0025 – Romantics Make The Worst Lovers

Two apples on my kitchen table, Oslo July 2023

Sometimes it’s better to start from nothing and see where it goes than to reach for something. It’s kind of having a vision of what things should be (always be wary of ‘shoulds’) and then being dogmatic about rejecting anything that doesn’t fit the mold. Note the fundamentalism creeping through again.

This year has been a year of shaking the tree to really see what is left. I have a lot of mixed thoughts about this so let’s just write and see where it goes.

The problem with Romantics is that ‘good things’ or ‘things that are right for us’ may not fit into preconceived conceptions. It may not come in the way we expect. The problem with Romantics is that they can be in love with the idea of Love more than they are able to be in love.

Alain de Botton talks about the dangers of romantic thinking in that it bases one’s happiness on the finding your life partner. It’s possible to build up this beatific image of them and as time marches on and we see them for all their flaws and imperfections we are confused and turned off. They were not the person we signed up for (this is not my beautiful wife, this is not my beautiful house) but that person we ‘signed up for’ existed only in our own imaginations. 

There’s a real danger in building castles in the sky. I mean you need to in order to imagine certain futures, to have hope and idealism but there’s no need to rush into it. M tells me that it takes four seasons to know someone. Coming from Malaysia (and still forgetting I live in Europe) I don’t really think I got what she meant but now I do. You need to see someone in different situations for a long amount of time. It is an art of not knowing, while being a romantic is a feeling of knowing even with very little information. “The feeling is right” -> therefore, it must be right.

I think there’s value in being romantic: to see people (and oneself) in the best possible light, to see all their potentialities unfold and to honor and cherish people in a divine way. To take things very seriously, to take things to heart. Ultimately, you need both in the sense that poems won’t wash the toilets and roses won’t do the taxes but if it’s all toilet washing and taxes, where’s the art, where’s the transcendence. 

I admire couples who are able to keep the flame after so many years of living together. It takes a great amount of patience, effort and imagination to keep life interesting. It’s kind of like running a never ending imrpov show. Yes, you need chemistry to have fun but you need serious amounts of effort to keep your ego in check, to be strong when you need to be, to be weak in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person and to keep thinking of things to do in a positive way. 

I can see many people dropping the ball and retreating into their own spheres. The existence of the other person is a given and they move in a choreographed dance. I think we need the threat of extinction to truly live. Maybe it’s a bit stressful but I think it’s important. In the same way that we need to remember that we could die any time, I think it’s incredibly important to realize that our partner could leave us at anytime. Sure, they have all their names on the papers, the bank accounts are linked, you are bonded bureaucratically but I’ve seen people check out of relationships mentally – that is so much worse. The coldness from a person when there used to be warmth, that is a killer. 

De Botton also talks about Romanticism developing with the rise of secularism. We see our partner as an angel, we see ourselves as removed from the original sin – which is all well and good, especially if one is reaching for what I described above as the divine moments but he makes a point that to see everyone as ‘perfect’ is a dangerous backdrop to start a romantic relation.

He says that it is much more helpful to see the other person (and ourselves) as deeply crazy. I like that. If we’re able to continue loving someone who is irrational in ways that don’t make sense to us, who is carrying past confusions that may manifest in surprising ways or need time to work out, I think that’s a much saner and fairer way to approach things.

I think of job applications sometimes and when companies trumpet their culture, benefits and such. I need to know how the company is messed up. This is not to say that this is a dealbreaker, but rather are they aware of what the internal problems are and what are they doing to mitigate it. 

The same goes for people, I think. De Botton says that maybe the most romantic thing someone can do when meeting someone new is to present them with a thick book detailing all the ways that they are crazy. Here: this is the knowledge I have of myself and all my ongoing problems. You are welcome to read and ask me about any of it and I’m happy to take any and all questions. 

(Maybe I’m inadvertently creating that very thing with this blog)

It takes effort and time to even get to that point. I think a list of my own flaws would go something like this:

  • Overly romantic (learned to tone this down over time while retaining the good parts) 
  • Self-righteous (especially when it comes to personal value system) 
  • Oftentimes forgetful of the small things (very focused on the big things: see Romanticism) 
  • Unempathetic (in certain situations)
  • Indecisive (think a bit too much before jumping)

I have some more ideas but I need to watch the video a few more times first:

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