On Love
eBook - ePub

On Love

A Novel

Alain de Botton

  1. 240 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

On Love

A Novel

Alain de Botton

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Table of contents

About This Book

The New York Times– bestselling author's modern classic that "takes a conventional love story and textures it with philosophical ruminations" ( Kirkus Reviews ). A man and a woman meet over casual conversation on a flight from Paris to London, and so begins a love story—from first kiss to first argument, elation to heartbreak, and everything in between. Each stage of the relationship is illuminated with starling clarity, as novelist and philosopher Alain de Botton explores young love and its emotions, often felt but rarely understood.
With a brilliant new introduction by Sheila Heti, the New York Times -bestselling author of How Should a Person Be?, On Love is a contemporary classic from an author "who seems to have been born to write" ( The Boston Globe ). "Smart and ironic…The book's success has much to do with its beautifully modeled sentences, its wry humor, and its unwavering deadpan respect for the reader's intelligence." —Francine Prose, New Republic "Witty, funny, sophisticated…full of wise and illuminating insights." —P.J. Kavanagh, Spectator

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Grove Press
1. Early on Sunday evening, Chloe and I were sitting in the economy section of a British Airways jet, making our way back from Paris to London. We had recently crossed the Normandy coast, where a blanket of winter cloud had given way to an uninterrupted view of dark waters below. Tense and unable to concentrate, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. There was something threatening about the flight: the dull background throb of the engines, the hushed gray interior, the candy smiles of the airline employees. A trolley carrying a selection of drinks and snacks was making its way down the aisle, and, though I was both hungry and thirsty, it filled me with the vague nausea that meals may elicit in aircraft.
2.Chloe had been listening to her Walkman while dozing, but she now pulled the plugs from her ears and stared with her large watery eyes at the seat in front of her.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
There was a silence, as though she had not heard. Then she spoke.
“You’re too good for me,” she said.
“I said, ‘You’re too good for me.’”
“What? Why?”
“Because you are.”
“What are you saying this for, Chloe?”
“I don’t know.”
“If anything, I’d put it the other way round. You’re always the one ready to make the effort when there’s a problem, you’re just more self-deprecating about your—”
“Shush, stop, don’t,” said Chloe, turning her head away from me.
“Because I’ve been seeing Will.”
“You’ve what?”
“I’ve been seeing Will, OK?”
“What? What does ‘seeing’ mean? ‘Seeing’ Will?”
“For God’s sake, I’ve been to bed with Will.”
“Would madam like a beverage or light snack?” inquired the stewardess, chosing this moment to introduce her wares.
“No thank you.”
“Nothing at all, then?”
“No, I’m all right.”
“How about for sir?”
“No thanks, nothing.”
3.Chloe had started to cry.
“I can’t believe this. I just cannot believe this. Tell me it’s a joke, some terrible, horrible joke. You’ve been to bed with Will. When? How? How could you?”
“God, I’m so sorry, I really am. I’m sorry, but I . . . I . . . I’m sorry. . . .”
Chloe was crying so hard, she was unable to speak. Tears were streaming down her face, her nose was running, her whole body was shaken by spasms, her breathing was halting, gasping.
She looked in such pain, for a moment I forgot the import of her revelation, wanting only to stop the flow of her tears.
“Chloe, please don’t cry, it’s all right. We can talk about this. Tidge, please, take this handkerchief. It’ll be OK, it will, I promise. . . .”
“My God, I’m so sorry, God I’m sorry, you don’t deserve this, you really don’t.”
Chloe’s devastation temporarily eased the burden of betrayal. Her tears represented a brief reprieve for my own. The irony of the situation was not lost on me—the lover comforting his beloved for the upset betraying him has caused her.
4.The tears might have drowned every last passenger and sunk the whole airplane had the captain not prepared to land soon after they had begun. It felt like the Flood, a deluge of sadness on both sides at the inevitability and cruelty of what was happening: it simply wasn’t working, it was going to have to end. Things felt all the more lonely, all the more exposed in the technological environment of the cabin, with the clinical attentions of stewardesses, with fellow passengers staring with the smug relief others feel in the face of strangers’ emotional crises.
5.As the plane pierced through the clouds, I tried to imagine a future: a period of life was coming brutally to an end, and I had nothing to replace it with, only a terrifying absence. We hope you enjoy your stay in London, and will choose to fly with us again soon. To fly again soon—but would I live again soon? I envied the assumptions of others, the security of fixed lives and plans to take off again soon. What would life mean from now on? Though we continued holding hands, I knew how Chloe and I would watch our bodies grow foreign to each other. Walls would be built up, the separation would be institutionalized, I would meet her in a few months or years, we would be light, jovial, masked, dressed for business, ordering a salad in a restaurant—unable to touch what we were now revealing: the sheer human drama, the nakedness, the dependency, the unalterable loss. We would be like an audience emerging from a heart-wrenching play but unable to communicate anything of the emotions they had felt inside, able only to head for a drink at the bar, knowing there was more, but unable to touch it. Though it was agony, I preferred this moment to the ones that would come, the hours spent alone replaying it, blaming myself and her, trying to construct a future, an alternative story, like a confused playwright who does not know what to do with his characters (save kill them off for a neat ending . . .). All this till the wheels hit the tarmac at Heathrow, the engines were thrown into reverse, and the plane taxied toward the terminal, where it disgorged its cargo into the immigration hall. By the time Chloe and I had collected our luggage and passed through customs, the relationship was formally over. We would try to be good friends, we would try not to cry, we would try not to feel like victims or executioners.
6.Numbly, I watched two days pass. To suffer a blow and feel nothing—it means the blow must have been hard indeed. Then one morning, I received a hand-delivered letter from Chloe, her familiar black writing poured over two sheets of creamy white paper:
I am sorry for offering you my confusion, I am sorry for ruining our trip to Paris, I am sorry for the unavoidable melodrama of it. I don’t think I will ever cry again as much as I did aboard that miserable airplane, or be so torn by my emotions. You were so sweet to me, that’s what made me cry all the more, other men would have told me to go to hell, but you didn’t, and that’s what made it so very difficult.
You asked me in the terminal how I could cry and yet still be sure. You must understand, I cried because I knew it could not go on, and yet there was still so much holding me to you. I realize I cannot continue to deny you the love you deserve, but that I have grown unable to give you. It would be unfair, it would destroy us both.
I shall never be able to write the letter which I would really want to write to you. This is not the letter I have been writing to you in my head for the last few days. I wish I could draw you a picture, I was never too good with a pen. I can’t seem to say what I want, I only hope you’ll fill in the blanks.
I will miss you, nothing can take away what we have shared. I have loved the months we have spent together. It seems such a surreal combination of things, breakfasts, lunches, phone calls in mid-afternoon, late nights at the Electric, walks in Kensington Gardens. I don’t want anything to spoil that. When you’ve been in love, it is not the length of time that matters, it’s everything you’ve felt and done coming out intensified. To me, it’s one of the few times when life isn’t elsewhere. You’ll always be beautiful to me, I’ll never forget how much I adored waking up and finding you beside me. I simply don’t wish to continue hurting you. I could not bear for it slowly all to go stale.
I don’t know where I will go from here. I will perhaps spend time on my own over Christmas or spend it with my parents. Will is going to California soon, so we’ll see. Don’t be unfair, don’t blame him. He likes you very much and respects you immensely. He was only a symptom, not the cause of what’s happened. Excuse this messy letter, its confusion will probably be a reminder of the way I was with you. Forgive me, you were too good for me. I hope we can stay friends. All my love . . .
7.The letter brought no relief, only reminders. I recognized the cadences and accent of her speech, carrying with it the image of her face, the smell of her skin—and the wound I had sustained. I wept at the finality of the letter, the situation confirmed, analyzed, turned into the past tense. I could feel the doubts and ambivalence in her syntax, but the message was definitive. It was over, she was sorry it was over, but love had ebbed. At the end of a relationship, it is the one who is not in love who makes the tender speeches. I was overwhelmed by a sense of betrayal, betrayal because a union in which I had invested so much had been declared bankrupt without my feeling it to be so. Chloe had not given it a chance, I argued with myself, knowing the hopelessness of these inner courts announcing hollow verdicts at four-thirty in the morning. Though there had been no contract, only the contract of the heart, I felt stung by Chloe’s disloyalty, by her heresy, by her night with another man. How was it morally possible this should have been allowed to happen?
8.It is surprising how often rejection in love is framed in moral language, the language of right and wrong, good and evil, as though to reject or not reject, to love or not to love, was something that naturally belonged to a branch of ethics. It is surprising how often the one who rejects is labeled evil, and the one who is rejected comes to embody the good. There was something of this moral attitude in both Chloe and my behavior. Framing her rejection, she had equated her inability to love with evil, and my love for her as evidence of goodness—hence the conclusion, made on the basis of nothing more than that I still desired her, that I was “too good” for her. Assuming that she largely meant what she said and was not simply being polite, she had made the ethical point that she was not good enough for me, by virtue of nothing more than having ceased to love me—something she had deemed made her a less worthy person than I, a man who, in all the goodness of his heart, still felt able to love her.
9.But however unfortunate rejection may be, can we really equate loving with selflessness, and rejection with cruelty; can we really equate love with goodness and indifference with evil? Was my love for Chloe moral, and her rejection of me immoral? The guilt owed to Chloe for rejecting me depended primarily on the extent to which love could be seen as something that I had given selflessly—for if selfish motives entered into my gift, then Chloe was surely justified in equally selfishly ending the relationship. Viewed from such a perspective, the end of love appeared to be a clash between two fundamentally selfish impulses, rather than between altruism and egoism, morality and immorality.
10. According to Immanuel Kant, a moral action is to be distinguished from an immoral one by the fact that it is performed out of duty and regardless of the pain or pleasure involved. I am behaving morally only when I do something without consideration of what I may get in return for it, when I am guided solely by duty: “For any action to be morally good, it is not enough that it should conform to the moral law—it must also be done for the sake of the moral law.”3 Actions performed as a result of disposition cannot count as moral, a direct rejection of the utilitarian view of morality based around inclination. The essence of Kant’s theory is that morality is to be found exclusively in the motive from which an act is performed. To love someone is moral only when that love is given free of any expected return, if that love is given simply for the sake of giving love.
11.I called Chloe immoral because she had rejected the attentions of someone who had on a daily basis brought her comfort, encouragement, support, and affection. But was she to blame in a moral sense for spurning these? Blame is surely due when we spurn a gift given at much cost and sacrifice, but if the giver has derived as much pleasure from giving as we derive from receiving, then is there really a case for using moral language? If love is primarily given out of selfish motivations (i.e., for one’s own benefit, even as it benefits the other), then it is not, in Kantian eyes at least, a moral gift. Was I better than Chloe simply because I loved her? Of course not, for though my love for her included sacrifices, I had made these because it made me happy to do so; I had not martyred myself, but had acted only because it accorded so perfectly with my inclinations, because it was not a duty.
12. We spend our time loving like utilitarians; in the bedroom we are followers of Hobbes and Bentham, not Plato and Kant. We make moral judgments on the basis of preference, not transcendental values. As Hobbes put it in his Elements of Law:...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half title
  3. Also by Alain de Botton
  4. Title
  5. Copyright
  6. Contents
  7. Romantic Fatalism
  8. Idealization
  9. The Subtext of Seduction
  10. Authenticity
  11. Mind and Body
  12. Marxism
  13. False Notes
  14. Love or Liberalism
  15. Beauty
  16. Speaking Love
  17. What Do You See in Her?
  18. Skepticism and Faith
  19. Intimacy
  20. “I”-Confirmation
  21. Intermittences of the Heart
  22. The Fear of Happiness
  23. Contractions
  24. Romantic Terrorism
  25. Beyond Good and Evil
  26. Psycho-Fatalism
  27. Suicide
  28. The Jesus Complex
  29. Ellipsis
  30. Love Lessons
Citation styles for On Love

APA 6 Citation

Botton, A. (2015). On Love ([edition unavailable]). Grove Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/2448302/on-love-a-novel-pdf (Original work published 2015)

Chicago Citation

Botton, Alain. (2015) 2015. On Love. [Edition unavailable]. Grove Atlantic. https://www.perlego.com/book/2448302/on-love-a-novel-pdf.

Harvard Citation

Botton, A. (2015) On Love. [edition unavailable]. Grove Atlantic. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/2448302/on-love-a-novel-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Botton, Alain. On Love. [edition unavailable]. Grove Atlantic, 2015. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.