I ran into this quote recently,
“We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity.”
The assertion sounded interesting enough, so I followed the link. In the rest of that discussion De Botton goes on to claim that what we are actually seeking in our adult romances is the same sort of dynamic we had with our parents, so we turn down perfectly good partners to seek out troubling ones with whom we can recreate our parental troubles. While I’ve no doubt this describes some people, and might even be willing to believe it describes a plurality, it most certainly does not describe all. And the unwaveringly universalizing way he makes this claim is patently offensive to those of us it excludes.
There are numberless people whose parental relationships were/are defined by abuse. To coyly describe these relationships as “[love] entwined with other, more destructive dynamics” is to normalize and erase the physical, sexual, and psychological violence we have endured. To boldly declare that, “We are constrained in our love choices by what we learned of love as children”, is to say that those who were abused as children are incapable of making healthy decisions as adults. To bombastically assert that, “Without [replicating our parental relationships], we may simply not be able to feel passionate and tender with someone”, is to say that passion and tenderness can only be felt through (re)enacting such violence as we endured as children. These claims are irresponsible and disgusting.
I, for one, have no desire to recreate the abuse of my childhood. Indeed, the surest way to end any relationship with me (romantic or otherwise) is to head even vaguely in that direction. And yet, I most assuredly do feel passion and tenderness and love. If those sensations were ‘learned’, they were most certainly not learned from my parents. What De Botton is doing is gaslighting those of us with abusive childhoods. Like most gaslighting it's a two-pronged assault: simultaneously denying the history of abuse, while also denying the healthiness of the present. De Botton is continuing the long tradition of blaming victims for the abuse they’ve suffered, lest one be forced to recognize the lie inherent in the fable of universal parental love. The lie must not be admitted, for to do so is to admit the truth that abusive parents exist and cause harm in virtue of a society that refuses to stop them or to protect its least powerful members from them. To admit the prevalence of parental abuse is to admit one's own culpability for not working to stop it. People will do much to escape blame, but they will do anything to escape blame for what they already feel guilty about.
Perhaps, in spite of De Botton, there is still some kernel of truth to the idea that it is familiarity more than happiness that we seek in love. Cognitively speaking, while excitement is valued in the short term, in the long term contentment is valued more. It's not too far a stretch to blur contentment/familiarity and excitement/happiness; so, to the extent that can be done, one might be able to substantiate the claim with data from cognitive and psychological research. But any further exploration of the idea should be done far away from De Botton's love affair with Freud by gas light.