For most of us, there’s no more dysfunctional relationship in our lives than the one we have with self-help books that purport to tell us the secrets to relationships. We know they’re silly, full of crap, and oftentimes detrimental (hi, Why Men Love Bitches!), but the human heart is a confusing place. And when we get lost, where do we go? To those blasted books. Maybe they’ll be different this time, we rationalize. Maybe the next one will tell me the ultimate secret to love and everlasting happiness.
Well, probably not. But as a longtime lover/hater of such books, I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur. And I can tell you that if you read one of these five (admittedly not your typical self-help books, but instructional and relationship-oriented nonetheless), you won’t hate yourself in the morning. In fact, you’ll learn something useful along the way:
Yes, it seems weird to start a list of “good books about love” with a book called Against Love. But here’s the thing: Nobody can really be against love any more than they can be against puppies or babies or beautiful sunsets. We do, however, sometimes need a bracing punch in the face about what, exactly, we want so badly when we go trolling for partners in smoky bars, at singles soccer league, online. Don’t worry, Kipnis’ very entertaining look at all our dumb societal ideas about love will hardly turn you celibate, or even unromantic. It’ll simply send you into the dating battle clear-eyed and (a little) more rational. As a bonus, it’ll give you loads of intellectual conversation material.
Set aside your annoyance with author Elizabeth Gilbert’s breakthrough, Eat Pray Love. (It’s not her fault the movie made it worse.) Here she merges the confessional memoir style that made her famous with the journalism that she practiced for years before that in an examination of what makes marriage marriage. As she ponders marrying her longtime boyfriend, partly because he needs a green card, she comes to terms with her aversion to the institution by exploring its history around the world. You’ll learn a lot about love and commitment’s cultural underpinnings and come out with a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a life partner.
Meeting Your Half Orange
Amy Spencer’s guide to using optimism to attract your perfect mate is far more reasonable and rational than its scare-tactic brothers and sisters in the relationship aisle. She also uses actual science to back up her approach, which essentially makes you into a beacon to attract the right person for you — by being totally comfortable with your authentic self. If you’re going to read a traditional how-to on dating, this is the one.
Author Christine Whelan also wrote Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women. She uses real, legit data to back up her claim that, yeah, smart people marry smart people. So take comfort. You’re welcome.
Yes, this is a feminist dating book written by Feministing.com editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay. That’s why it’s reasonable, smart, and awesome. She shows you the ways that, as the subtitle says, “dating is ruining your love life” — but, more accurately, how media and pop culture and self-help books and so-called experts are ruining your love life. You are not crazy, she tells you; the culture of gender wars and commercialization is. It may not solve all your problems, but awareness is half the battle.