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Against Love: A Polemic
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on December 20, 2010
I really wanted to disagree with this book. I tried so hard. It didn't work. Truth is, she's right about a lot of things. The book provides no advice, no solutions so don't read this if that's what you want. The basic statement is: after the initial honeymoon phase, love is harder than it's worth and it makes you miserable. Eventually, you get sick of the person you are with and start to hate a lot (if not everything) about them. You want to feel desired again, you want excitement again, you want to get out of the monotony... and this is where you either 1) stay miserable and not go for those things 2) cheat on your partner 3) leave your partner. The sad fact is though, you are going to go through the same phase over and over again with everyone you are with. You are going to think *Oh, THIS time I've found the one. I've never loved anyone as much as THIS one...* blah blah blah... and then, after a while, you are back in the game of hating the person you love. I hate how true that is. I really do, but, as she says (paraphrasing)- "Over 50 percent of the time, you're little poopsie ends up being your worst nightmare and those are just the 50% who actually have it in them to leave the miserable state they are in." I recommend the book. It's actually funny to listen to music now after reading this cos I just realize EVERY song is about this type of thing. Either that honeymoon phase where now the person has REALLY found their soulmate (yeah right) or that breakup/you've changed/how could you do this to me song which is pretty much the end state to those songs that were originally made in the honeymoon phase.
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on October 2, 2007
Sometimes reading a great book of essays is like sitting down for a chat with a very witty and good friend.
A good friend sometimes tells you what you don't want to hear, but probably should. I was amused and bewildered by this little tome. To say "I love you" in the West sometimes seems to be shorthand for "I own you". This books does a good job of explaining why, and the fallacy in the belief that love and ownership are the same thing.
In my own idiotic way, I've come to think that really loving someone is when their happiness is tantamount to your own and sometimes more important than your own. Not the most original thought in the world, I will admit. But if you really love someone, I think their victories and successes and life bring you as much pleasure as your own.
She's quite right, love shouldn't be hard work, it should be a pleasure in itself. It's something you should enjoy on it's own merits and not expect to last forever. Well, until they package an effective dopamine surpressor , the best antidote we can have to falling crazy in love with someone is this book. It's a little subversive, too. I think I will keep in on a shelf with my own book, far away from my daughter, until she's about twenty...Everyone should have a chance to be blindly in love once in their lives.
The crazy and stupid love we are capable of in our youth is not such a bad thing. It's quite fun and always provides a good chance for spiritual growth, or at least learning to appreciate moody, depressing music.
The soundtrack for this book? Josh Rouse's "It's The Nighttime." Aimee Mann's "Deathly", Sting's "I burn for you" and of course, "Falling Out of Love" by Mary Guathier. Where is a dingy hotel room with hissing pipes when you really need one?
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VINE VOICEon May 26, 2004
Marriage, as the basis of family, is by the far the most venerated social institution in the United States. It is where two uniquely attracted people can supposedly fully realize true love. Yet, half of all marriages do not last. That fact coupled with the actual characteristics of surviving marriages leads the author to a rather strong critique of the entire institution.
The author finds that passion and attraction, those things that make courtships so exhilarating and that are considered to be core elements of marriages, disappear rather quickly. Frequently, what remains are relationships bubbling with rancor that have become deadened. All manner of surveillance of the marital partner is used to squash any possibility of infidelity. Large doses of blame are doled out because of perceived failures to attend to, and even anticipate, the psychological and emotional needs of the partner. The reactions are withdrawal, subservience, or hostility. Among the counselor community this state of affairs may need adjustment, but is regarded as basically normal. The author derides the notion that this state of affairs is in any way normal and all that is needed is "hard work" to increase marital harmony.
The author compares the control regime and lowered expectations of marriages with workplace environments and even citizenship. In an era of economic dislocation, the admonition to work harder is hardly liberating. Rebels, meaning those who actually attempt to grasp for more and counter established authority, are dealt with harshly. This is the context in which the author places adultery. When passion suddenly appears, many will take large risks to escape marital suffocation. The author, well aware of the risks, does not advocate adultery, but does find it to be far more than a spur-of-the-moment whim.
The book is witty and unfortunately captures the reality of many, if not most, marriages. It is a valid criticism to say that the book is one-sided; however, the author does acknowledge that some marriages manage to escape the strangulation syndrome. The writing style is a little difficult, but not impossible. It is pretty hilarious to see some reviewers so offended by the book; if the institution of marriage is so strong, surely it can take hits from critics.
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on August 19, 2013
Delightful, original, hilarious, penetrating and startling--and that's just the first page. The nature of romantic love is examined without a shred of sentimentality and with more than a dollop of suspicion. When and why did marriage transform from an arranged economic unit to today's "hothouse of unmet needs?" Who benefits from the "domestic gulags" that we supposedly crave, despite so much evidence that the glimpse of utopia we get from falling in love is never sustained and often results in adultery, violence, self-medication and divorce? Why don't we recoil at the relentless message that "relationships are WORK" and therefore we should always be working, always on the clock?

There is so much in this book to think about, so much that's perfectly put, I've read it twice. The second time I--underlined. So unromantic!
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VINE VOICEon February 8, 2004
Against Love is an extremely interesting work. As the author states, it is a polemic (confrontational argument), not an essay or balanced account of the subject. It is purposefully designed to push the reader into a confrontatory state regarding the subject of love, especially in the context of marriage/coupling in current U.S. society.
I found Kipnis' writing wonderful, witty, intense, and refreshing. She is the first author I have read in a long time that sent me packing off to the dictionary more than once in a book. She is erudite without being a stuffy academic, knowledgable without being pedantic, and humorous without being gross. I see her as having the honesty of a Carol Queen, the political savy and wit of a Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower, the insightful intellect of a Noam Chomsky, and more. This is one of the few books I have read in the last few years that had me laughing out loud in places. She really hits the nail right on the thumb. Regardless of how you feel about the topic or the ideas discussed, her writing alone is worth reading the book.
Of course, I may be biased. Her writing style is similar enough to mine that I felt very much at home with this book, and read it quickly. She does write in a style that is complex, with long sentences (and paranthetical asides). She also has a substantial vocabulary. Her use of style is neither narcissistic nor exhibitionistic, however. Her use of language in her presentation of ideas is pointed and precise, and it is difficult to put the book down once one starts reading it. (I found myself reading it in one sitting.) Despite being divided into chapters, it reads more like one long, flowing discussion.
As far as the actual material, it is not an exhaustive history of marriage and courtship behavior in U.S. society. It is a series of observations and arguments exploring the weakness of the concepts of love and marriage as they are viewed today by mainstream U.S. culture. Kipnis connects recent biological research, various social theories, and behavior reported by people in therapy to weave her arguments. She does address some historical material in order to provide context for her arguments, but again, it is by no means exhaustive. She does provide enough information, however, sources cited in the text and a bibliography and reference list, to encourage more in-depth exploration.
It is meant to be a starting point for further exploration and discussion, and offers no surprise happy endings and no panaceas. This is not a book about how to be polyamorous, develop new relationship styles, swing, or live happily alone. It is an intellectual broadside fired at the status quo in order to get people to open up and think about something which is normally not in their conscious awareness, and to question that which is usually mindlessly accepted.
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on May 7, 2013
C. Brown's review says it all...and her/his last para is good too. I will add: Only a fool wouldn't change her mind in the face of a good argument.
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on January 12, 2008
For those who believe in love at first sight and happy fairy tale marriages, living in a beautiful house in suburbia with 2.2 children, happily ever after - this is not for you. Professor Kipnis puts it all into context particularly referring to the rate of adultery and failed marriages. Even those in supposedly stable relationships have thoughts about straying elsewhere.
One of her principle arguments is the need to 'work'at a successful marriage. In other words, you go to workand when you come home, you have to work more to be able to enjoy your life - why should one have to work at it!!??
Splendid prose, but mainly for the sceptics.
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on June 5, 2008
Excellent and well-written book. This is a very thought provoking "polemic" and once you get your thinking around the author's perspective it is a relationship building book. I was looking for things to discuss with the significant people in my life and this provided lots of material. It shipped immediately without difficulty and I had the book in less than a week! Would recommend book and this book dealer highly.
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on September 8, 2004
Kipnis romps through this book with such enthusiasm, it's a delight to read. She looks in every nook and cranny of relationships and holds forth expansively. What a sharp, clever mind is at work.

We're asked to consider many things about relationships, not just marriage and not just heterosexual relationships...why is it such a difficult thing for two people to get along, let alone love, over an extended period of time? She rightly says that the 50% divorce rate doesn't include the people who remain in marriages of misery. Kipnis offers adultery as a way in which people can feel the rush of coming to life, but she doesn't hesitate to describe the difficulties of taking that route and that it can easily be only a temporary escape. Why does our culture almost desperately hold marriage up as a standard, even while many of those promoting it most seem to have the greatest difficulty practicing what they preach?

When I finished the book I thought of the Buddhist idea that the source of suffering is desire. I also thought of how our society promotes desire as a universal good that should be followed at all times, particularly if the path leads into a store. Is it just a coincidence that while I am shopping for food at the grocery store I can hear love songs being played over the public address system? We want people to want, the encouragement, the inducement is constant. It drives our economy. With every taboo falling or fallen we are consumed with desire without restraint, arriving at our destiny as perfect consumers.

Marriage, institutionalized as the most private place of intimacy, is desperately supported because we'd like to believe there is some preserve where crass consumerism can't intrude, but as Kipnis relates we've taken marketing to heart and present ourselves as appealing products on the mating scene. Is it surprising that the product doesn't hold up over time? Image is everything from your car to your house to your job and if one shops for an appealing persona using one's own, how can the charade be expected to last when the pair become known to each other down to every image-busting detail of toothbrushing and body odor?

Our culture promotes levity, with everything light and easy and fun. Design life for yourself and don't take it too seriously! We all are practiced at that. But don't we also desperately long for there to be a place of deep and lasting meaning that lies beyond daily superficiality? Marriage is billed as such, but where is one to begin with little experience of sincerity, constancy, commitment and real joy, when we are constantly blinded by appearances?

Left unsaid in this book is what I think love is: the unaccountable desire to do for another in ways large or small, to put that person first for the pure pleasure of seeing that person happy, relieved, empowered as a result. There's joy in this benign power beyond anything one can do for oneself. When the other person feels the same way, it can't get any better, marriage or not. In such a situation, the relationship is not hard work because the thing to do is always clear and the ways in which to do it are infinitely varied; you become a craftsman of happiness, happy in your work. I believe Kipnis' book is not against this love, but against the easily exploitable, yet untenable popular image of love which can make a relationship seem like a prison.
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on May 7, 2010
I read this book quick and started to adopt some of the philosophy. I speak from it often and have recommended this book to many friends who like to discuss relationships. Basically, love should not be work, it should come easily. You go to work, you work in the garden, you do housework, when it comes to love, it shouldn't be so much work. I agree.
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