At the end of December, the New York Times published its most-read stories of 2016. In a year that saw the United States elect a new President and Britain elect to leave the European Union, you’d think the top-read story would be about politics. But it wasn’t.
The top-read story was titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” by well-known British philosopher Alain de Botton.
Botton’s article, which made the case that we misunderstand what love is by putting unrealistic expectations on our marriage partners, was by far the most read story of the year. It seems we care infinitely more about our romantic lives than about what Donald Trump is up to.
We also care infinitely when we lack a romantic life, a situation De Botton sees as equally misunderstood. He explained his idea of singlehood in an interview with Krista Tippett for her show, On Being:
MS. TIPPETT: You know, I debated over whether I would discuss this with you, but I think I will. I’m single right now and have been for a few years, and it’s actually been a great joy. Not that I think I will be single forever or want to be single forever. Although, actually, I think I would be alright if I were, which is a real watershed. And also what this part of — this chapter of life has taught me to really enjoy more deeply and take more seriously are all the many forms of love in life aside from just romantic love or being coupled. Do people talk to you about that?
MR. DE BOTTON: Well, it’s funny because just as you were saying, “I’m single,” I was about to say, “You’re not.” Because we have to look at what this idea of singlehood is. We’ve got this word “single” which captures somebody who’s not got a long-term relationship.
MS. TIPPETT: But I have so much love in my life.
MR. DE BOTTON: That’s right. And another way of looking at love is connection. We’re all the time, we are hardwired to seek connections with others. And that is, in a sense, at a kind of granular level, what love is. Love is connection. And we can connect in all sorts of ways that go far beyond the understanding of a relationship. So you can connect with a book, with a long-dead person, with an idea. These are all forms of connection. And insofar as one is alive and one is in buoyant, relatively buoyant spirit some of the time, it’s because we are connected. And we can take pride in how flexible our minds ultimately are about where that connection is coming from. We don’t necessarily need a relationship.
The full interview with De Botton serves as a wonderful antidote to our modern notion of what Valentine’s Day means.