“Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.”
– Elvis Presley
Man is a singular creature. In the construct of his mind he can forge versions of reality that do not correlate with objective experience. He finds ways to interpret, rationalize, justify. He reads factual events with imposed nuance and meaning. It’s tragic. And yet Alain de Botton successfully conveys the humor of it all in his charming novel, On Love.
Delving into a Freudian abyss and ruminating in a way that would rival Nietzsche, the protagonist embarks on a love affair doomed from the start. Amidst the throes of his initial infatuation with Chloe, the narrator determines to be the man she wants. To his dismay (and the reader’s great amusement), she is not forthcoming with her desires and he feverishly considers how to “abandon [his] true self” in an effort to be a false, more pleasing version for his beloved (28).
Our desperate lover knows that “we are all more intelligent than we are capable [because of] the inability to act on the knowledge of what one knows is right” ( 191). Comically, he is an iteration of this exact conundrum from the moment he falls in love until the relationship unravels completely. Rather than accept and confront, he obfuscates and denies; apparently satisfied knowing that “[d]elusions 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” (91). He is ultimately hurt though, because he cannot attend to circumstances and act. Instead, he fuels his passion with whimsical illusions, simultaneously admitting “we base our fall into love on insufficient material and supplement our ignorance with desire” (51). And when it doesn’t work out, he gets “sulky”.
The petulance is instructive though, for “we cannot come to a proper sense of ourselves if there aren’t others around to show us what we’re like” (100). The protagonist consequently concludes that he is immature because quintessential maturity is “the ability to give everyone what they deserve when they deserve it, to separate the emotions that belong to, and should be restricted to, oneself from those that should be expressed to their initiators, rather than passed on to later and more innocent arrivals” (117). He certainly does not do this. On the contrary, he harbors past hurts and “stores them for later and more painful detonation” (147). The victim? His beloved Chloe. Meanwhile the narrator cheekily points out that “we perhaps only ever fall in love without knowing quite whom we have fallen in love with” (17). The irony of his assumed new self is not lost on this clever bloke.
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