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Conversations on Love strikes a universal note of romantic, parental and platonic relationships

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Natasha Lunn

Natasha Lunn

Conversations on Love

Conversations on Love

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Natasha Lunn

Conversations on Love Natasha Lunn Penguin Viking, €14.99

Natasha Lunn’s new non-fiction collection Conversations on Love is dedicated to those “who feel lost in longing”, a feeling she herself was, she writes, “committed to” for years.

It was love she longed for or so she believed. Indeed Lunn, who is the features director of Red magazine, came to realise she was obsessed with an idea of love rather than really understanding the truth of it.

She put love, or what she saw as the lack of it (in the form of a romantic partnership), down as the source of her unhappiness.

It was out of this friction that several years ago, in 2017, beginning to suspect that she fundamentally misunderstood the topic, Lunn began her email newsletter, Conversations on Love, a Q&A series asking others about their experiences, and subsequent reflections, on love.

The impressive roster of Interviewees have included Philippa Perry, Hilary Mantel, Roxane Gay and Alain de Botton.

The book, published earlier this month, is a result of those years of research; part collation of interviews from the newsletter, part personal memoir.

As well as contributions from psychotherapist Esther Perel, writers Dolly Alderton and Lisa Taddeo, journalist Gary Younge, and actor Greg Wise, Lunn tells her own story, using it as both a narrative framework off which to structure the book, and a lens through which questions arise for he guests.

Like all good first-person writing, Lunn’s dilemmas strike a fairly universal note that will resonate with many readers.

“My pattern was often the same: I’d date someone new, idealise them, keep parts of myself hidden, and perform the role of a woman more palatable than I believed myself to be,” Lunn writes. “This woman never asked for anything.”

Lunn considers how we find love, how we sustain it, and how we survive losing it. She broadens her scope from romantic love to examining friendship and parenting.

In the process she comes to realise this “suppressing of the self” as if it is shameful is not something she is alone in, she has countless conversations with people who have lost themselves in relationships.

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While in part Conversations in Love feels like an extensively researched self-help book on how to understand and navigate love, it will also act as a sort of comfort blanket for anyone (all of us?) who have felt exposed, or in some way lacking, in our romantic encounters. The it’s-not-just-me factor of a memoir.

Having placed possibly too much emphasis on finding romantic love, it is fitting perhaps the first interview is with the philosopher Alain de Botton on the psychology of being alone.

In a discussion on falling into the trap of seeing romantic love as the answer to problems de Botton tells the author “the best frame of mind to be in – for anything you want – is an ability to walk away from it were it not to come right”.

“We need to stop tying ourselves so narrowly to this punitive vision that we’ve got to date in our 20s, find the ideal partner by 28, and have our first child at 31, otherwise our life will be miserable,” he tells Lunn.

“We need to show more imagination about what a good life might look like.”

In speaking to psychotherapist Philippa Perry (on first meeting husband Grayson Perry: “I thought, oh, what an uncouth young man”), Lunn explores the idea of feeling undeserving of love, a sense that came up in a surprising number of conversations, Lunn reveals.

It is, Perry explains, a reason why many of us stay in toxic relationships. “I think it’s because it felt to the child who was forming – whether it was true or not – that love was conditional on them being a certain way. They might think if you knew the real me you wouldn’t love me because they felt the real ‘me’ wasn’t loved.”

The interview with Roxane Gay on redefining romance is one of the most compelling in the book, not surprisingly, given Gay’s talents as a writer, educator and thinker. Lunn’s guests provide a mixture of professional and personal testimony; Gay describes being older, and in a functional relationship.

“We’re both at the right time in our lives to make the relationship work. We are finally mature enough. We’re both in therapy, separately, and when I met her I was as ready as I’ve ever been to be in a good relationship and to be a good partner.”

She never used to believe in soul mates, she explains, but now feels her fiancée is absolutely her soul mate. There is, she says, unknown potential in the unfamiliar.

Given the impressive breadth of the interviews, Lunn is well placed to draw some interesting conclusions on our behaviour in and around love.

She notes many of her interviewees have been surprised by the ease of real love. “Although you have to work at a relationship you shouldn’t have to work at convincing someone to love you. Either they do or they don’t. The loving and being-loved part should be easy.”

Lunn intersperses interviews with essays about her own story. Her teenage longings and misguided efforts. Loneliness as an adult. Her eventual meeting with Dan, how their relationship developed, and then a devastating miscarriage.

She writes movingly about the emotional fallout from this event and the longing that again returns, this time for another kind of love, of motherhood rather than a romantic relationship.

In the combination of her own experiences with those of others and the depth that she explores the topic, Conversations on Love feels similar to Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail.

Part guidebook, part memoir, this moving and informative collection that will bring readers – in or out of love – a sense of comfort.


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