You Know You’re Ready to Get Married When…

A few more quotes from Alain de Botton’s wonderful new book, The Course of Love, […]

David Zahl / 7.5.16

A few more quotes from Alain de Botton’s wonderful new book, The Course of Love, all taken from the penultimate chapter where he outlines what it might look like to be “Ready for Marriage”:

weddingPronouncing a lover “perfect” can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.

However, the problems aren’t theirs alone. Whomever we could meet would be radically imperfect: the stranger on the train, the old school acquaintance, the new friend online… Each of these, too, would be guaranteed to let us down. The facts of life have deformed all of our natures. No one among us has come through unscathed. We were all (necessarily) less than ideally parented: we fight rather than explain, we nag rather than teach, we fret instead of analyzing our worries, we lie and scatter blame where it doesn’t belong.

The chances of a perfect human emerging from the perilous gauntlet are nonexistent. We don’t have to know a stranger very well before knowing this about them. Their particular way of being maddening won’t be immediately apparent–it could take as long as a couple of years–but its existence can be theoretically assumed from the start…

It’s profoundly counterintuitive for us to think of ourselves as mad. We seem so normal and mostly so good–to ourselves. It’s everyone else who is out of step… and yet, maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun…

We speak of “love” as it if were a single, undifferentiated thing, but it comprises two very different modes: being loved and loving. We should marry when we are ready to do the latter and have become aware of our unnatural–and dangerous–fixation on the former.

We start out knowing only about “being loved”. It comes to seem, quite wrongly, the norm. To the child, it feels as if the parent were just spontaneously on hand to comfort, guide, entertain, feed, and clear up while remaining constantly warm and cheerful.

We take this idea of love with us into adulthood. Grown up, we hope for a re-creation of what it felt like to be ministered to and indulged. In a secret corner of our mind, we picture a lover who will anticipate our needs, read our hearts, act selflessly, and make everything better. It sounds “romantic”, yet it is a blueprint for disaster…

By the standards of most love stories, our own real relationships are almost all damaged and unsatisfactory. No wonder separation and divorce so often appear inevitable. But we should be careful not to judge our relationships by the expectations imposed on us by a frequently misleading aesthetic medium.

The fault lies with art, not life. Rather than split up, we may need to tell ourselves more accurate stories–stories that don’t dwell so much on the beginning, that don’t promise us complete understanding, that strive to normalize our troubles and show us a melancholy yet hopeful path through the course of love. (pgs 213-218)

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2 responses to “You Know You’re Ready to Get Married When…”

  1. India says:

    And yet how often do smug marrieds tell singles that you have to be your best self, even perfect, in order to find someone? Like they were suddenly perfect and got married. Seriously.

    • Timothy says:

      I don’t know the answer to your rhetorical question, but in my experience, I have never heard that said. Most “marrieds” have pretty much found out that de Botton is right when he writes that “Pronouncing a lover ‘perfect’ can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them.” The reality of marriage has its ways of knocking such silliness right out of a person. I hope you don’t hear it as often as you seem to believe, but now you have an answer for those who do because that quote is one of the most helpful I have ever found for dealing with soon to be married couples who have a fairy tale view of their soon to be spouse. I also hope that at least for those who read your comment it will make them think twice before they do.

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