Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the U.S. release of Why Do Fools Fall in Love, British psychoanalyst Anouchka Grose’s provocative study of that most maddeningly dynamic state of human relationships—romance.
Drawing from cultural icons high and low, from Freud to Carrie Bradshaw, Grose explores what compels us to love, leave and love again, offering practical advice for negotiating the ins and outs of intimate relationships alongside hilarious, insightful readings of Western classics on love.
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You note that a very large percentage of the world’s love stories end badly. Why do you think that is?
I suppose because getting intimately involved with another person is going to be a really, really difficult thing. You’re going to run into obstacles or disappointments or differences. It’s just totally inevitable that you’re not going to be able to merge totally, so the fact that some people manage to get together and be relatively all right with each other for years and years seems the most unlikely thing.
Most people have a few false starts before they try and do that. Statistics show like half of marriages break up, but think about all the relations that don’t result in marriage. I don’t know what percentage of relationships break up, but it must be about 90 percent.
Your work was well received in the UK. How do you think it will translate for the U.S. audience?
I just don’t know. I came to New York last year, and I was so struck by the fact that people were much more talkative that when I went out to parties and didn’t know anybody, by the end of the evening I’d talked to millions of people, and it really isn’t like that in London. I came away with this probably totally warped idea that Americans are brilliantly communicative. I don’t know why, but maybe because there’s so much post-war psychoanalysis, it’s much more in the culture that people speak about things.
You call this a “realist’s” guide to romance then conclude by saying realism has no place in romance and that love always ends. That’s a pretty fatalistic view!
Well, love may end with two people still being in love when they’re 95 and one of them dies painlessly of old age. It could end nicely. The thing about realism is that if people think that there’s a way to be sensible and that will make everything all right, then that seems like such a horrible trick to play because why should anyone be sensible given that half the pleasure of love is kind of tumultuous, with feelings in excess and something a bit absolutely outside the run of daily life—something shocking that really interrupts things. And so those people who think “Oh, it would be much better—because love’s so painful—if only I could just be realistic, if I could just approach it sensibly…” blah, blah, blah, then that could just be the death of the whole lot.
So your subtitle’s ironic?
Yeah, and the title’s ironic as well because obviously love songs are the best thing ever, the most brilliant way of articulating feelings. I had wanted to call this Love: Why Bother? But I think that was even worse.
Do you think achieving a healthy, loving relationship is simply a matter of managing one’s expectations?
Yeah, probably. And also managing one’s impulses—managing your expectations of the other person, but also the way you deal with yourself.
What is the most important lesson you hope readers take from this?
Never to have rigid ideas about what love can be. Rather than a destination, love has to be a process, and if it’s a process then it’s always open to change.
Why Do Fools Fall in Love: A Realist’s Guide to Romance
Tin House / January / 9781935639008 / $15.95 paperback original
Anouchka Grose’s Top 10 Books on Romance
“Romantic love is all about obsessing over details. Proust is the master.”
“It’s all so sexy and impossible.”
On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XX (1972-1973)
“At first glance it looks like he’s saying that love is for stupid people, but then he turns it around. Just because love doesn’t make sense, that’s no reason not to keep trying.”
“Much more about sex than love, it shows how lonely you can be when you’re caught up in a passionate affair.”
The Red and the Black
“Julien Sorel behaves like an idiot at every turn, but it’s hard not to feel for him. Possibly one of the most confused romantic heroes in literature.”
“It’s just lovely, funny and superintelligent.”
“No one lives happily ever after. Everyone loses out somehow—even the ones who get what they want.”
A Lover’s Discourse
“His description of waiting for the phone to ring is the best, even if it’s technologically outdated. We can now leave the house when we are obsessively waiting because we have mobiles. Still, it doesn’t help.”
Everything and Nothing
“A terrifying book about marriage that initially reminded me why I hated it so much. But by the end, I was totally convinced that commitment could be the most exciting and radical thing.”
“One of the first books I read about love and sex, when I was about 12. Not much happened but it was all quite eye-opening at the time. The only scene that’s stuck was a children’s birthday party where the heroine has forgotten to finish putting on her eye makeup. And the hero saw her like that! Imagine how embarrassed she was when she realized…”