Written by: Rylee Thomas
This past December, I needed something real to think about.
Around that time of the year, I’d been reading a lot of romance novels. At my breaking point, I picked up a holiday-themed, Hallmark-style romance that left me feeling like I needed someone to come punch me in the face.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a romantic, and a passionate defender of romance novels. But when you pick up yet another novel about soulmates and meet-cutes and then skim the pages and feel absolutely nothing, it becomes clear that something needs to change.
This was when I decided to read something I hoped I’d find more enlightening. I needed a cure-all. Something that would tell me how to live. A memoir. Specifically, one written by a woman. So, while browsing the shelves of Barnes and Noble, I couldn’t think of a better way to explain to myself why I was feeling so ambivalent about romance than by reading a book titled Everything I Know About Love.
The author, Dolly Alderton, writes in a way that made me feel like she’s understood how I’ve been feeling for years. In her memoir, Alderton recounts her experiences growing up in London from her childhood to her thirties. Everything I Know About Love tells a story about coming to terms with changing relationships and the reality of early adulthood.
Alderton’s story is multifaceted. In a series of bad date diaries, she chronicles funny anecdotes about her poor taste in men. She lists hangover-cure recipes, things she fears, and reasons to have or not have a boyfriend. The part that got me was Alderton’s anti-people-pleasing regimen, undertaken when she decided to bite the bullet so many of us ought to and go to therapy. She describes how she became more self-aware, and how dating, for her, had “…become a source of instant gratification, an extension of narcissism, and nothing to do with connection with another person” (302).
While deconstructing her self-destructive habits, Alderton recounts how she “…thought that, to be a writer, [she] had to be a collector of experiences. And [she] thought every experience worth having, every person worth meeting, only existed after dark” (116). Writing is part of my own identity. As a creative nonfiction writer, I’m constantly trying to tell a good story. I sometimes get caught up in collecting experiences, too. Alderton taught me that I don’t need to “self-mythologize” (177), as she describes it. Everything I Know About Love showed me that what mattered in my life was the people in it. Relationships are the only real thing, and the only relationships that matter are the ones you share with the people you genuinely love.
So. On the subject of genuine love, Alderton has a lot to say about what it means and where it comes from. Despite her lifelong fixation on romance and dating, Alderton describes how, at this point in her life, she has never experienced a fulfilling romantic relationship. Her relationships with her friends, particularly her best friend from childhood, beat at the heart of her memoir. In her final chapter, she writes, “Nearly everything I know about love, I’ve learnt in my long-term friendships with women” (315).
Everything I Know About Love is a personal, honest story. Reading it made me feel like everything was going to be okay in the end.
My life is full of love. I have this group of five girls back home that are like my sisters. I’ve known most of them since I was six years old, and I care about them with an emotional, joyful, platonic affection. I can vividly recount falling in love with them all as I’ve gotten to know them. My wonderful, admirable, funny, brilliant, silly best friends. Like Alderton, I’ve never experienced a romantic love that has made me feel loved the way my best friends make me feel loved. And Alderton showed me that was a beautiful thing.
Before I’d picked it up, I’d been meaning to read this book for a while. I’d expected it to be good, but I hadn’t expected free therapy. This is the perfect guide for any girl in her twenties who feels a bit lost. (Fans of Fleabag, Derry Girls, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, I’m looking at you.)
I highly recommend you check this book out. As an added bonus, it’s been made into a television series available on BBC. You can find the show’s soundtrack on Spotify, too. It’s my absolute favorite thing to listen to while I’m doing my laundry.