Alain de Botton is one of my top five favourite authors. He is a philosopher whose work centers around emotional intelligence, applying philosophy to such contemporary topics as love, childhood, trauma, social anxiety etc. His book "The School of Life" is an incredibly insightful bible of emotional intelligence.  His YouTube channel by the same name is the source of majority of media content I have ever shared with family and friends.

"The Course of Love" is a novel that integrates several teachings of The School of Life into a well crafted love story.  It is not your usual "boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after" pieces - Alain de Botton's teachings are generally wary of the prevalent dictates of romantic love and generally more keen on the practical matters, in what he terms classical love. He narrates way beyond the heady exciting moments in the early days of infatuation, into the nitty-gritty, the seemingly trivial, yet crucial elements that invariably show up and are only underlooked at the peril of a relationship. Through a deconstruction of the couple's romantic relationship, applying insightful philosophical analysis at each stage of it, this piece provides insights into some of the feelings that you might have had but didn't know why. Insight into your nature and the nature of others, and of relationships.

A few memorable takeaways were:


  • Love is a skill to be learnt rather than an enthusiasm or attraction. Compatibility is an achievement of love and shouldn’t rather be a precondition. 

  • The only people we might think are perfect are those we don’t know very well. Every potential partner has invariably the potential to let us down in different ways. Every partner we can come across, just like ourselves, is mad(dening) in their own way. Of course they are - we all have had less than ideal parenting. It is hence a good idea to have had some intimate partners before getting married, to be able to appreciate more this fact that no partner can be perfect. Only good enough. 

“The romantic ideas (of the perfect soulmate) are a recipe for disaster.” 
  • We will face the challenge in marriage, and eventually have to choose, between  erotic adventure and security, however romantic our ideals may be. 

“Adventure and security are irreconcilable...a loving marriage and children, kill erotic spontaneity.” 
  • Love is a dividend of gratitude for our lovers' insight into our own confused and troubled psyche. It reaches a pitch at those moments when our beloved turns out to understand, more clearly than others have ever been able to, the chaotic, embarrassing and shameful parts of us. 

  • Sexiness might at first appear to be a merely physiological phenomenon, the result of awakened hormones and stimulated nerve endings. However, in truth, it is not so much about sensations as it is about ideas. Foremost among them, the idea of acceptance and the promise of an end to loneliness and shame. 


  • Arguments over little silly things like doing the dishes, the color of the blinds, which glass set to buy, how to arrange the cutlery etc.   often cause immense turmoil - despite both parties finding them stupid to fight over-  when and because there is an underlying issue much deeper issue than the one currently being argued over, that needs to be addressed.

  • We need to be able to be vulnerable enough to tell our partner when we are hurt, otherwise improperly nurtured hurt tends to come out as aggressiveness or defensiveness or fuel others unwanted patterns of behavior. 

  • We can harbor a disguised resentment for our partners when they treat us better than we know we deserve, especially when we have faltered. This can come in the form of lashing out against them though, clearly, through no fault of their own.

  • A good therapy session doesn’t aim to make any party feel right or wrong but to  ensure that each side hears sympathetically what the other has to say. It provides an environment  where each person's feelings are heard without the other interrupting or storming out. It also adds a cushion that they can think about before any troublesome actions: “what would the therapist say”. 


  • The appeal for someone other than one's partner a relationship is often fueled not by a lack of love or respect for them, but by the desire for a sexual connection that is not at the same time tied to everything else that they have with their partner. Not tied to the person - and resulting self-consciousness, but to the pleasure - a separation which gets harder to do with our partner as we grow fonder to and more engaged in each other’s lives. 

  • At some points in a relationship when we get too used to and maybe bored by the other, and we get tempted, rather than seek activity elsewhere, we need to look in at our relationship with less habituated eyes as we might have done in the beginning. 


  • We all have remnants of our childhood tendencies and weaknesses in our adult selves, and would be much more compassionate and better off with our partners if we did them the favour of remembering this about them too. 

“It is a wonderful thing to live in a world where so many people are nice to children. It would be even better if we lived in one where we were a little nicer to the child-like sides of one another.”
  • While instructing children, we must defend the child’s interests and be the bearer of difficult messages gently. We must not impose conclusions through force or use psychological weapons on them like reminding them "because I’m your mother", or "because I’m older than you". 

  • We should remember that the manner and kind of love we show to our children and the way they see us treat our partners, will affect much of how they in turn come to love and want to be loved in their adult years. 

  • The advent of a child can change the shape of love from romantic to a much deeper sense of a shared responsibility and selfless commitment to something other than each individual in a couple or each other. 

As he mentions a good book should leave us wondering how the author knows us so well. This book definitely does that.  I would highly recommended for every young couple.