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Love is harder than work

I don’t know if you are aware of the work of Alain de Botton; he’s the go-to populist philosopher when television wants an egg-head, who looks almost normal, to comment on the deep concepts and ideas de nos jours.

Anyway, he has written a novel snappily titled ‘The Course of Love at The School of Life’. In it he says that if you are in a relationship and on Monday morning you breathe a sigh of relief that you are going into work and getting a break from your partner, you are not alone.

De Boton believes that, as a culture, we are highly attuned to what is beautiful and moving about love; we know its high points and celebrate its ecstasies in films and songs. By comparison, work is the dull, tedious bit – the thing we have to do to pay the bills. And yet what’s striking is how often work, despite its lack of glamour, in fact turns out to be the easier, more enjoyable and ultimately more humane part of life. There are a number of reasons for this.

1. You have to be professional

 

“At home everyone feels a duty to be an utterly frank, uncensored correspondent of their every inner mood and qualms.”

Work demands that all who walk through the office door must behave “professionally”. What behaving professionally essentially means is that when you are in situations where deep inside you’re tempted to explode, insult, curse and weep, you actually have to handle yourself with stoic calm and reserve.

At work, you can’t really be yourself and nor can others around you – which could sound a little fake and therefore inauthentic. But this lack of honesty may in fact be an extremely welcome development compared to a home life where everyone feels a duty to be an utterly frank, uncensored correspondent of their every inner mood and qualms.

2. You get trained

The assumption of most jobs is that people who start don’t have much clue about what’s going on. You’re not expected to know the machinery or the protocol by intuition alone. Therefore, you’re sent on training programmes and given extensive manuals to read. It might be two years before you’re supposed to understand very much at all.

There is no such luxury for lovers, who are meant to “get” one another by immediate instinct and take this speedy comprehension to be a proof of the sincerity of their love. Sometimes lovers will even say they knew they were meant to be together because they could communicate “without needing to speak”. But outside the early days of romance, such aspirations are a potential catastrophe, which can lead lovers to a bias against ever explaining themselves and their desires with appropriate patience and thoroughness.

Fatefully for our chances of happiness, in the romantic ideology, love is understood to be an enthusiasm, rather than what it really is: a skill that needs to be learned.

3. Feedback is more sensitive

Everyone hates reviews at work, but what deeply kind phenomena they actually are compared with what goes on at home. Reviews are steeped in a culture of tact. One rather tough remark has to be wrapped in at least seven compliments. Work culture knows that people don’t improve and can’t take new ideas on board if they are feeling threatened and humiliated.

Home life finds us able to be far less competent teachers. We’re so panicked and frightened by the thought that the other person can’t do what we want them to (even if we haven’t actually ever explained it), we take to trying to teach them by slamming doors and calling them idiots or worse. Sadly, no one has ever learned very much under conditions of hysteria.

Furthermore, we’re likely to feel that being taught anything by a lover contravenes the rules of love: we think we need to be loved just for being who we are. Though we are all very flawed, we imagine that love has nothing to do with education, and that the lover who tries to point something out to us is therefore always just being nasty. Rather than doing what all people in a relationship should actually do, which is to do their utmost to improve those they care for through their love.

4. You depend on a job less

We rely on work of course, but we’d survive, somehow, if it came to an end. That’s not the feeling we often get around love, especially when there are a couple of kids and a mortgage in common.

And the more we depend on someone, the more alarmed we get by any disappointment at their hands. We aren’t nastier around love per se; we’re just a whole lot more dependent – which can end up looking like the same thing.

5. Work is just easier

Running a nuclear power station or landing large jets is hardly simple but still very much easier than trying to be happy around another human being in a sexual relationship over many decades. There is probably nothing harder in this world, so complicated are we, so high are our expectations and so very poor is our romantic culture at helping us to raise the quality of our levels of patience, our insights, our feedback sessions and our training manuals.

No wonder we’re often really quite happy when it’s finally Monday morning again and we can leave the house and do something really simple with our lives once more.


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