I went to a workshop on “How to Make Love Last” three weeks after a break-up. But this was certainly not how I had planned it. When I expressed my interest in writing about a course at The School of Life (TSOL) in Sydney – an institution that was set up by a group of philosophers including Alain de Botton – I was in the throes of a long-term relationship. But suddenly, after some important realisations, soul-searching and reasons of my own choosing, I wasn’t. Which left me thinking, what on earth was I going to do about this class?
On Sunday afternoon I received an email from the classroom manager at TSOL. It was a pre-class task. Gulp. A single PDF that included a series of questions designed to get us thinking about a couple who had made love last. Double gulp. And it wanted us to reflect on how this couple had managed to achieve this. Arrrrggggghhhhhhh! I stare at the screen and my mind draws a complete blank. Nothing. Nada. I know plenty of couples in long-term relationships and marriages but I cannot think of a single one I can put up on a pedestal because they’ve “made their love last.” I feel disheartened. I have failed my homework assignment, just as I have failed at my own relationship.
The next day it’s Valentine’s Day Eve. I know this because Coles have erected a large, temporary marquee selling beautiful flowers. I hate Valentine’s Day and I know I’m not the only one. I really don’t want to go to this class. I have visions of being Sydney’s answer to Bridget Jones, sitting among the smug married couples or at least a group of loved-up hippies who are going to preach peace, love and brown rice while looking down their noses at me and my recently acquired single status.
I am pleasantly surprised. The class is run by Dr Elisabeth Shaw, a clinical psychologist who has specialised in family and relationships for several decades. There was no judgement, just some thought-provoking talk and exercises, which made you consider different things and increase your self-awareness. I am immediately put at ease in the class warm-up when a fellow student (married) also confesses at struggling to find an appropriate couple to psychoanalyse, sorry consider as part of the homework. I could kiss this woman and then I remember, she’s married.
Over the course of the next three hours Dr Shaw poses a lot of questions about relationships and their many facets. We do a group exercise where a Venn diagram is presented. In one circle there’s the word “love,” in another “sex” and in the final one “friendship.” Dr Shaw asks us to think about how much emphasis we put on these things in our relationships. I ignore the gnawing feeling in my head that my relationship has just been reduced to a fate worse than a broken Venn diagram but actually a cul-de-sac.
The general consensus is that love, sex and friendship are all important and that over time these things may grow and diminish due to outside pressures that exist. There is also an understanding that while some individuals can accept the absence of one or more of these things, it is really down to whether there is a major disconnect in the expectations of the two people in the couple, as this will determine whether the relationship succeeds or fails.
Another task we are set is to draw a large house. In the rooms we are to list our loveable qualities (and practically perfect in every way will not suffice.) In the attic and basement we are to place symbols or words that represent our negative traits. These can be selfish qualities, relationship scars or even disturbing secrets. Sounds fun. As we do this, we need to consider whether this is all ultimately in balance and to imagine walking our partner (current or future) through this scary gingerbread house and to decide how comfortable we are about revealing these hidden, negative things in the attic and basement. The question is posed, “Does everything have to be known in a relationship?” The answer was not a simple one but many shades of grey (and no, not 50!)
“How To Make Love Last” proved to be a well-timed class in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. It was not at all that dissimilar to Alain de Botton’s previous talk on the “Course of Love” at the Opera House. It was also wonderful to be able to check-in with yourself and learn some things that you can hopefully take into your relationships. So I’m really glad I put myself out there and attended. I can highly recommend it and the others in their schedule because it can be freeing to learn more about yourself. And really, who doesn’t like talking about themselves? Where is my soap box? Just kidding, I have this website after all!