Could there be a more appropriate month for a review of this wonderful little collection on conversations searching for the meaning of love? Of course there could, but for me it just happened to be this one. So here we are, a week after Valentines day, hopefully cleansed of the superficial and commercial onslaught that particular day brings, ready to really delve into our experiences of love and learn from others.
I know its cheesy to say I fell in love with this book, but its the truth and I will risk my reputation for it. After reading the final passages I made a list of all the young women in my life I wanted to gift it to, in the hope that it helps them navigate love and all its complexities with more confidence and understanding. There is no denying that love is electric but we have been miss-sold what it really means and how it should make us feel. Natasha Lunn’s book explores love, in its beautiful variations, with a number of people who have either spent a lifetime studying and working in the field of human behaviours or those whose personal experiences have left them with a deeper more nuanced understanding of love.
Throughout Conversations on Love Natasha weave in stories from her life: from falling in love with her husband to experiencing the loss of her child through a miscarriage. It was the idea of focusing on the love we don’t have rather than the love we do have, that drove her to write this book. The realisation that a marriage was the beginning of a story and not the end, as we have so often been told. The book is divided into three sections/questions: How do we find love? How do we sustain love? and how do we survive losing love. Each of these sections was insightful and full of wisdom.
The conversations start with philosopher and School of Life founder Alain de Bottom on the psychology of being alone. Alain explains that one of the best frames of mind to be in, for anything you want, is to be able to walk away from it. We have to review our understanding of being alone and have a deeper more truthful self-understanding of what underpins our happiness he reveals. The following conversations look at friendship and formative experiences and the key roles they play in how we approach and what we expect from love. There are interesting discussions as to why romantic love is pushed as the ultimate achievement over other forms of love, such as friend love, which the ancient Greeks called philia. Simon May, in his book Love, wrote “we learn about ourselves from a loved one not so much because of what he tells us, but rather by observing our own reflections in him” This view of friendship is also an Islamic concept, so it really resonated with me. The most consistent love I’ve had, outside of my family, has definitely been my girlfriends. Friendships, in my experience, are often the most honest relationships as we often feel safe sharing things we might censor from family and/or partners.
There were a number of Conversations in the book that highlighted the difficulties but importance of working on love, particularly in long term relationships and marriage. It was enlightening to read about the “unknowable corners” of the people we love and the reality that love needs constant work. Mira Jacob, author of the graphic memoir Good Talk, candidly shares her experience of sustaining intimacy through different life experiences, for her it was race, and a realisation that anyone who chooses to be with her would have to navigate this, and not expect her to produce the solutions.
Another favourite conversation was with sex educator Emily Nagoski as she dissects motivations and unstable connections. She explains why desire is “bullshit” and goes on to say “I think its partly to do with desire being an optimal state for capitalism. You have to keep wanting things so you can keep consuming… there’s a baseline sense that being constantly full of desire is the appropriate state to be in, which is bizarre, because isn’t desire just dissatisfaction for what we currently have? Why is that the goal?” Seeing how capitalism has impacted our understanding of relationships, from versions of love we are force-fed in popular culture, with romantic love and marriage being the main aim, particularly for women, to the hijacking of Valentines Day, which was originally for honouring the martyrdom of two men by the Catholic Church.
I won’t go through each of the conversations, although I have to admit I’m tempted to, but I will share Natasha’s conversation with Lucy Kalanithi, wife of the late Dr Paul Kalanithi and author of the book, When Breath Becomes Air. So much of it reminded me of my own relationship to love since losing my mother 12 years ago. Lucy speaks about losing her husband changed the way she parents her child and I related to this as my own loss has shaped so many of the decisions I make around my children, including my decision to homeschool. Lucy speaks of love and connection as being important goals and building resilience rather than just protecting them. It is these very reasons, and lots of research into children’s formative years and development, that I decided I wanted to keep my children out of formal education until at least 7, so we could create memories together. So that they weren’t bound to a timetable dictating their movements, they will have time for that in later life, I wanted them to have fun, adventures and time with their parents and their extended family. When you lose someone you love you realise that time is the only real luxury in life and because none of us knows how long we have, fill it with moments that really matter. I want my children to learn and flourish in whatever they chose to do, but more than that, I want them to understand that the material is not equal to the emotional and that they have value far beyond any of their achievements. The fact that my mother never got to meet my children in this life, makes me want to love them twice as much, because I know how much she would have adored them.
Each of the conversations end with the same question: What do you wish you’d known about love? And every answer is reflective and has some wisdom for its reader. There were definitely conversations I related to more than others, but then I bring my own experiences to this book, so I hope everyone who reads it will be able to find something based on their journey. I enjoyed reading it so much so that I’m now watching all the Ted talks by the contributors and making a further reading list based on some of the books mentioned within.
This is such a refreshing and hopeful book which delves deeply into one of the most important human emotions. It is well considered and thoughtfully constructed and I want everyone to read it. Love doesn’t have a singular narrative nor is it something to be gained. Our lives are enriched with many forms of love and this collection of conversations celebrates them all.
Conversations on Love By Natasha Lunn is published by Penguin Books.