I started off really liking this book, and to be fair by the end I still feel that there were some great messages. What intrigued me the most was the start, which refreshingly challenges our obsession with how two people “fall in love” rather than “stay in love”. Then the story takes off, alternating between an essay and a love story between Rabih and Kristen. It focuses a lot on their communication challenges when living together and throughout their marriage.
My main irk was that I thought the plentiful references to both of their childhoods to be a bit drawn out, at the expense of other, better reasons for why the characters did what they did. (But maybe I’m just not a big fan of psychoanalysis.) The section on adultery also didn’t quite connect for me and seemed a bit icky as the author was trying to explain (and perhaps justify) the cause.
Overall, I’m glad I read it. I’ve got some quotes to add to my collection, and some notes on how to write better about feelings & relationships. But I don’t think I’d necessarily recommend it to anyone I know!
The start receives such disproportionate attention because it isn’t deemed to be just one phase among many; for the Romantic, it contains in a concentrated form everything significant about love as a whole. Which is why, in so many love stories, there is simply nothing else for the narrator to do with a couple after they have triumphed over a range of initial obstacles other than to consign them to an ill-defined contented future–or kill them off. What we typically call love is only the start of love.
We learn, too, that being another’s servant is not humiliating, quite the opposite, for it sets us free from the wearying responsibility of continuously catering to our own twisted, insatiable natures. We learn the relief and privilege of being granted something more important to live for than ourselves.
Good listeners are no less rare or important than good communicators. Here, too, an unusual degree of confidence is the key — a capacity not to be thrown off course by, or buckle under the weight of, information that may deeply challenge certain settled assumptions. Good listeners are unfussy about the chaos which others may for a time create in their minds; they’ve been there before and know that everything can eventually be set back in its place.
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