Two weeks ago, as I was reading How to Think About Sex, I posted: Mayhap Alain de Botton is on to something here—to replace the usual vows and platitudes with something more cautionary, downbeat, pragmatic: “I promise to be disappointed by you and you alone. I promise to make you the sole repository of my regrets, rather than to distribute them widely through multiple affairs and a life of sexual Don Juanism. I have surveyed the different options for unhappiness, and it is you I have chosen to commit to.” And so, for example, upon the discovery of infidelity, the betrayed could more poignantly and justly cry: “I was relying on you to be loyal to the specific variety of disappointment that I represent.”
It’s almost charming, that cynicism. It’s partly why I go to de Botton—how his examination of minutiae leads to glib truths, if not good ol’ pragmatism. Oh, and the prose: de Botton can articulate the most mundane things and have them aspire to profundity. Love, for example. And this time, sex. [This is de Botton on eroticism, the stasis of our daily lives, and rediscovery aided by “a pair of towelling bathrobes, a complimentary fruit basket, and a view out of a window onto an unfamiliar harbour”: “The furniture insists that we can’t change because it never does. Hence the metaphysical importance of hotels.”] [And this is de Botton on yet another glorious triviality of sexual relationships: “Beneath the kiss itself, it is its meaning that interests us—which is why the desire to kiss someone can be decisively reduced (as it may need be, for instance, when two lovers are already married to other people) by a declaration of that desire—a confession which may in itself be so erotic as to render the actual kiss superfluous.”]
It’s definitely nothing new. De Botton himself has waxed lyrical about relationships, their many rituals, and near-silly symbolisms. He’s done it at least three times, and I suspect that this slim volume is just an elaboration, some leftover notes from past releases, or an amendment to allow for recent discoveries in whatever field he cites. Or, maybe, it’s simply a pet preoccupation, and he can’t help but return to it time and again. I don’t know, and I don’t care. The prose is lovely, it lends me words for feelings and scenes I can’t be bothered to dissect with the same keenness he does. Oddly enough, I wish this wasn’t part of a series [I have another that’s called, How to Stay Sane]—that could have allowed de Botton more freedom to elaborate. I’d have more of those words, never mind if they’ve been saying much of the same things that’s been already said in other places, in less impressive ways.