This handful of books will invite you into significant growth, both intellectually and emotionally, in terms of the relationships in your life. However, you cannot just read the books. Then comes weaving the new things you’ve learned and been inspired by, into your life and loves.
How to be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo. The title is misleading. The book is more about, how to love healthfully, bravely, and fully, and how to be successful in relationships. Simply one of the best books I’ve ever read on the topic of love. This includes romantic, platonic, and familial love.
It covers the whole gamut of relational topics, from monogamy, to the stages every relationship must pass through (romance, conflict, and commitment), letting go when the time is right, ego, forgiveness, commitment, and more. I’ve read this one twice and will most certainly do so again. There is a treasure trove of poignant gems in here. I cannot recommend it enough. This one is a life-changer.
A few favorite passages from within:
“Our identity is like a kaleidoscope. With each turn, we reset it not to a former or final state but to a new one that reflects the here-and-now positions of the pieces we have to work with. The design is always new because the shifts are continual. That is what makes kaleidoscopes, and us, so appealing and beautiful.”
“Most people think of love as a feeling but love is not so much a feeling as a way of being present.”
“We hear with our ears; we listen with our intuition and our heart.”
“Once we love ourselves, people no longer look good to us unless they are good for us.”
The Soul Mate Experience: a Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships by Mali Apple. Another life-changer. This one offers less…conventional insights and advice. It encourages practices and thought processes such as handling jealousy (and, instead of avoiding it, leaning into it), challenging oneself to venture toward the emotional edges of one’s relationship (to dare to turn toward sometimes addressing and pushing through discomfort), how best to learn from one another, making peace with one’s body, and more.
A few loved insights from within:
“You know your time with them is limited, so you make the most of it.”
“The wider your circle becomes, the more space you will have to sustain a healthy relationship.”
“Many relationships break down when one partner continually tries to improve or fix what they perceive as the other’s problems or shortcomings. In addition to a natural resistance to being told what to do or what’s best for them, the person being “helped” rarely feels that their partner is really supporting who they are and where they’d like to go.”
The State of Affairs by Esther Perel. This book challenges the way we have been taught to consider and conceive of concepts such as desire and fidelity in romantic relationships. Far from condoning or encouraging cheating, which this book does nothing of the sort, it does push back on and urge us to consider the nature of the human heart, instead of by the fearful, closed way in which we have been taught to believe it to be.
Some thought-provoking passages:
“The “symptom” theory goes as follows: An affair simply alerts us to a preexisting condition, either a troubled relationship or a troubled person.”
“But when we reduce the conversation to simply passing judgment, we are left with no conversation at all.”
“Until now, monogamy has been the default setting, and it sits on the premise (however unrealistic) that if you truly love, you should no longer be attracted to others.”
Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel. Another thought-provoking one by Esther, in which she addressed the question, can you still desire and want that which you already have (over the long term)? Her answer is yes, though with some tweaks to how we usually tend to do relationships, some of which may surprise you. Again, the key here is an openness to a different way of thinking and considering these topics and the concepts offered up within.
A great quote from this one:
“For [erotically intelligent couples], love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection, to experiment, to regress, and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing, not a fait accompli. It’s a story that they are writing together, one with many chapters, and neither partner knows how it will end. There’s always a place they haven’t gone yet, always something about the other still to be discovered.”
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. This one turned on its head, everything I thought I knew about love. It’s deeply philosophical, beautiful, and thought-provoking.
A few powerful passages:
“Love is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever when my act does not involve judgment and decision.”
“Love isn’t something natural. Rather it requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.”
“Infantile love follows the principle: “I love because I am loved.”
Mature love follows the principle: “I am loved because I love.”
Immature love says: “I love you because I need you.”
Mature love says: “I need you because I love you.”
“Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this “central experience” is a human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves.”
The Friendship Factor: How to Get Closer to the People You Care For by Alan Loy McGinnis. This book doesn’t just apply to friendship, but to all love. Either way, it’s a phenomenal read. Any easy one, though filled with poignant insights on how to both love and be loved. I’ve read it upwards of four times, the inside marred with highlights and underlines.
Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff. This one is more a memoir type of book. The author, Bob Goff, offers up anecdotes from his life that illustrate his main point, which is that love isn’t a word or a feeling. That instead, love is a choice, a behavior, an action. That love does. It’s an emotionally moving, inspiring, beautiful book.
A few great quotes:
“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
“Living a life fully engaged and full of whimsy and the kind of things that love does is something most people plan to do, but along the way they just kind of forget. Their dreams become one of those “we’ll go there next time” deferrals. The sad thing is, for many there is no “next time” because passing on the chance to cross over is an overall attitude toward life rather than a single decision.”
“But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright.”
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This book. My lord. I know it has garnered mixed reviews. I have found it, like the plethora of book awards it has gone on to win attest, to be a showstopper. It is not an easy read, not by a long shot. It’s heart-wrenching and will make you cringe at times. It is, however, a love story of friendship. The book is filled with trauma and darkness, though it’s equally spilling forth with tenderness, love, and light. The best and the worst of humanity, it’s all in here.
A couple of passages:
“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”
What Love Is and What It Could Be by Carrie Jenkins. This one is a memoir esque, part manifesto on the ways in which we approach love in our culture (one track, one size fits all, must be monogamy type of deal). She talks about, beyond this narrow confine, all the possibilities, beautiful ones, which lie outside of it.
The Road Less Traveled by Scott M. Peck. This book is more of a philosophical, self-help book about love. It’s superb. He speaks of parental love, discusses how much of what we think to be love actually is not, he talks about grace and generosity, and he professes how, when you love someone, you dare to speak up candidly when you see them hurting either themselves or someone else. You decide to, in a way, risk the relationship (and their anger) in order to tell someone where you see them doing this. That, to not do so is the opposite of love. Because when you love someone dearly, you couldn’t bear to remain silent.
A few inspiring passages:
“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.”
Are You The One For Me? Knowing Who’s Right and Avoiding Who’s Wrong by Barbara De Angelis. Ignore the old school cover, this one is great. She goes into the topic with much depth of demystifying that tricky process of figuring out who is right for you and who is not. The top red flags to look out for, compatibility time bombs, the traits you do want to seek in a partner, signs of an unhealthy partner, etc. This is an excellent relationship book.
Just Kids by Patti Smith. This memoir is breathtaking. Some of the best prose I’ve ever read. An electric and vibrant portrait of New York City during the 60s. And, a wildly unconventional, inspiring, deeply moving love story. Read this book.
“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”
“We went our separate ways, but within walking distance of one another.”
“What will happen to us?” I asked. “There will always be us,” he answered.”