Love. It’s the thing that everyone, to some capacity, intrinsically needs, and as such, has even morphed into a booming industry, with dating platforms, florists and Valentine’s Day seeing large profit margins because of it. But finding the ideal partner is no easy task. Narrowing your search down to one, with 7.5 billion people traipsing the globe, can prove daunting.
According to one of our favourite authors and philosophers, Alain de Botton, the reason so many romantic relationships prove futile is due to the way we see love in its early stages. In society’s idea of romanticism, you’re meant to “trust your feelings” – so you take that lingering eye contact you had with someone on the bus to mean they’re your soul mate. According to Alain, “This call for us to trust our instincts proves to be a disaster. Instinct has been little better than calculation in underwriting the quality of our love stories.”
Instead, Alain prefers to side with the psychotherapy school of thought, which is that we fall in love with people who care for us in familiar ways, similar to how we were cared for in childhood. “We may believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity,” says Alain.
However, the perfect upbringing is rare, and so if a partner does possess those traits we longed for in childhood, that once-desired characteristic feels strange and undeserved. For example, if you really wished your parent affirmed you with kind words, and a potential suitor is an expert in the art of compliments, you may actually find this strange and unpleasant. “To choose our partners wisely, we need to tease out how certain compulsions to suffering may be playing themselves out in our feelings of attraction.”
So if you’re dealing with a string of failed relationships, Alain suggests taking time with a large piece of paper – maybe some tea too – and asking yourself how much your impulses are aligned with the things that make you happy. And if you have a habit of falling head over heels for someone who is attention-seeking and distant, you may find this is because these traits are what you’ve come to expect love to look like.
From this, we can glean that our vision of what we want might not be a good guide to our happiness. By looking at our emotional histories, we see that we can’t just be attracted to anyone, but we have types based on our upbringing. And while there’s no denying an initial attraction could be a good precursor to a meaningful relationship, it’s useful to know that, as humans, we possess a pattern of thinking that may not be helpful, leading us to consciously make wiser decisions based on quality characteristics and not just “that feeling”. Alain tackles this topic with aplomb below.