What Is Love? // An 'Essays In Love' Existential Crisis


“We are all more intelligent than we are capable, and awareness of the insanity of love has never saved anyone from the disease.”

I began 2016 with an existential crisis. What is love? Why do humans have such a need to be in a relationship with another? Why are we unable to exist as one single being, without being committed to another, for the entirety of our lives? Why does the majority of the love I see, especially amongst young people, end in such destruction? Why are people attracted to people that hurt them? Why are people destroyed by the breakdown of a relationship when they have been by themselves before? Is there any point? 

So I did what any literature student and avid reader would do: I bought a book. Might I add, against the advice of my flatmate who told me concerning relationships, "Don't analyse them." and, "The best relationships are always flowing.". 'Flowing' added to my existential crisis at the time. The word suggests continuity, steadiness and most of all ease. If there is one thing I do not associate with relationships it is certainly ease. This is not a romanticisation. Difficulties arise. People argue. Love is not a trickling stream. 

Youth had a lot to do with my existential crisis. I have many single friends and also many friends in committed relationships. I'm only 20 years old, fiercely independent and hadn't really thought about dating seriously until suddenly it's now something that everyone does at my age. People around me weren't looking just for sex or fun, but for genuine commitment, love even, but did any of them actually know what exactly that meant to them? 

So I set out to define it myself. I read Alain De Botton's Essays in Love. The book is a hybrid of the novel and essay forms, interweaving narrative with a philosophical analysis of love. In addition to this, the narrator uses diagrams and quotations from Plato, Marx and Kant, amongst others, to illustrate his points. The reader follows the narrator and his love interest, Chloe, through their relationship. They experience the Heaven and Pandemonium of love as he does. 

What I feared most was that the novel would be cliche. I absolutely detest the cliches of love and it would take a miracle to have me sit down to watch a Hollywood romance movie. However, Botton is self-aware of these cliches. In fact, he uses them to his advantage in order to analyse matters of the heart. The couple meet on a plane between Paris and London; their ending predictable. The subject matter is universal, relatable. Botton understands the cliches and interrogates them, rather than accepting them. The work is witty, intellectual and engaging. It treats its topic both mockingly and seriously. 

So what does it actually say about love? There's a section detailing when to say 'I love you' in a relationship, dealing with the fact the the term has become somewhat hollow, insincere. The narrator also discusses the viewing of a new lover less highly once they have returned your love. He also writes a chapter titled 'Romantic Terrorism' in which he describes the human tendency to become increasingly destructive and unfair as things begin to go wrong. Ultimately, it speaks of contradictory human behavior and despite the course of the novel, the ending is optimistic. However, I'm not sure it helped me define the term any more than it helped me understand it. Nonetheless, it was an an interesting read. 

I think my existential crisis is now over, despite the fact I came to few conclusions.. I'll figure it out somewhere along the way. Whether it be a trickling stream or whitewater rapids, I'm just going with the flow.         

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