Book review - Conversations on Love

With spring on the way, it’s the perfect time to read Natasha Lunn’s absorbing and hopeful book about love in its many forms. Lunn (features director at Red magazine) says Conversations on Love began as an email newsletter in September 2017. Twice a month, she would interview a writer therapist or expert with “something valuable to say about relationships”. From the start she wanted to uncover useful truths about love, the romantic kind, but also the love between parents and children, siblings and friends. Even between strangers.

Lunn’s own experience provides the narrative arc of this engaging collection. She interweaves the advice and wisdom of the writers and therapists she interviews with her personal account – from her teenage crushes and dating anecdotes until she meets Dan, who she marries, and the heart-breaking story of the baby they lose.

The book is divided into three sections which explore how to find and sustain love and, finally, how to survive loss. Several conversations, Lunn claims, changed her life. “They helped me to see through the mist of longing, to see the love that was already in my life.” In the first part, she describes her own yearning for a relationship: “I was obsessed with the idea of love, not the truth of it.”  Now, she realises, part of her longing for romantic love in her twenties was actually a fear of solitude. She interviews philosopher Alain de Botton who suggests: “the capacity to say ‘I could be alone,’ is strangely one of the most important guarantees of one day being with somebody else in a happy way.”  He also believes “there’s a tragic misalignment of the hierarchy of friendships and relationships.” 

Other authors similarly value friendship over romantic love. For Ayisha Malik, “friends encouraged me to interrogate who I was as a person: what I believed, why I believed it.” Candice Carty-Williams says she turns to her friends, rather than partners, for support: “because when I show them my true self it somehow feels less of a risk”.

Interested in how childhood shapes adult relationships, Lunn interviews psychotherapist Philippa Perry, who observes that children often end up believing “that love was conditional on them being a certain way.” To counter this, Perry emphasises the importance of finding someone  “you can be ‘you’ around without performing”, and tells Lunn: “You’re not rigid and unchanging; you are moved by each other. It’s like two stones rubbing together until suddenly they fit.”

When she recalls her thirtieth birthday, Lunn describes the disappointment she felt because she didn’t have a date or a boyfriend to take to her party. However, it turned into “a night full of romance”, because of the love showered on her by friends, family and work colleagues. These are the people, she realises, who know “all the versions of me.” Lunn suggests we can nurture ourselves by learning to “love better” and understanding we are “part of something bigger. A small speck of colour vital to a picture of love.”

Lunn interviewed author Roxanne Gay about how to sustain love in a long-term relationship. Gay points out that reading and watching romantic stories often give us unrealistic expectations: “I wish I had known that love doesn’t disappear when you aren’t quiet and perfect,” she tells Lunn, and underlines the importance of accepting your partner’s feelings when different from your own. Author and illustrator Mira Jacob observes that “change happens consistently and constantly in a relationship.” And that the longer you are together, the higher the stakes are when you risk losing that love.

In the final part, Lunn looks at loss. She interviewed the journalist Melanie Reid who broke her neck and fractured her lower back in a horse-riding accident in 2010. She discovered Reid is buoyed up by “the quiet kindness of strangers” who she meets at festivals or through letters and emails. Like Reid, psychotherapist and author Stephen Grosz believes: “Life requires of us that we let go of places, things, people that we love, to make room for new life, new love.”

Love is cyclical, Lunn suggests – an ending heralds a new beginning. Conversations on Love is full of helpful anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom. It’s an uplifting read about the importance of connection, empathy, acceptance and letting go.


Originally published by Camden New Journal