Book Summary: Relationships

Title: Relationships
Author: Alain De Botton
Genre: Relationships
Release Date: 2016


Why did you choose to read this particular book?

What peaks your interest? What is the book about? What does it promise to deliver?

My attention was drawn to the chapter headings in this particular one. I was aware that it was a notable shift from either a leftist, liberal, or woke interpretation of relationships or a patriarchal perspective of relationships.

Summary of book

This book covers relationships from different aspects. The idea of romantic relationships only came about after the 1800’s, prior to that marriage was not limited to finding the perfect match, in looks, personality, humour and world view and committing to them for eternity.

Ch 1. Post-Romanticism

Our romantic relationships take place against the backdrop of a culture that imparts a potent understanding of what constitutes “normal” behaviour in romantic relationships; it subtly guides us as to where we should place our emotional emphasis; it teaches us what to value; how to approach conflicts; what to get excited about; when to tolerate; and what we have a right to be legitimately incensed by. We are carried along by the currents of love’s history, which at times might leave us feeling fairly helpless.

Ch 2. Object Choice

However, there is another school of thought that contradicts the assumption that instinct constantly pulls us to individuals who will make us happy. This school of thought is informed by psychoanalysis, and it argues that instinct does not always drive us to those who will make us happy. According to this view, we do not first and foremost fall in love with the people who care for us in ways that are ideal; rather, we fall in love with the people who care for us in ways that are familiar to us. Adult love develops from a model of how we should be loved that was established throughout infancy. This model is likely to be interwoven with a variety of problematic compulsions that work against our chances of maturing in significant ways.

Ch 3. Transference

When two people are involved in a committed partnership, there are bound to be times when one of them seems to “overreact” to a given circumstance.  These responses do not appear to be in any way congruent with what is taking place right now. It appears that our behaviour does not correspond to what is taking place in front of us.

The idea of transference gives us a new perspective on some of the most irritating behaviours that we may ever have to deal with in a romantic or romantically-oriented relationship, and it enables us to feel sympathy and empathy in situations in which we may have previously simply felt annoyance. If we can’t always be completely rational in the connections we have, the most considerate thing we can do for the people who care about us is to give them some maps that attempt to chart and lead them through the more unsettling parts of our inner world.

In the third and last exercise involving transference, we are asked to utter the very first thing that comes to mind when we are asked to finish certain sentences. For example: Men in positions of power are typically… In almost all cases, young women are… What is certain to take place when I have been promoted is… If someone is late, then there must be a reason why… When I hear someone being classified as “highly intellectual,” I picture that person having a high level of education.

Ch 4. The Problems of Closeness

If we want to be able to cope a little bit better with the very typical (and challenging) responses to closeness, we need to begin by looking at ourselves with a level head and an honest attitude. What do we often do when we require the assistance of another person but are unable to get in touch with them? Do we run away, launch an assault, or – something that hardly ever happens — articulate our needs in a manner that betrays no sign of fear? The hopeful move is that when we are in a more relaxed state, we can learn to recognise the normal defensive manoeuvres used by both ourselves and our partners.

Ch 5. The Weakness of Strength

The shortcomings of our partners can sometimes irritate us to a very high degree. Because of their abilities and qualities, we became close to them; nevertheless, after a certain amount of time, it is possible that the less appealing aspects of their personalities will come to dominate our perception of them. When we consider their shortcomings, we can’t help but ponder the question of why they are the way they are. What’s the holdup? Why are you not dependable? How is it that they are so terrible at either explaining things or sharing anecdotes? Why is it that they can’t look unpleasant news in the face? Even worse, we have the impression that they are capable of altering their behaviour – if only they genuinely desired to, if only they weren’t so cruel…

Ch 6. Partner-As-Child

Small children will sometimes act in ways that are very unreasonable and shocking, such as screaming at the person who is watching over them, violently pushing away a bowl of pasta, or throwing something away that you have just retrieved for them. However, we rarely find ourselves feeling personally disturbed or hurt by the behaviour of others. The reason for this is that we do not typically attribute a malicious intent or a negative motive to a person of a lower stature. We make an effort to find the most sympathetic explanation possible. We don’t believe that they are acting this way on purpose in order to aggravate us. We are probably thinking that they are feeling a little bit fatigued, that their gums are painful, or that they are sad because a younger sister has just been born. We have a vast stockpile of potential alternative answers ready and waiting in our thoughts, and none of these are causing us to freak out or get very worked up.

Ch 7. Loving and Being Loved

We talk about “love” as if it were a singular, indivisible concept, but in reality, it consists of two very distinct states: being loved and loving others. To develop better at relationships, you need to make it a part of your life to become a bit more open to the latter and a little more conscious of the artificial and potentially harmful obsession we have on the former.

Ch 8. The Dignity of Ironing

When intelligent and sensitive people, who are also guided by Romanticism, come together in relationships, they tend to be agreed on an implicit hierarchy of what is and is not important for the success and endurance of their love. This is because Romanticism encourages people to focus on the romantic aspects of their relationship. They tend to have a heightened awareness of the significance of spending time together (maybe in museums or by the sea), engaging in sexual activity that satisfies, accumulating a group of fascinating friends, and reading works of literature that provoke thought. On the other hand, it is quite unlikely that they will give much thought to the matter of who will do the ironing.

In the world of art, it is a commonly held belief that the smallest things, or details, may pack the most emotional and intellectual punch. Even seemingly insignificant aspects of day-to-day life can be quite significant. The comparison may at first sound extremely strange, yet objects of domestic agitation are remarkably similar to works of art in that they condense complex meaning into tightly packed symbolic details. This is something that distinguishes one from the other.

Ch 9. Teaching and Learning

There is never a time when either giving or receiving instruction should make us feel humiliated. Love ought to be a nurturing endeavour made by two individuals to attain their full potential; it should never merely be a furnace in which to look for endorsement for all of one’s existing flaws.

Ch 10. Pessimism

A peculiarity of the human mind that has a significant impact on our lives, despite the fact that we don’t give it a lot of thought very often, is that we are profoundly shaped by our own expectations. We go through the world carrying mental pictures of how things are intended to go. 

Ch 11. Blame and Love

At its core, irrational blame is nothing more than a symptom of having a significant amount of emotional investment in another person. We resort to violence because our lover has become intricately entwined with our darkest desires and our greatest fears. They are able to pull us into very intimate areas of turmoil and sorrow because we are so very close to them. These areas are off limits to absolutely everyone else. One of the strangest, most tragic, and yet (when viewed from a very calm viewpoint), somewhat flattering presents that love may give is something like this.

Ch 12. Politeness and Secrets

It is assigning too great a weight to all our feelings to let them always be the lodestars by which our lives must be guided. We are chaotic chemical propositions in dire need of basic principles to which we can adhere during our brief rational spells.

Ch 13. Explaining One’s Madness

It is giving all of our feelings too much importance if we allow them always be the lodestars by which our life must be steered. We are a collection of disordered chemical propositions that are in desperate need of fundamental rules to which we can adhere during the few moments that we are reasonable.

Ch 14. Artificial Conversations

It’s a good idea to set up conversations during dinner or some activity, and ask questions like: 

  • What aspect of the relationship do you feel is most deserving of praise, and what is it?
  • In what areas do you feel that you are particularly strong as a person?
  • With regard to which one of your weaknesses would you like others to be more forgiving?
  • What advice would you give your younger self if you could go back in time?

Another activity that we can perform with a partner is to finish these sentence stems regarding our thoughts towards one another. The goal of this activity is to finish them as quickly as possible without putting in too much effort to think about them. The conclusion that may be drawn from this is not, of course, definitive.

I resent…
I am puzzled by …
I am hurt by …
I regret …
I am afraid that …

Ch 15. Crushes

The mistake of having a crush is more subtle. It has to do with how easy it is to go from noticing a person’s good qualities to coming to a recklessly naive romantic conclusion: that the person across the train aisle or on the pavement is the answer to all of our emotional needs.

Ch 16. Sexual Non-Liberation

However flattering it may be to the current age, this narrative of enlightenment and development conveniently skirts an immovable fact: humans continue to feel enormously conflicted, embarrassed, ashamed, and strange about sex. The complexity of the topic of sex is only increased by the fact that it is commonly portrayed as being uncomplicated. Love and sex refuse to be compared in any straightforward manner.

Ch 17. The Loyalist and the Libertine

The sad reality is that there is no answer to the Libertine-Loyalist dilemma, if by “answer” you mean a cost-free solution in which no one loses and every good thing can coexist with every other good thing without causing or taking a lot of damage. There is wisdom on both sides, so each side has to lose something. In a way, there is only one answer, and it’s called the Melancholy Position because it faces the sad truth that there are no good answers to some of the most important problems people face.

Ch 18. Celibacy and Endings

With short-term love, so much can go right: When two people know they don’t own each other, they work hard every day to earn the other’s respect. Knowing that someone could leave us at any time makes us feel insecure, but it also makes us appreciate them more.

Ch 19. Classical vs Romantic

Both the Romantic and the Classical ways of thinking have important things to say. Neither is right or wrong all the way. They have to be equal. No one is ever just one thing or the other, though. But because a good relationship needs a good mix of both, at this point in history, we might need to pay the most attention to the claims and wisdom of the Classical approach. It is a way of living that is ready to be found again.

Ch 20. Better Love Stories

We don’t really notice it on a day-to-day basis, but the stories about love and relationships that our culture tells us through movies, songs, books, and ads have a big effect on how we think and feel. They give us a sense of what is normal and, by extension, what is troublingly out of the ordinary; they seed certain hopes and expectations and foster particular opportunities for disappointment, indignation or alarm.

What stood out for you

It offers a reality check on how true relationships operate in this modern culture that dominates us, as well as how our past is effecting the choices and behaviour we make today. Assists you in comprehending not only your own behaviour but also that of your partner. Very interesting book. Teenagers too need to be provided with this information. It will help them avoid making the same mistakes we did and develop emotional independence.

What you dislike

Sometimes difficult to understand what the author is conveying so having to read it a number of times. I think it’s due to the writing style at times.



Has the book met its objective?

I would say it’s a very conceptual book that one can get lost in and some theories are difficult to digest.

What would you change

Cater to the novice by summarising what you essentially mean by the chapter.

What type of reader would enjoy this book

If you’ve read other books on relationships, this one is also worth considering.

Would you recommend this book

Yes I would recommend it to anyone who wants an insight in to another reality of relationships.

Final Verdict:

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