With Valentine’s Day last weekend, I decided to listen to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast “The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships.” Her guest was Alain de Botton, a writer and philosopher who is the chairperson of The School of Life which is dedicated to helping people lead more resilient and fulfilled lives. Unlike the romantic notion of love celebrated by Valentine’s Day, the podcast set more realistic expectations. One early quote set the stage and had me chuckling a little. Mr. de Botton stated that love “is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is, but we’re going to do our best.” He also noted that “every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over knowledge.” Not exactly Romeo and Juliet.
His point was that people have unrealistic expectations about love that are mostly created by the abundance of unhealthy narratives we see in books, movies, and other media. I think many of us can all relate to this comment. “So in other words, it’s when we are in love with people and they’re in love with us that we take particular offense when they get things wrong. Because the kind of governing assumption of the relationship is, this person should know what is in my mind, ideally without me needing to tell them. If I need to spell this out to you, you don’t love me.” Sound familiar? Mr. de Botton noted that it is very much like the way children think; that somehow parents should know what they are thinking all the time. We advise our children to “use their words” but we tend not to follow that advice with those we love.
While love and relationships require hard work, I don’t think we should lower our expectations so much that we miss out on the possible joys that those relationships can bring. On Valentine’s Day morning, we gave our kids bigger than usual heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Just the sight of the big boxes seemed to bring delight. I would not have wanted to miss out on the joy that we witnessed nor the ensuing stomach aches. Maybe just being aware of our expectations can be helpful. After all, Romeo and Juliet didn’t exactly have a happy ending. I hope you had a nice Valentine’s Day.
This week’s selection is:
State of the Union (Prime Video)From the brilliant mind of Nick Hornby comes a series of ten-minute episodes about contemporary relationships. Each episode is set in a pub immediately before Tom (Chris O’Dowd) and Louise (Rosamund Pike) have their weekly marital therapy session.