Valentine’s Day. If those two words inspire dread rather than desire, take heart; a new crop of books offers advice and wisdom, whether you’re out there looking for The One, long married and bored with your sex life, or downright heartbroken.
BYE BYE LOVE
The qualities that we usually look for in a partner—sense of humor, charisma, beauty, good family, intelligence—are often red flags in disguise, write Michael Bennett, M.D., and Sarah Bennett in F*ck Love: One Shrink’s Sensible Advice for Finding a Lasting Relationship. Dr. Bennett, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, and his daughter Sarah, a comedy writer, teamed up for a previous book, F*ck Feelings, in which they advised that paying less attention to feelings helps you manage life better. The Bennetts write in an irreverent, sometimes profane style—for instance, each chapter, devoted to a red-flag trait, includes F*ck in its title: “F*ck Beauty,” “F*ck Charisma” and so on. Despite the irreverence, the Bennetts’ advice is sincere and sensible. They explain how and why readers should seek partnership qualities (common goals, shared effort when times get tough) more than the red-flag traits. Though it includes advice for readers in relationships, this book is most useful for those in the dating world.
THE RIGHT MATCH
Susan Quilliam’s How to Choose a Partner covers some of the same material as the Bennetts’ book but takes a quieter, more meditative approach. She refers to classic novels like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd for anecdotes. A British psychologist, author of 22 books and advice columnist, Quilliam also teaches classes on love and sexuality. “We now approach partner choice with bigger expectations, deeper confusion, and heavier pressure than ever before,” she writes, offering advice on meeting potential partners (aim for a “slow river”: put your energy into groups that offer a steady flow of different people) and what to look for in a partner. Quilliam emphasizes partnership qualities, breaking these down into goals, values and personality traits. The book has a straightforward style, with appealingly quirky illustrations.
SPICE IT UP
Sex is the glue of marriage, writes Dr. Kevin Leman, a psychologist and author of more than 50 books about marriage and parenting. In Have a New Sex Life by Friday: Because Your Marriage Can’t Wait Until Monday Leman notes that what happens outside the bedroom affects what happens inside the bedroom, and readers need to consider the different ways that women and men communicate and process emotions. The book follows a five-day structure, considering a different aspect of sex (why women need sex, why men need sex, get your mother out of the bedroom) each day. This book is not for everyone; Leman writes from a Christian perspective for married, heterosexual couples. That said, his advice on how to talk to your partner about sex, and how to incorporate new sex positions and more “spicy” techniques into your routine, is frank, openhearted and sensible.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF LOVE
Carrie Jenkins’ What Love Is: And What It Could Be is not a self-help book, nor is it a collection of heartwarming essays. Instead, Jenkins aims to come up with a definition of romantic love that suits her as both a philosopher and a human being. A professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia, Jenkins walks the reader through theories about romantic love past and present, drawing from classical philosophy, science and literature. This might sound dry and academic, but Jenkins adds fun with pop culture references and vivid images. She explains biological arguments (humans fall in love because it leads them to reproduce) and societal arguments (romantic love is a product of social expectations and traditions), and she posits that love has a dual nature. She shows how our understanding of romantic love has changed over time, and she hopes it will come to include polyamory, because she’s married, with a long-term boyfriend. I wish Jenkins had revealed a little more about her personal life, which she refers to in the book’s prologue: “On the mornings when I walk from my boyfriend’s apartment to the home I share with my husband, I sometimes find myself reflecting on the disconnects between my own experiences with romantic love. . . .” I’d love to know what else she reflects on, as she goes from one partner to another.
HEALING FROM HEARTBREAK
Meditation teacher and Buddhist practitioner Lodro Rinzler takes on heartbreak in Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken. Rinzler offers ancient Buddhist wisdom in a youthful, playful style. The book’s opening lines: “If you’re reading this, you’re probably heartbroken. I mean, why else would you pick up a book about heartbreak? I’m sorry you’re heartbroken.” For this book, Rinzler met with dozens of people who shared their stories of heartbreak, not just romantic heartbreak but all sorts of loss—giving up a child for adoption, losing a parent, losing family members. The book is made up of about 50 short chapters, and Rinzler suggests readers flip to the chapter they need at the moment (“If You Feel Like You Will Never Love Again,” “If You Are Feeling Angry,” “If You Need to Hear a Less Bizarre Joke”). It also offers a primer on mindfulness meditation, and on the concept of love in the Buddhist tradition—which includes loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity—“we include in our heart the people we like, the people we really don’t like, and the vast number of people we have never even met,” Rinzler writes. As to why our hearts break, Rinzler is succinct: “Your heart breaks because life isn’t what you thought it would be.” Love Hurts is a wise, funny companion and a reminder that we can move through loss and beyond it.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.