
of distress. They look kind of
unhappy and miserable. And you go, wow, wow I
better stop right there. And you’re a fork in the road
and one fork in the road leads to the path of honesty, and another path leads
to the path of love. And you’ve got a choice
to make [laughter]. You’ve got a choice to
make, are you going to carry on this anecdote, this fantasy, or are you just going
to shut up? And most of us are going
to shut up at that point. And that’s the beginning of
a very fundamental moment when we realise that of course
we cannot entirely ourselves. Not because we’re trying
to retain a nasty secret from our partner, but
because in the name of love we cannot be
entirely ourselves. We have to accept
the role of editing. Because the full disclosure
of who we are and what we are at every moment another
human being will probably destroy them. And therefore we need
in the name of love to hold back and to edit a lot. None of this Romanticism
prepares us for. Indeed, it makes it
look like a betrayal. So it sets up a huge, it’s a
very, very unhelpful backdrop in which this scenario happens. Because Romanticism
insists on authenticity, it’s by being totally authentic
that you are true to love. Anything else is a
betrayal of love. And well, the facts on the
ground are seriously I believe in conflict with that
romantic commandment and causes a lot
of difficulties. I’m not through with my
reservations about Romanticism. Another thing about Romanticism
that never really talks about is Romanticism
never really talks about the practical
side of life. In the 19th century no one, no
romantic poet, writer, artist, etcetera ever mentions laundry. There’s absolutely no
mention of the fact that every couple who’s
been together any amount of time will have to spend
a lot of time doing laundry, housework, cleaning,
raising children, etcetera. This just goes unmentioned. And this causes us real
difficulties because it sets up an expectation that you
know intelligent, sensitive, soulful people don’t really
bother about these things. And therefore there’s
no particular emphasis on making an accommodation,
a preparation for some of the difficulties that
might come in this area. So at some point in a
relationship a version of this happens, this
kind of scenario happens. Not exactly this, but a
version of this happens, which is that a couple who you
know are very much committed to love and you know disagree
with their parents and some of their more petty attitudes,
the things like you know, etcetera where the salt and
pepper should go and etcetera. They will suddenly have an
argument in the bathroom that goes a bit like this. One of the couples will say,
‘what’s that towel doing there?’ And the other person goes,
‘I just had a shower.’ ‘Yeah but what’s it
doing on the floor?’ ‘Well I just threw
it on the floor because I got to
go and meet Bill.’ And you go, ‘No, no I know
you’ve got to meet Bill, but what’s it doing
on the floor?’ And, the other one goes, ‘Well, how do you mean what is
it doing on the floor? It’s just on the floor.’ And suddenly there’s a kind
of new turn of impatience. Basically because both partners
think that they’re very clever. And they’re not petty,
they’re not going to argue about petty things like
towels on the floor. They associate that with their
grandparents or something. You know if you’re a true
romantic you don’t worry about these things, you
don’t make no accommodations, you are too clever to have
this sort of argument. And when two people convinced
that they’re too clever to have this sort of argument, you know the argument
will be bitter [laughter]. And so very often there
is no accommodation with this sort, this
aspect of life. You know think of Paul “Madame
Bovary” in Flaubert’s novel. Madame Bovary has been brought
up in ideas of love drawn from romantic fiction. So she believes that love is
all about guys on horseback and castles and walks
through the mist, etcetera. And then she gets married
to this quite nice, but you know pretty
ordinary regular kind of guy, but on the whole, okay. And suddenly she realises
that a lot of her time has got to be spent doing the
laundry, organising the milk, and the cheese, and sitting down with her husband while
he’s doing the accounts. And she’s supposed to be
organising her domestic order in the evenings and he’s
reading the newspaper. And she thinks that her life
has gone terribly wrong. That it’s a disaster,
what has happened. She thought that she
was marrying for love. And now she’s ended up with
this kind of domestic situation and these doubts unleash a
series of processes in her mind, which will lead eventually
to her suicide and death. That essentially the belief
that the practical side of life has no place in a
good love life is central to Romanticism and a disaster
for our chances of love. So, towels, more on
that in a minute. The other thing that the
romantics very much believe is the romantics believe that you
shouldn’t necessarily talk too much to your lover and that
talking is often a sign of not understanding somebody. So very privileged space
is given in Romanticism to that account that we
sometimes get in the beginning of relationships that two people
have understood one another without needing to
talk all the time. So, people will say things
like, you know it was amazing, you know we were there,
we were by the waterfront, we were chatting, and then you
know sometimes we were just quiet because we
just understood. We just knew, you know. I would say one thing and
it was amazing, he knew. You know he’d been there before. She understood. It was like we had travelled
immediately down the same path, we don’t need to explain
ourselves in the way that I had to in that horrible
last relationship. In this one I just, I can be
myself and we’re a bit wordless. And the Romanticism generally
believe that too much analysis, too much putting of words on
top of feelings is a bad thing, a quintessential romantic belief
is that you destroy feelings and emotions by thinking
too much about them. I don’t know if anybody
in the audience feels, some people feel this. That if you think too
much you break things. That thinking too much is, I should have weeded
those people out. But a few people have
come here nevertheless. This is a disaster for a
philosopher it’s like what? Hang on [laughter]. Nevertheless, there are people,
erratic’s, I’m being nasty but we’ve all, we all
have that feeling sometime that words can break things. And so in a way one of
the nicest stories of love that romantics tell us is
intuitive understanding of one person by another
without the medium of words. Again, over the long-term
a catastrophe, short-term, charming. Long-term catastrophe. One of the things that it leads
to is an outbreak of sulking. Romanticism was responsible for
a worldwide, enormous increase in the prevalence
of sulks [laughter]. Now, what is a sulk? A sulk is a feeling of
hurt with another person, a wound that the other
person has given you that you are not going
to explain to them, for the simple reason that
they’re supposed to love you. And if they love you
they’re supposed to know. So of course you could
explain what’s wrong with you, but if you had to explain that would be a prove they
didn’t love you because love is by its nature wordless. True love is wordless. And that’s why let’s say you’re
coming back from the party where that offensive thing
happened, and you’re kind of silent in the car,
deliberately, you’re not going to say what happened,
because you’re a romantic and they should know. And they say, they’re going
to make a few attempts and they go, ‘is
anything wrong?’ ‘Nope.’ And then so you go up,
you know you go up the stairs, you go home, you go into
your apartment and they say, you know, ‘come into
the bedroom.’ And you go, ‘nope.’ And you go into the bathroom
and you bolt the door. And they go, ‘come on.’ And they’re knocking at
the door, and ‘Just come on tell me what it is.’ And you’re like, ‘nuh uh.’ And the reason is that
as a romantic you believe that a true lover should be
able to intuit the contents of your soul through the
bathroom panel door [laughter]. Through the surface of your
body and into your interior. And they should know. So why would you ever
bother telling them. So this is a disaster. Because unfortunately even the
most well-meaning people simply cannot understand all of us. They can understand bits
of us, how we felt maybe when we were humiliated by
our father at an early age. Or how it felt to join a new
school at a certain point. Some things they can just get. But a lot of things,
particularly over the long-term,
just no one can get. You cannot expect the other
person to be a mind reader. And yet Romanticism places the
ability to mind read precisely at the kernel of its vision,
the core of its vision of love, deeply problematic. Deeply problematic. Here’s another thing that
Romanticism talks to us about. It talks to us about the way in
which we really love somebody. You love everything about them. Of course you love the amazing
things about them, but oddly and touchingly you quite love
the slightly imperfect things about them. And that’s why in the early days
of love, there’s a lot of kind of tenderness and excitement
around the discovery of the less than perfect sides of somebody
that are used to feed into love and that intensify love. Maybe your partner’s
got a slight gap between their two front teeth. Not a problem. I mean a problem
for an orthodontist, but for you it’s
charming [laughter]. It’s charming. Maybe there’s that
old pair of pyjamas that their mother gave them and
they put it on on cold nights and it’s got bear prints on it. It doesn’t look that glamorous, it wouldn’t win any fashion
awards, but it’s them and it’s theirs and
it’s incredibly sweet and you love them
all the more for it. So in a way in the early
days of love, the fragilities and the vulnerabilities
of another person are part of what makes that person so
loveable until [laughter]. You’re getting the hang
of this now [laughter]. Until maybe about three
months in a version of the following
scenario happens. So maybe you’ve been out
for a big night, etcetera and it’s morning, it’s dawn and
you’re having some breakfast. And you’re having some cereal,
maybe they’ve picked out a kind of granola-ish, so quite
nutty kind of cereal. And next to you they’re
eating their cereal and you’re eating yours
and you just turn to them and you go ‘are you cow
or something’ [laughter]? ‘This just sounds disgusting. Just shut your mouth
or something.’ And you know this person
suddenly turns around, and they say, ‘hang on a minute
this is like the third thing that you’re criticising
me for in 24 hours. Well, I thought you loved me.’ And you go, ‘I do love you but you’re eating
like the bovine way. I mean just stop it.’ And they get terribly offended and they go no one’s
ever told me that before. And you want to go, ‘yeah
because why would they? I mean your friend was
not going to tell you. Your parents aren’t
going to tell you. And your ex probably knew it but
went off to India’ [laughter]. ‘So the point is no
one’s going to tell you and you sound like a cow.’ At which point you’ve got
a problem on your hands because Romanticism
doesn’t allow for this sort of situation. It suggests that love is the
acceptance of the whole being. And therefore, at one point in the relationship one
person is likely to say to another ‘if you love me
why do you criticise me?’ So it’s that criticism is here. Love is here. They should never be together
and if they are ever together, it’s a sign that
love has failed. This, again is a
disastrous philosophy. The idea that another person
could spend time with us and not spot a whole lot of
things that are problematic, is really the hype
of sentimentality. Of course there’s lots,
I mean are you perfect? If you’re not perfect how on
earth do you expect someone not to notice the imperfections
and not mind them? But nevertheless,
Romanticism tells us that no this has no place. Look, let’s look away from that
rather unhelpful philosophy to an earlier version of love. This one developed by
the ancient Greeks. Which I think is a
lot more helpful. The ancient Greeks very
focussed on love, as we are. But had a very different
vision of what love is. They felt that love is
admiration for the perfect sides of another human being. For the virtues, the
qualities, the accomplishments in the character and
achievements of another person. There’s other stuff of course. There’s flaws and things, and
you may be generous toward them, and you may be forgiving
of them. But you don’t love them. The word love is reserved for
admiration for what is virtuous and accomplished
in another person. And for the ancient Greeks,
the whole notion of love is that love should be a
process of mutual education in which two people under the
auspices of love undertake to educate one another to become
better versions of themselves. And they do this not to
be cruel, not as a way of bringing each other down but because they have the
sincerest best interest of the other at their heart. And therefore love is a
process whereby teacher and a pupil are constantly
rotating roles. Everyone is the teacher
and everyone is the pupil at certain points and has lots
of things to take on board. This is not a sign that love has
been abandoned, it is the proof that love is an action. Now this sounds so
weird in a modern age. I mean if you said to somebody,
if you said to your partner, ‘well I went to listen to
this guy at the Opera House, and yeah he’s got some various
ideas and he’s written a book and on this basis I would like to teach you
certain things [laughter]. I would like to deliver
a short seminar, short but to the point
seminar on your character, achievements and nature.’ This would be so weird. They’d be like, ‘what? What I thought you
loved me,’ etcetera. Now, why are we such
bad teachers? You know a lot of relationship
arguments can essentially be seen as failed teaching moments. There’s something you want
to say and it goes terribly, terribly wrong on the
journey to your listener. Why does it go so wrong? Why does the teaching
lesson fail so badly? Partly because we don’t think
it’s legitimate to teach. So if someone’s telling you,
your job is not legitimate, you’d be a bit panicked, like,
‘oh wow, if I’m not supposed to be this, how do I?’ So you’re not relaxed. The other thing of course,
what makes a good teacher is that they’re calm, is
that they’re relaxed. And one of the best ways
to be a calm teacher is not to mind too much if your
lesson doesn’t really get through to the other person. So you know a great math
teacher, you know they’re calm in the classroom, because
there’s not that much at stake. Of course they want their, you
know pupils to pick up a bit about trigonometry or
whatever, but if they don’t and if they flunk their exams, well there’ll be a new
lot coming next year, it doesn’t really matter. There’s not that much at stake. The thing is that
in love’s classroom, we are much more tense. We are much more on edge. And the reason is that so
much seems to depend on it and the background of our thoughts is the
most terrifying spectre as we’re trying to teach. And the terrifying spectre goes like this ‘I think
I’ve married an idiot. I think I’ve got to spend the
rest of my life with someone who doesn’t understand very
basic, very important things that matter so much to me and
this person is not listening.’ And because they’re not
listening we’re going to ramp up the pressure and the tension. And we’re going to
start to be rude. And we’re going to
start to humiliate, and we’re going to
start to swear. And the terrible problem is that
no one has ever, ever managed to teach anyone anything
by humiliating them. By the time you are humiliating
your partner in order to each them something,
forget it, bye-bye. The lesson’s over you are never
going to get through that way. As we know from HR
departments in offices, if you want to teach
someone something, it’s got to be 99%
honey and tiny, tiny little criticism
at the very end. You know I love this, I
love that, I love that. Did you know that thing that? That’s maybe how you’ve got
a chance of getting through. But we don’t do this. So in love’s classroom
we do not accept that love should be a
process of mutual education. We know so much about
our partners that no one else every does. We’ve got a ringside seat
on their charming sides and on their insanities in
a way that no one ever will. But because we think
it’s a betrayal of love that knowledge can’t be
shared, used and grown with. Because we are so brittle
and defensive as students of this we simply fail to
accept that the other person, if somebody tries to
give us a simple lecture, we might even use
the pejorative term. You know, ‘are you trying
to give me a lecture?’ And you know of course Plato
would say, ‘Yeah I’m trying to give you a lecture
because I love you. Because I love you I’m
going to give you a lecture and hope tomorrow you’ll
give me a lecture.’ And that’s the way it works,
but the romantics are like, ‘oh no I’m not going
to stay with her, she gives me lectures all the
time, oh I must leave her.’ And so what happens when
love’s classroom has failed? Well then the couple, things
get rather brittle and rather than trying to teach, the
couple descends into a cycle of mutual nagging and shirking. What is nagging? Nagging is what happens
on the other side of an attempt to teach. You’re no longer
going to try to teach, you’re just going to insist. You’re going to force the
person to believe and to listen. You’re going to get
very controlling. And ministerial. And you’re going to insist that
they’re back at a certain time. That they do this thing. And you don’t really
care whether you’re going to charm your way into their
minds or not, you just insist that it’s done that way. And meanwhile nagging always
has the counterpart in shirking. The shirking knows that tone,
oh well they’re going to pick up the newspaper go upstairs. They’re not going to listen. So there’s a mutual deafness. Teaching and learning has gone
completely wrong and that, unfortunately is very often
what happens in relationships under the aegis of Romanticism. Now, are we all to despair? Where’s this going to go? Can we rescue this
nosedive of feelings? Yes, we can. I think there’s lots of
things to be hopeful about. Sometimes people say
to me things like, ‘well you are not really
hopeful about love. Are you saying that like
we should just reduce our expectations?’ No, no we shouldn’t
reduce our expectations. I really believe that we
should go into relationships with very high expectations. The problem is that
Romanticism defined, very rightly certain
high expectations, but then gave us no way of reaching those
expectations securely. It’s like it set the bar,
but then gave us no way of exceeding to that
bar reliably. So, the task before us I think
is to build the steps to get to the high place that
we’ve accorded to love. Not to necessarily bring down
love, but to try to find a way and as Ann says one of
the characters in the book at some point says you know
it takes them a long time to realise, but they do realise that ultimately love is not
just something that you feel. It is ultimately a skill
that needs to be learnt. And it sounds very odd because
we’re so in love with the notion of the intuitive relationship in
which everything just comes sort of by nature and if it doesn’t
come by nature then it is wrong. And it’s so contrary to
the way we do other things. You know we are an incredibly
procedural society that believes that there are rules, and
techniques, and tricks, and ways of making
things happen. But somehow in the area of
love we insist stubbornly on intuition. And it sounds so odd if you
compare it with other things. I mean imagine if I said to you,
you know I’m going to fly a 777 down to Melbourne tomorrow. I’m going to land it by
intuition, or I’m going to perform a piece of
brain surgery by intuition. They’d be like, what
that’s crazy. Nevertheless, in the area of
love we are ready to embark on you know 50-year marriages by intuition just hoping it’s
just all going to go well. So what are some of these skills
that we might need to develop. Well let me give you just a
few, and I’ll throw these out and there will of
course be so many more. But I think one of the
things that can help, and it sounds rather odd,
but one of the things that can really help is to learn to see your partner
as a small child. Probably between the
ages of 2 to 3-1/2. Basically to imagine that your
partner is of roughly that age. Now, the reason I
say this is that all of us nowadays are
really pretty good around 2 to 3-1/2 year olds. So just imagine you’ve got
one of those things at home and you’re cooking a dinner and I don’t know you’ve
made some schnitzel, potatoes, broccoli. You give the kid the
dinner, and he just goes ‘no’ and throws the whole
dinner on the floor. ‘No’ like this. And now you don’t hit the child. You don’t go I’ve had such a
hard day at work and now this, are you trying to bring
me down, are you trying to crush my character? You go, ‘oh no, you’ve
got a sore tooth. You must be quite tired.’ Or, ‘maybe it’s that jealousy with your sibling it
is getting to you. It’s hard to share your toys.’ Listen we come up with
very gentle explanations of why a piece of behaviour
has appeared on the horizon that seems pretty mean. We don’t necessarily
believe of that age are mean, we simply feel that they’re
in some ways hurting, anxious, damaged, in some way and
we want to help them. We’re generous. Our adult love affairs do not
find us in that kind of mood. I mean there’s we’re
constantly going, you’re trying to bring me down, you’re
trying to humiliate me. You haven’t given me
that attention I need. We very much take everything
extremely personally. You know part of the problem is that we don’t look
like children. I mean this is really unhelpful. Like one of the great
things about children is that they look like children. So you kind of just know
that they are a child. But if you look at me, or someone else you know you
think this guy’s an adult. He sort of looks like an adult. So it’s quite counterintuitive
to go like maybe parts of his character are
about 2-1/2 years old. You just can’t really
believe it. But the thing is that you
sort of have to believe it. I mean the problem with
psychological wounds and distortions is that
you can’t see them. I mean literally it’s
as simple as that. You can’t see them. If I’ve got a broken arm, right? Everyone can see that I’ve got a
broken arms and you start to go, okay the guys like messed up his
speech because he’s got a bit of a broken arm,
he must be in pain. And when he’s going to
walk through the door, we’ll hold the door, and we’ll
make some special accommodation because we know he’s not
all that well in some way. I mean It’s just obvious
he’s got a problem. The thing is all of
us are kind of like that broken inside
in various key ways. But there’s no easy way
of signalling it right? We can’t signal that
we’ve got these wounds and breakages, etcetera. And so our partners don’t
necessarily give us the accommodations that they would. And so that’s why it’s
so important to realise that of course, wandering through the world everybody gets
very severely broken and in need of a lot of forgiveness,
and generally on the whole, not mean, just frightened. Most people are very,
very scared. And most appalling pieces of
behaviour, normally have fear at the heart of them
rather than evil. The other thing that’s
quite key, I think it is a real
achievement of love is to learn to see your partner. You know most of us after a
while start to see our partners as idiots they just
are a bit of an idiot. It’s just like, ‘oh God that idiot thing has happened
again,’ with our partner. Now, this is why, this is why
part of the reason why comedy and humour is so
important in a relationship. You have to find a way to access
the comedic part of all of you. Now the interesting
thing about comedy is that in comedy many comic
heroes are total idiots. I mean if you think of someone
like David Brent or Larry David, I mean these guys are
just total, total idiots, but when we’re watching
the shows we kind of do this amazing thing. Which is we both
know they’re idiots, but we kind of like them. We do this amazing
metamorphosis. We start to see them
as loveable idiots. Kind of loveable idiots. And that is such a piece
of ethical imagination. To turn someone to an
idiot to a loveable idiot in your imagination is a
major piece of maturity. And if we’re able to
achieve that even sometimes in love we will have
learnt very much how to temper our more punitive
interpretations of who it is that we’ve got together with. You know the other thing
that we need of course is to really reckon with our
habit of getting into crushes. It was very charming at a certain point how easily
we developed crushes on people. And you know for a
time it was thrilling and you know it really kept us
going through certain years. But like you really have to
get over the crush thing. Because the thing is you don’t
need to know someone at all well to know, even though they
look completely charming, and it was lovely to see
them in the airline queue, or at the supermarket
briefly, etcetera, and that’s why you got a little
touchy when you got home. Just because there was a link in
your imagination there was kind of an angel walking around
the aisles of the supermarket, or at the airport, and now you
have to go home, no, sadly. But there was this angel. We got to get over it. And the reason we
can get over it is by absolutely some
scientific certainty, which is that there
are no angels. They’re only human beings. And every human being
wandering the earth is very, very problematic from close up. You don’t know how this
person is disturbed and would drive you mad. But you know, you
have to know and take on board that they would. They just would. If you knew them better,
despite their charms. And honestly their you
know ankles look lovely, and that little bit of
conversation that you had at the conference was
just very promising. But the point is deep down, they will cause you
immense trouble because, not that they’re evil. They’re human and
everybody does this. So, in a way you know
we’re so obsessed nowadays. Partly because of
technology with the idea of finding the perfect
person, the right person. We’re all the time swiping
left and right in the search for that right person. You know the truth is
there is no such character. Everybody is going to be
wrong in substantial areas. There is no such thing. Compatibility ultimately
is an achievement of love. It isn’t and can’t and shouldn’t
be, it’s preconditioned. And therefore the notion that we
could only really get together with somebody when we
have found somebody who matches us entirely. The person who is right
isn’t the person who agrees and condones every
aspect of our character. It’s somebody who negotiates the
differences between two people in a particular way, with
a particular generosity and dare I say it
sometimes, humour. This is the so-called
right person. But not that they are in some
ways, magical ways perfect. Look, the other thing, I should
mention it just very quickly, around sex. You know we live in an age with very high expectations
around sex. Eroticism has prepared
us for very high things. And well, the whole subject
is a little bit of a vail of tears to be honest. There are really two things
that we want in this area and they run in completely
opposite directions. All of us want safety. We want to be really safe
and loyal with somebody. And loyalty brings
with it safety. So we really want safety. And the other thing we really,
really want is excitement. And the two just point in
completely different directions. And but you know periodically, it happens on about a 20-year
basis, people come along and go uh, uh, uh I found
a solution to this kind of like safety excitement thing. You go, yeah what is it? So in the sixties it was
always, it’s called free love. So basically the deal it
you get a bit of both, you get like safety in
one corner and you get like excitement too
and it’s really great. And nowadays we’re deep
in the age of polyamory. So a lot of people go,
there’s this thing I’ve heard, it’s called polyamory and it’s
great, it gives you everything. And you know jealousy is
just this thing that’s dreamt up by capitalism and [laughter]
just you know and out there. Well, ladies and gentlemen. It just, it just is not true. These two things are
deeply incompatible. I’m not going to go in to
too much why, we can discuss that later if you’d like, but
essentially you really have to make a choice between
varieties of suffering. What kind of suffering
do you want to go for? Like do you want to go for
you know, and also what kind of upside is more
important to you? Do you want to go for like
the safety, loyalty thing? Which is terrific, you
have you know fantastic, kind of cosiness, really sweet, but you know you
will be missing out. And sometimes in the suburbs on
a Saturday night you’ll be like, oh wow, you know what’s going
on in the bars, and the kind of swinging places of the
city and it’s not for you. See, you’ve made your choice. And then of course, of course
there’s the other choice which is excitement, which
is terrible thrilling and new people all the time, and
the first time you undress them and it’s all thrilling,
thrilling. But of course it’s utter chaos. Your life is full
recriminations, full of jealousy,
full of confusion, the children are in a mess. But you know there’s
the excitement. So really the choice
before us is what variety of suffering do you
want to go for? Do you want to go for the
chaos bit or the kind of bored and stultification bit? Which one? Because that’s your choice. And you know it’s funny. It’s good you’re laughing
because I [laughter]. I recently went to the United
States and did a book tour and it didn’t happen so
much on the east coast. Which is like more closer to a
kind of European sensibility. But by the time I
got to California, but the time I was talking about this there was literally
a stun silence in the room. Like what? What? You’re saying you
can’t make things perfect? What? We live in LA. Like What? But of course you know I think
one of the great contributions, you know Britain is not
responsible for very much, that’s totally perfect. But one of its greatest exports. One of the greatest
British exports is melancholy [laughter]. And melancholy is a really kind
of useful emotion sometimes. Because it’s not fury, it’s
not rage, it’s like, yeah. Like you know life’s imperfect
but I’m dealing with it. I’m coping with it. You know I’ve got Morrissey,
I’ve got Bach I’m handling it. It’s under control. And I think this
is an area, yeah. This is an area where we
may want to have recourse to that peculiar
British gift to humanity. Look, you know am I saying that we should always
stick with people? You know are we in
danger of saying that in that case anyone is
worth sticking with? Look, I don’t want to say that. In many ways, you know marriage
is a pretty nasty thing to do to somebody that
you claim to love. It’s putting them through some
pretty difficult stresses. And there are undoubtedly
sometimes people that you should leave. Some relationships which
should be broken up. How can you tell? How do you know whether
you should leave somebody? And you know I think
there’s always kind of a simple rule of thumb. I think that you know if
you can look at your life, honestly survey it’s
good and bad sides and if you can honestly
pinpoint all the things that are making you profoundly
unhappy to your partner. If you look around and you
think, okay yeah all the things that are really bringing
me down, it’s them. It really is them. It’s them. Leave. If you really can
feel that, just leave. All right then you should leave. But if you honestly take
an audit of your sources of unhappiness and
the many causes for which they’re you know
reverberating through your soul and you look at your partner
and you go, I’m not sure if I can fully blame them
for everything, then stay. Stay [laughter]. Because what you may
have encountered is some of the unhappiness of
existence in the company of another person rather than
because of another person. So easy to merge the two. I mean Great Britain,
Britain has done exactly this with its marriage to the
European Union [laughter]. It very much believed that all of its unhappiness could be
pinpointed to this thing, by getting rid of
it it would be happy and now it’s discovering
a lesson that many people in relationships
have also discovered. When it’s too late. [ Applause ] Should we even bother
with marriage? My novel is about
marriage in a way. It’s very much a novel focussing on long-term relationships,
with a marriage. Is there any point
to it anymore? You know many articles,
normally about one a week in a major broad sheet
newspaper is always about is marriage still in? Is it still relevant? And of course it
doesn’t really make sense from all sorts of
points of view. Like if you take a completely
sober look at marriage. It’s completely insane. It’s like I don’t know
I’m going to give half of all my belongings, and you
know still nowadays people don’t invest heavily in lawyers
to make things easy. We kind of jump headlong into
marriage and we still do it just by all the reasons
why we might not. So why do we do this and is
it just a kind of insanity. Well, I don’t think so. I think that the very fact
that we make ourselves go through marriage and we
invite all our friends. And we have a huge wedding. So it would be so
embarrassing if we had to call them all up
go you know what? You know that TV you bought me? Really sorry. It’s only been three months
but I’m quitting, right? Why do we publicly betroth
ourselves to another person? Because I think a mature part
of us knows that we benefit from the cage of marriage. It is a cage. But we put ourselves in it. We lock ourselves, and we
throw away the key ourselves. Not because we’re crazy,
but because we realise that there are sides
of our character that really can only develop in
an environment in which neither of us can quit the
room immediately. Actually the ability to run
away so tempting, though it is, is not always a benefit
to the things that we’ve got to work through. So we willingly encage
ourselves, because we realise that there is some kind
of piece of maturity, some piece of growing up
that is going to happen when we are locked
together in a situation which we can’t immediately,
except at a huge cost and a huge embarrassment. Embarrassment is very important. We’re willingly entering
into a situation which it would be deeply
embarrassing to leave. We’re not simply crazy. We’re aware of the
debt that maturity owes to being slightly
locked into a situation. So look, I do believe
that it is possible to have long-term relationships. I just think we need to run
through kind of check lists. When are we ready
something crazy world where debt maturity is to being
slightly locked into a situation so I do believe that it is
possible long-term relationships I just think we need to run
through kind of checklist when we ready for love? When we ready to really embark on this long-term
business of love. I think you’re ready to
really go for it in love when you finally and
conclusively accept that you really are crazy. And you have a really quite a
good handle on your craziness. And not least, you have
a really good handle on your partner’s craziness. And you have an absolute
awareness that anyone you meet, even the most charming
person on a train is going to be very imperfect
because that’s human nature. When you’re ready
to do the laundry. When you’re ready to discuss
towels, add in for an item. When you’re ready,
not merely to insist that others will guess
what’s in your heart, that you may even have to use
words to spell it out, very, very patiently over
long periods. And you’re ready to, are you
ready to believe that all of this with a dose of humour, belongs to a sincere
relationship, then, ladies and gentlemen, I
think you are ready for love. And I would commend you
to move forward on it. That’s all from me, we’ve got
a bit of time for questions. Thank you so much. [ Applause ] Thank you so there are some
mics and do approach them with a question, a
confession, a vulnerability. We’re among friends. Yes? Brave lady here number two.>>Thank you very much. My question is about
tools that you spoke of. The craziness quotient
you talked about that we all should be
adopting and acknowledging. Is there a system that you
think you could be developing, just like we have for job
interviews and those sorts of things and for [inaudible]
if you got a dating sites that aren’t just related to
how big certain bits are, but about the compatibility? Because as you referenced
earlier time gone by we had arranged
marriages, we had elders. So with the absence of that
system, is there a new portal. A new dropdown menu?>>Yeah, you know essentially because in a way Silicon
Valley is very romantic as a current institution and
very much believes in helping us to find the right person. And if you look at most
of the technological tools that have appeared
in the last 15 years, an enormous number are
designed to increase on choices and to try and direct us
toward this person called the right person. And I tried to hint that
in a sense that’s useful. And in a sense it’s unhelpful. Because this emphasis on
rightness and this notion that just with us a
superior piece of technology and algorithm we
will get to a person with whom there will
be no friction, sets us up rather dangerously
for the reality of love, which is that everybody
is a different person. We’ve all come from a
womb, let’s remember. We’ve all come from a womb in
which we didn’t have to speak. In which our needs were met
as it were just automatically through an umbilical cord. And it takes a good long
time, a good 50 years or so before we realise
that we have actually left that environment [laughter] and that no one can
fully understand us. That we’re, you know
if you’re lonely with say 40% of your life only. You’re doing really well. But I mean the idea
that you’re not going to be lonely is very misguided. And therefore, I would be
wary of utopian experiments with matching and
constant attempts to match. What we really need is you
know absent bit of technology that teaches patients. That teaches resourcefulness. And a resourcefulness
that teaches forgiveness. That teaches humour. To date that hasn’t
happened at all. There are no apps. You know it’s interesting
I was invited to a Google conference
the other day in the UK. And Eric Schmidt the
chairman of Google was talking about what Google was
planning in the next 15 years. And it was like putting people
on Mars and curing cancer, and like you know x-ray vision, I don’t know all
sorts of things. Amazing things. And then somebody in the audience said you know
Mr. Schmidt, is there anything that you think Google can’t do? Like things that are
beyond the technology? And he laughed and he went,
well we’re not exactly about to invent an app to teach
people to be more forgiving. He laughed. And anyway. I still like what a mad thing. So then, like what a mad thing. So then fortunately,
I saddled up to him at the reception afterwards
and said Mr. Schmidt, you’re curing cancer, but
you think it’s impossible to create a piece of technology
which will assist us in the task of being more forgiving. I profoundly disagree with you. And we had a kind
of conversation. But I think that look, to
some extent my book is a piece of technology, very
old fashioned, glued together it doesn’t
move, or sing, or light up. But it’s essentially a
tool, a piece of technology. I don’t like entertainment. I don’t like entertaining
people for the sake of it. I’m a teacher and I’ve
written this novel. It’s not boring really. Well, nothing happens
in it really [laughter] but really it’s following
two people in their attempt. They go from being
romantics who believe that love is just a
feeling to slowly, slowly, slowly they realise
they’re going to break up and they’re going
to create a disaster in their lives unless they
learn some lessons of love. And the novel is you know
taking you through that journey. It’s an attempt to teach
through the medium of a novel. And I think that
we need that sort of intervention into our lives. And Ann very kindly
mentioned The School of Life which is opening. The School of Life is
dedicated to trying to skill people up in this area. It sounds so unromantic. And I apologise for it
sounding so unromantic. If you said I’ve just
come back from a class in which I’ve learnt how to interpret the
moods of my partner. Think, oh my God,
that sounds horrible. Really? You went
to that, poor you. And of course the old thing
is when people go, oh, you know I’m seeing a therapist. Everyone goes oh no poor you. The relationship, we’re seeing
a marriage therapist, oh my God, well it’s clearly
about to be over. Because of course
there is no surer sign that a relationship
is on safe ground than that a couple has
taken the step to try to examine it logically. So, anyway, I’m rambling. But I hope that in some what
answers your question thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Hi. I just wanted to
know what are your thoughts on the search for love
through things like Tinder?>>Yes. Okay let’s
go back to that. I think that Tinder,
again excites us because it makes the choosing of
people, it places the emphasis on the story of love at
a very particular moment, which is the moment of choice. And it’s not surprising because
our culture is so obsessed. Most love stories
are not love stories. They’re the stories of two
people finding each other. Overcoming certain obstacles
and getting together. It then ends. The story then ends. So, I don’t really
have a problem with Tinder I’m sure it’s fun. The thing is if you have
a bit of a high profile and you’re married, sadly you
can’t go on Tinder [laughter]. So, I have no idea. I have no idea about Tinder. But, that was a joke. That was a joke [laughter]. Joke. Joke. But it places the emphasis
on the wrong place, which is it leads to
an impatient search. You’re throwing a lot
of human beings away. Look, I as a secular Jew
I love the Christian idea. That once you know about
love you could love anyone. And Christianity really
emphasises this point, like you could love anyone. You could love a leper. You could love someone
with leprosy. So imagine Twitter breaks down and goes actually
stop this choice, we’ve chosen you a
leper, please love them. You’re like oh no. I don’t want to love a leper. I can’t swipe. You’re trying to swipe and
the thing doesn’t swipe. You’re stuck with the leper. Right? Wouldn’t necessarily
be bad. It would teach us
a lot of things. And I think the more
you know about love, the less important it
is who you’re loving. I don’t mean that
you haven’t noticed that you’re loving
a particular person. But you realise that everyone, and the act of loving anyone
is going to require many of the same resources. And I think that our
technological Tinder-ish age has deeply forgotten that lesson. It is the lesson
of art, you know. If you think of, what are
the novels of Dostoevsky, but a constant attempt to
take us behind the scenes. I think it would look pretty
disgusting at first swipe. Like you wouldn’t go oh
[inaudible] you lovely match. Or you murderer, murderer, and the poignant
visionary and egomaniac. You wouldn’t have
gone on a date right? But Dostoevsky takes
you behind the scenes and goes you know behind
this profile is a human, and discovers the humanity
behind the profile. And I worry that our age
is getting every less adept at that manoeuvre, but for
me that manoeuvre is love. Okay. Three? [ Applause ]>>Is there a particular
model for your notion of revealing your insanities
to a perspective partner, or is that something that
you expect would just emerge naturally in conversation?>>No, I think it’s, look
I think it’s very important to do it at a time when your
insanity has not wounded the other person. The reason why most of us are
so unforgiving to the flaws of others is because we
encounter those flaws at moments when they’ve damaged us. So it’s like, look I
know about your father and how horrible he
was, or your mother and how you know she
didn’t love you enough, but frankly I don’t care
because right now you’ve ruined my weekend. So like I’m not really in a
mood to listen to that stuff. It’s like I don’t care that
you were once a small child who was you know tender, because
actually frankly you just destroyed my relationship
with my best friend out of some weird
misguided feeling of jealousy and I don’t know where it
comes from but I don’t care. So in other words, you are
not going to be sympathetic when it’s damaged you. So, the time to do it is when
the other person feels relaxed, tender, and you need
to find some strategy. You know the art of timing. Most of the time, we are so, because there’s not
a teaching culture within relationships we feel
that we’ve got to get our lesson out at the very moment
when we fell it. It’s like because the romantics
are all about authenticity. So it’s like you know
there’s all this cult of being authentic
to your feelings. You’ve got to be true to your
feelings, that’s the, you know. I mean really? You really want to be
true to all your feelings. Oh, that’s going to be trouble. It’s like I think you’re
looking a little ugly today. Oh, I just had to express
that because I’m a romantic. So [laughter], you know your
thighs are looking a little fat, but I’m a romantic
so I had to tell you. Jean Jacques Rousseau
told me to tell you that your thighs
are a little fat. So, that’s really
where I’m coming from. So do it, yeah, do
it when they’re calm and do it strategically
and trying not to hurt somebody
with your insanity. You’ll find a better result. Number four.>>Hi. Oh, God that’s loud. Sorry. I just wanted to ask. This is a bit of an
uncomfortable question. But money. Is it, well, I’ve
got to start again. I’m under strict
instruction I’m going to go to art school next year and
I’m under strict instruction to not fall in love with
another person who wants to become an artist
because I will end up being poor, and
sad, and lonely. And I just wanted to ask the
question if practical things such as money, houses, towels, whatever can actually really
break up a relationship, or if those are negotiable
things?>>Okay that’s such a good
question because it really sets on top of this romantic,
classical divide if you like, in the
view of love. The last writer to
talk head on about love and money is Jane Austen
in European fiction. And her novels are
obsessed with money. Not at the detriment
of everything else. But they take a really
fast steady look. I mean you know the way it
works with Jane Austen novels, very often you’ll
be told that such and such a character was
worth 20 pounds a year and you fiercely look back
at the number, what was that? Twenty pounds, like
what does that mean? That doesn’t sound
like very much. And then someone says
like worth 40 pounds, and they’ve got an
annuity and they’ve got, like so you’re totally
told the financial status of all the characters. And this can sound quite weird
because we are romantics. And romantics believe, as you
correctly suggest that love and money have nothing
to do with one another. That true love has absolutely
nothing to do with money. That love is a feeling and money
is this horrible dirty thing. And Jane Austen is
the last person to have an intelligent
sane view of money because she doesn’t say, there
are characters in her novels, in “Mansfield Park” there are
these characters whose names I now forget. I forget her name. There’s one couple that gets
together primarily for money, because they’re financially
interested and only financially interested. And they have a terrible life. And but Fanny Price,
the heroine, has got, she’s a little bit
interested in money. In other words, she sensibly
knows that money has got things to contribute to a
good relationship. And she doesn’t see this as a
sign that she’s an evil person. She simply sees it as
a practical recognition of what money can do
and what practical sides of life do to emotions. And you know I would
recommend a Jane Austen view of your dilemmas in art school. In other words, it’s not that you’re a bad person
that you think of it. And frankly, yes. I mean you know there are
plenty of extremely nice people who are making a miserable
dry, brittle living in the financial sector who
would love to infuse their soul with a more artistic
temperament [laughter]. And I would recommend you that. [ Applause ] Yeah?>>I have a very
simple question to say. My question actually is how
do I bring the Romanticism in my marriage after being
married 37 years today?>>Right. Well, congratulations.>>And our marriage actually was
an arranged marriage according to our culture, our parents
chose each other for us and we blindly accepted it even
though we had our own personal views, but we said yes because
our parents said, he’s stable, he has his own business he
will keep you safe and secure. Money, money being the issue.>>Yes. Well, look I think
that some of the things that happens is that
when you love somebody. You want to lay claim to them. You want to own them. You want to possess them. But to a great extent I think
we don’t appreciate things or people that we possess. We don’t appreciate
what we have. And I think that you
know the question that you’re asking is not
really about Romanticism, it’s about appreciation. And I think it holds
true not just for relationships
but for everything. You know Marcel Crouse
was once asked by newspapers were doing
silly questionnaires even then and he was asked by a newspaper
how he would feel if he heard that a meteorite was
heading for the earth and would soon destroy
civilisation. This was like 1919. And he said that it would
be a marvellous thing because suddenly everything
in life would be so full of meaning, beauty, charm. He would rush to go to
museums that he hadn’t been to. He would undertake journeys. He would fall in love. He would appreciate his friends. All of these things. And he said rather poignantly,
the thing that prevents us from noticing all of these
things is the feeling that it’s forever and that
we already possess them. When in fact, all of us might
die this evening, he says. He was a hypochondriac,
but a good one [laughter]. But I think we can take a little
lesson from [inaudible] book. Imagine you and your husband
might die this evening. That’s the single most romantic, this might be your last
evening [laughter]. That’s what you should do. [ Applause ] We’ve got about 14 seconds
for the last question so this is the last question.>>I want to thank you for
speaking to use tonight, but also my question
relates to what you spoke about in the beginning, which
is you said we’re in an age of Romanticism right now. What do you think has caused
the persistence of the age of Romanticism, just
like for centuries. What do you think the
next evolution is for love and just in relationships?>>Look I don’t want to
sound like one of those guys, but to some extent it is to do with the commercial
system we live within. It’s so much easier
when you’re trying to sell someone toothpaste
to sell it with that initial heaty
ecstatic moment of love. There’s a huge interest
in talking about that. Look, it’s deeply exciting. The moment two people
get together is one of the most exciting
things in the world. So no wonder we keep scratching
that bit of human nature. It’s no surprise. If I was making a
Hollywood moving and I was spending 100 million
pounds and the choice was between you know a
long term relationship or that heaty moment, you know
you go for the heaty moment. I mean the only filmmaker
who’s ever made a sensible film in the last like 10 years about
marriage is Richard Linklater’s with his beautiful film
“Before Midnight” which is about the only adult
description of love. And it was a very small grossing
movie, but please go and see it if you can because it’s
one of the great films. But you know we’re surrounded by
people who have a lot interest in exciting us around the
early moments of love. But the fight back
begins and it begins here. And it begins with a novel
I’ve written, and [laughter] and with you listening. So I encourage all you to
come and see me afterwards, get your book signed and to begin a new way
of approaching love. Not in a cold way, not with
cynicism or with pessimism. But with a healthy
belief that the best way to get our relationships to
go well is to overcome certain of our romantic illusions. Thank you so much. [ Applause ]

100 thoughts on “Alain de Botton: On Love | Sydney Opera House

  1. Politics. Climate change. Fake news. Money. We've spent years talking about the world's problems. Now we need an Antidote.
    Explore the lineup of Sydney Opera House's new Talks and Ideas festival →

  2. All of my husbands friends are single, they consistently ask me for advice because me and him have been together the longest out of anyone in our close group of friends.sadly they ask “should we break up?” Quite often. Idk why? Im not an important person, im insane in relationships, and im selfish but they ask me anyway. My advice “move on to the next girl and there will be problems, ones that are just as difficult, just as stupid and just as time consuming. She’s beautiful inside and out and cares about you, your making expectations that dont meet reality, but regardless the choice is yours and not mine.”

  3. I disagree with him on not using intuition. Making decisions purely on practicality is foolhardy, and making decisions purely on intuition is equally dangerous. You need a healthy dose of both. As for the "special feeling"; some people give you a "feeling", and they're bad for you (like cocaine!), some people give you a feeling and are "good for you". If you choose the ones that are bad for you, and ignore all the red flags, they are there to teach you something you've been unwilling to learn.

  4. Amazing talk (and read his books) BUUT…what the hell is wrong with the lighting, he literally has a purple top of the head, nose and hands, then the rest of his body looks regular

  5. i literally just wanna like all the comments, you guys speak out everything i wanted to say!!!!! the best lesson ever!!!!!!!!

  6. Truth is greater than love. Love without truth is desperation. Love without truth is romanticism. This video is contradictory since it defies romanticism only in the real of romanticism. Truth is, love is just a feeling within. Anything else is an arrangement between persons that need not love or truth……… When you analyze romanticism you're missing the point. DUHHHH. Read between the lines a little you blockhead.

  7. @13:32 WAT. (Rational) parents who want their children to grow up having successful relationships are going to try to rid their children of flaws so that they can get along with other people better.

    Pretty sure parents often tell their children that they need to do X instead of whatever the child is currently doing, which is a way to get rid of a flaw. Seems to me, this is a huge chunk of what parents generally do.

    Parents don't just take care a child's physical needs (food, shelter, etc.). I think it is very broadly agreed that "raising" a child means imbuing characteristics that are going to make the child "successful" in the future.

    At least, that's what I got out of my childhood. Pretty sure I'm not unique in this respect…

  8. This talk is so open and effective. Worth watching even though it's over an hour. I agree with him. I consider myself awakening from the illusions of romanticism. That means I'm aware of and understand that romance is an idea that we have been influenced by society and sold by consumerism. The last bit i cannot overcome is the idea of romantic sex. It means I still regard sex is the ultimate declaration of love or at least for people I have strong romantic feeling for (sometimes it is just strong lust). This stubborn illusion does give me a lot of pain.

  9. his speech has improved so much over a few years; look at his videos from 2013, he used to be a stutterer, now he is smooth as michael jackson

  10. Ateistler için Din kitap yorumu için

  11. Destroying romanticism now is not a good idea, we have lost our belief (in God, in family for some people, in society for other, in science for other, in politics for other, in all of this for most of the people…) We need to believe in something and to build fantasy. I agree that we don't have to put our entire desire and belief in love but we need some belief and love can be one ofe them. Love is not a couple relation or a marriage of convenience, it's inside our brain and we need to build it with belief and fantasy. If we don't use imagination and images (like waterfall, dream, stars…) to build it, it's only a couple relation. Romantic people can also talk a lot and have a great idea of a couple relation and relations in general. It's not because you create fantasy and you are romantic that you are idealistic or that you don't know how to behave, how to know the other and how to talk. This world is actually already going in that direction of grey, sad, logic, money and this speech is a bit going in that direction too. We don't need to hear that about love, it will destroy it, like polution destroyed nature, like working too much destroyed happiness, like science destroyed mystery and innocence, like money destroyed art, and maybe soon, love. Let people create their world and stop thinking for them.

  12. In some ideas you are teaching people be idiots.besides,work,take care of ourselves we also have to re-educate our partner! No way. Better be single.

  13. <3 It'd be great if someone could make an animation on the whole 1 hour talk.
    it'd be helpful if we want to send it to our loved ones.

  14. Original Sin should get a laugh. Not just because of its timing or elements, but because it's a pretty big slap in the face to the notion of defilement in Buddhism, and the overall disposition of a fear of nature in Judaism. What is Original Sin? It's somebody's God (not mine) informing His creations that they were built with a defect, and that another one of His creations (whose career-path culminates with a public execution) has to forgive these faulted models so that the aforementioned God can let them back into heaven. What's defilement in Buddhism? As best I understand, it means that nothing is created without something else being incomplete (typically due to some form of ignorance, clinging or craving) and that by recognizing it, an individual can follow established, pragmatic steps to regaining either independence or enlightenment (and really, what's the difference?) which typically the student is undertaking for themselves; i.e. not a savior or deity.

    If anyone's wondering, I don't totally agree with the ideas of not-self and reincarnation that some Buddhists do, although, I'd add that biologically and in terms of abstract-thinking, there is no permanent-self and the six plains of existence do speak to the human condition as far as falling between sheer misery and ecstatic detachment…

    Hopelessly pessimistic is the term.

  15. "Jean Jacques Rousseau told me to tell you that your thighs are getting fat"

    Possibly the greatest sentence I have ever heard LOL.

  16. If you didn't come to the same notions on your own you wouldn't understand what he's talking about . Otherwise it's just an entertaining speech for the women who are taking home the great emotions it brings. As a matter of fact it's primarily directed towards women's minds guilty of not being able to love.

  17. If this man spends talking two hours on the mating ritual of rainworms i would listen till the end! Gifted speaker and so true en recognisable!

  18. This is so true. I used to be a romantic and it really puts unfair and unrealistic expectations on the relationship.

  19. I've watched this twice now. The first time was about 6 weeks ago. There is so much wisdom here, it takes time for it to sink in. I think he is absolutely right about ALL of it.

  20. I remember a minister saying in a sermon that almost anyone has secrets that they would never tell anyone, because they might be totally shocked by it. Perhaps a fantasy of being a secial killer. Perhaps some perverse sexual fantasy. In Sex and the City, there is one episode where a new acquaintance goes into a closet equipped as a torture-chamber and puts chains on himself, When Samantha opens the door, he asks her to participate in his masochistic sexual fantasy. In another a politician friend asks Carrie to take a shower with him and then urinate on him. In both cases the women are shocked and break off the relationships. These are illustrations that come to mind when Alain speaks of wanting to reveal one's deepest secrets to a lover. I have read that people can judge very rapidly whether they are compatible with another person, almost love at first sight. But of course they need a longer acquaintance with each other before they can be really sure that the first impression was correct. And many people can have a fun first conversation, but later contacts are less interesting and fulfilling, as they find there are not so compatible.

  21. women are ESPECIALLY guilty of these things. who reads all the romance novels? who wants you to read their mind about whats wrong, instead of just telling him? who’s never satisfied when the kids come along, when they have to stay home to raise the kids, or when the house isnt big enough, the car isnt new enough, the clothes arent nice enough? Who initiates 70% of all divorces?

  22. Ungratefullness is what people give to those who show them love, so is it so strange that people develop the ability to not feel something.

  23. These people really sat down for an hour to be educated on love and his references are novels and 18th century European poets on romantics. What a joke. 18th century Europe was not the most loving place in the world neither was Australia

  24. Brilliant and funny as always! Love De Botton, one of the best philosophers and speakers out there! Most of it just plain ole' common sense! Many of my own philosophies on Romanticism are the same as his. Studied the psychology of love relationships at New School University in the 1970s where I met my late husband of 42 years. Much of what Alain says about love relationships is so true! Thanks for sharing~

  25. As for his other talk with comment disabled, I'll put my comment here. Why you will marry the wrong person: if you are male, every woman is the wrong person. MGTOW.
    As for this talk, I'm out. If de Botton can't take comments to all his stuff, he's against free speech. GTFO.

  26. The problem with psychological wounds, is that you can’t see them.

    Many parts of the adult character are 2 1/2 years old. You can see these characters in adult. Interesting how we have these wounds or breakages, so it’s important to understand that everyone is afraid, or have fear, in how they are broken. So we have to be very endearing & caring.

    I like how he states, comedy is an astute way to keep the relationship. The loveable idiot.

  27. 58:50 "… putting people on Mars, curing cancer, and, like you know X ray vision…"

    That would actually help in relationships. If guys could see one of the biggest secrets women have, at what stage their menstrual cycle is, they could prevent their girlfriend to have children with other men, thus preventing the "cucked dad" phenomenon. That would tip the dating scale in men's favor again.

  28. I've been attacked for questioning the status quo in this subject – happy to say, Alain eloquently presents the questions and offers great solutions! Being logical in our emotional decisions actually is possible.

  29. We do need the cinema to look at love from other perspectives. I’m so glad he mentioned “Before Midnight”.

  30. Listening to this man here wakes me open to the idea of love relationship and give it another go. How clear, funny, forgiving and refreshing! Thank you, Sir.

  31. Typical postmodern 🙄 Saying that love has been catastrophic to good long-term relationships is like saying artists’ passion for arts has been catastrophic for artists. Relationships take skills lack of which leads to catastrophe. It could be any type of relationship. Without love (not just for romance) there can’t be meaningful arts, music, science, or anything that takes consistent and sustained effort for years. What has ruined relationships is our consumerist tendencies, comparing ourselves and our mates with others on social media, porn, etc, all fueling and feeding our growing desire for immediate gratification.
    The best sex I have ever had has been the ones with a partner that I loved. If you haven’t experienced it you have missed a lot. It is up to you. But to experience that you’d need to overcome your fear of getting hurt and not being loved back as much. The same is true for having children. You don’t have children because you expect them to have benefits for you you have them because it is a labor of love to raise them. Just like raising a plant is a labor of love. Same goes for arts, science, music, and any type of work. You do it sustained throughout years, not because of any material gain, but because of love. Or else you will be succumbed into fear and nihilism at every moment. And finally, love is greater than sex. At some age you may stop having sex, but you look at your partner in the eyes and you can see your entire life with no words or thoughts exchanged, may that be your labor of love.

  32. Love is the blood of the body of our lives and without it we get completely lost. Anything great that requires sustainable efforts throughout years is always the labor of love.

  33. My Issue was I wasn't the one expecting him to read my mind, he just assumed that how I felt or thought about something instead of speaking to me about it. I am guilty of not speaking when something goes wrong but after a while, I realize he will never get it so I would explain how I feel and why I feel that way and still he didn't get it.

  34. Hi Alan; i am a good friend of Andrés and a Board Member of LCDI. I admire your talks but… it seems to me that sexual jealousy on behalf of men and sentimental jealousy on behalf of women is perfectly explained buy evolutionary anthropology and has been so for at least the last 200,000 years. Men expect sexual loyalty because you run the chance of investing a lot in someone else’s genes (particularly before birth control and DNA testing). Women expect sexual sort-of-loyalty because sex can lead to emotional infidelity; “if my man falls in love with her, there go the resources meant for my children”. So, as much as I admire your talks, this part about “we are in the romantic age” sounded to me quite off the mark.

  35. I think men sulk because of machoism, maybe opposite of romanticism. They are taught to internalize their hurt feelings and learn that expressing feelings is a sign of weakness even though that lesson is a ruse in that expressing hurt feelings makes one stronger. Whatever machoistic tradition started that ruse has made a lot of men weaker.

  36. Being able to critique without making your partner feel injured or belittled by you, is really a particular skill that people in long term marriages have learned. And it is very important for the mental health of both of you.

  37. I few times my partner complained about my 'insanity', and I said "look around you, if you find any sane person I will do anything humanly possible to get you to be with them instead of sticking with me.". Guess what, we are still together, a couple of decades down the line

  38. Rewatched it after several years, and a bit about Great Britain and Europe is still correct 😂 as the rest of the talk, of course. My favorite piece is about sulking! 29:10

  39. I strongly believe anyone and everyone should have a listen to this. Clear, concise, and relatable. This video helps us open our eyes in the delusion that we've grown used to when it comes to relationship.

  40. I hope one day people understand that you get what you believe in this life. My parents believed in soulmate love and they had it for 40+ years until my father passed away. Was it always perfectly smooth? Of course not…and my mother had a prior marriage to an abusive man. But when I (as an adult) asked my parents about their meeting, they made it clear that they had decided (both, individually) at that point in their lives that they were only going to marry for love and devotion and they were not going to settle and that's exactly what they got.

    So the lesson is: be careful what you wish for; you just might get it.

  41. Alain's talks are shattering, this one is a brilliant example. I'm reeling after every one, this one standing out! Addicted.

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