Alain de Botton: The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships
Mr. de Botton: That’s right. And almost from the first date. My view of what one should talk about on a first date is not showing off and not putting forward one’s accomplishments, but almost quite the opposite. One should say, “Well, how are you crazy? I’m crazy like this.” There should be a mutual acceptance that two damaged people are trying to get together because pretty much all of us — there are a few totally healthy people — but pretty much all of us reach dating age with some scars, some wounds.
And sometimes, we bring to adult relationships some of the same hope that a young child might’ve had of their parent. And of course, an adult relationship can’t be like that. It’s got to accept that the person across the table or on the other side of the bed is just human, which means full of flaws, fears, etc., and not some sort of superhuman.
This is how little children behave. They literally think that their parents can read their minds. It takes a long time to realize that the only way that one person can really learn about another is if it’s explained to them, preferably using words, quite calm ones…
And if a child says — if you walk home, and a child says, “I hate you,” you immediately go, OK, that’s not quite true. Probably they’re tired, they’re hungry, something’s gone wrong, their tooth hurts, something. We’re looking around for a benevolent interpretation that can just shave off some of the more depressing, dispiriting aspects of their behavior. And we do this naturally with children, and yet we do it so seldom with adults.
Ms. Tippett: This right person, this creature does not exist.
Mr. de Botton: And is, in fact, the enemy of good enough relationships. I’m really fond of Donald Winnicott, this English psychoanalyst’s term, which he first used in relation to parenting, that what we should be aiming for is not perfection but a “good enough” situation. And it’s wonderfully downbeat. No one would go, “What are your hopes this year?” “Well, I just want to have a good enough relationship.” People would go, “I’m sorry your life is so grim.” But you want to go, “No, that’s really good. That’s kind of — for a human, that’s brilliant.” And that’s, I think, the attitude we should have.
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