What my favorite literary characters taught me about love
Nothing is more all-consuming than love. With each new relationship, I learn a little more about what to do, and a lot more about what not to do. Experience, of course, is key. But so is listening, and, well, a million other things. It’s hard to know exactly what to do when it comes to relationships, which is why there are dozens of advice columns out there. But when I’m looking for a solution, I look to my favorite literary characters for secrets to a happier love life – or at least one I somewhat understand.
Never underestimate someone’s capacity to love
Severus Snape was the villain in Harry Potter. That is, until a very revealing scene, where readers find out that he not only had goodness in his heart all along, he had been protecting Harry Potter. It’s a really good reminder: No matter how someone may seem, they care about something. Love is a universal emotion, and people can always surprise us.
The most successful relationships are the ones in which you and your partner are capable of recognizing your own flaws.
We fall in love with people who don’t seem like the right match all the time. Sometimes they’re narcissistic, immature, or perfectly lovely, but entirely incompatible. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice may seem an improbable match at first, but they challenge and bring out the best in each other. Throughout the course of the book, they overcome their flaws to honestly love one another. Only once we can admit when we’re wrong will we find happiness and compatibility in love.
Hold onto a past love if you need to, but when it’s time, honor the memory, and move forward
The more I date, the more I realize that as much as I know someone isn’t right for me, as much as I’ve let that “one person” go, I still keep him locked away in my heart. He’ll most likely always be there, reminding me of my past. In Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby’s case, the obsession with the past becomes an idealization of an imagined life. He brings “not letting go” to the extreme.
Jay Gatsby couldn’t abandon the idea of his relationship with Daisy Buchanan, regardless of how many people’s lives he damaged to fulfill his fantasy. But that’s all it is, usually. A fantasy. Perhaps someday, two people will find their way back to each other, but when we let our idealizations of the past, or a particular person, manifest, we usually hurt ourselves, and each other.
The best love stories aren’t about falling in love. They’re about learning how to stay in love.
I’d be remiss not to include my favorite love story, Here Be Dragons. Historian Sharon Kay Penman describes the lives of real characters, Joanna, daughter of King John, and Llywelyn, Prince of Wales, in the medieval ages..
But even for someone who isn’t in love with history (such as yours truly), the book, and the characters, could resonate with anyone interested in a powerful love story. Joanna’s father, the King of England, wages war against Llywelyn, and at times, Joanna must decide between her father and her husband. Although seemingly antiquated, I’ve learned what few romantic comedies ever demonstrated: how to stay in love. How to communicate despite, umm, a war between your father and husband. How to compromise, and of course, how to retain the essence of your identity while in a relationship.
Whether you’ve devoured each of these books or have never cracked the covers, I’m sure you’ve found other lessons in books. The particulars may differ, but they’re all about love, hope, learning to heal, learning to grow, feeling too much, or not feeling at all.
So next time I don’t know what to do in my relationship, I think I’ll just read a book, and see where life takes me.
Alex is a traveling writer, ardent reader, and perpetual expat who studied abroad in Bordeaux, taught English in Paris, and is currently preparing to move to London for grad school, where she will write her first book. To follow this book-lover’s adventures, check out her blog, Bon Voyage Mon Chéri, Facebook, or follow along on her Instagram at BonVoyageAlex.
[Image via Universal Pictures]