Favorites from Alain de Botton’s “On Love”


[…small details, perhaps, but were these not grounds enough on which believers could found a new religion?]

“We attributed to events a narrative logic they could not inherently have possessed[…] Because love had come true for us, we could overlook the countless stories that fail to occur, romances that never get written because someone misses the plane or loses the phone number.”

“Desire had turned me into a relentless hunter for clues, a romantic paranoiac, reading meaning into everything.”

“The most attractive are not those who allow us to kiss them at once (we soon feel ungrateful), or those who never allow us to kiss them at one (we soon forget them), but those who know how to carefully administer varied doses of hope and despair.”

“It is one of the ironies of love that it is easiest confidently to seduce those we are least attracted to.”

“Silence and clumsiness could, of course, be taken as rather pitiful proof of desire. It being easy enough to seduce someone toward whom one feels indifferent, the clumsiest seducers could generously be deemed the most genuine.”

“We charm by coincidence rather than design.”

“Is the mind not offensive precisely because it symbolizes a refusal of this insanity, keeping one’s head while others are losing their breath?”

“I had counted more on loving than being loved. And if I had concentrated largely on the former dynamic, it was perhaps because being loved is always the more complicated of the two emotions, Cupid’s arrow greatly easier to send than receive.”

“Unrequited love may be painful, but it is safely painful, because it does not involve inflicting damage on anyone but oneself, a private pain that is as bittersweet as it is self-induced. But as soon as love is reciprocated, one must be prepared to give up the passivity of simply being hurt to take on the responsibility of perpetrating hurt oneself.”

“I care about you, therefore I will upset you; I have honored you with a vision of how you should be, therefore I will hurt you.”

“Humor lined the walls of irritation between our ideals and the reality: behind each joke there was a warning of difference, of disappointment even, but it was a difference that had been defused — and could therefore be passed over without the need for a pogrom.”

“There is a tyranny about perfection, a certain tedium even, something that asserts itself with all the dogmatism of a scientific formula. The more tempting kind of beauty has only a few angles from which it may be glimpsed, and then not in all lights and all times. It flirts dangerously with ugliness, it takes risks with itself; it does not side comfortably with mathematical rules of proportion, it draws its appeal from precisely those details that also lend themselves to ugliness. As Proust once said, classically beautiful women should be left to men without imagination.”

“‘One can talk problems into existence’, she had once said, and just as problems could come from words, so could good things be destroyed by them.”

“Does this love-stuffed person actually exist or are you just imagining them?”

“Delusions are not harmful in themselves; they only hurt when one is alone in believing in them, when one cannot create an environment in which they can be sustained.”

“It takes the intimacy of a lover to point out facets of characters that others simply don’t bother with.”

“Happiness with other people seems bounded by two kinds of excess: suffocation and loneliness.”

“I was responsible for the greatest but most unavoidable abbreviation of all, that of being able to participate in Chloe’s life only as an outsider; she was someone whose inner world I could imagine, but never directly experience.”

“…in resolving our need to love, we do not always succeed in resolving our need to long.”

“…I found myself falling victim to romantic nostalgia, which descends whenever we are faced with those who might have been our lovers, but whom chance has decreed we will never properly know. The possibility of an alternative love story is a reminder that the life we are leading is only one of a myriad of possible lives, and it is the possibility of leading them all that plunges us into sadness. There is a longing for a return to a time without the need for choices, free of the regret at the inevitable loss that all choice (however wonderful) has entailed.”

“The unknown carries with it a mirror of all our deepest, most inexpressible wishes. The unknown is the fatal proposition that a face seen across the room will always hold out to the known.”

“A face seen for a few moments or hours, only to then disappear forever, is the necessary catalyst for dreams that cannot be formulated, a desire that seems as undefinable as it is unquenchable.”

“My dislike of talking about ex-lovers with Chloe stemmed from a feat of inconstancy. Ex-lovers were reminders that situations I had at one point thought to be permanent had proved not to be so. From within a relationship, there is an infinite cruelty in the idea of one’s indifference toward past loves.”

“The inability to live in the present lies in the fear of leaving the sheltered position of anticipation or memory, and so of admitting that this is the only life that one is ever likely (heavenly intervention aside) to live.”

“The anxiety of loving Chloe was in part the anxiety of being in a position where the cause of my happiness might so easily vanish, where she might suddenly lose interest, die, or marry another. At the height of love, there hence appeared a temptation to end the relationship prematurely, so that either Chloe or I could play at being the instigator of the end, rather than see the other partner, or habit, or familiarity end things.”

“We were sometimes seized by an urge (manifested in our arguments about nothing) to kill our love affair before it had reached its natural end, a murder committed not out of hatred, but out of an excess of love — or rather, out of the fear that an excess of love may bring.”

“Hate is the hidden script in the letter of love; its foundations are shared with its opposite… It is as if the end of love is already contained in its beginning, the ingredients of love’s collapse eerily foreshadowed by those of its creation.”

“There is an Arabic saying that the soul travels at the pace of a camel. While most of our self is led by the strict demands of timetables and diaries, our soul, the seat of the heart, trails nostalgically behind, burdened by the weight of memory. If every love affair adds a certain weight to the camel’s load, then we can expect the soul to slow according to the significance of love’s burden. By the time it was finally able to shrug off the crushing weight of her memory, Chloe had nearly killed my camel.”


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