In the Greek language, there are seven different words for the concept of love. Something about that in itself is so poetic; there are so many ways to feel love that they couldn’t contain it in one word.
“Our lives are a patchwork of the love and relationships we give and receive.”
In this life we have so many different, vast relationships. We experience a wide variety of love in all of its forms. We never experience the same love twice. I believe that understanding the different examples and displays of love within our lives helps us to understand ourselves. Depending on our age, life experiences, backgrounds and many other factors, we all consider a different type of love to be the most significant in our lives. For a newly wedded couple, romantic love might be the most important; for parents of a newborn, they would say that the love for their child holds the highest value in their life. If you were to ask a 70-year-old what comes to mind when they hear the word love, it is highly likely that their answer would differ from that of an 18-year-old. Our lives are a patchwork of the love and relationships we give and receive.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton encompasses every type of love that there is to feel. In her memoir, Alderton tells a first-person story that spans from childhood to the present day, showcasing a variety of stories about love, lust and heartache. The TV adaption is based on this novel, where we meet Maggie — Dolly’s televised counterpart. We go on a journey with Dolly (book) and Maggie (TV show) as she experiences different types of love over the years. A story of a girl in her 20s, we watch her grow and value different types of love at different ages. She engulfs herself in many relationships, giving an insight into the interconnectedness of human life. We see her relationship with her family, the importance of friendship, the role that sex plays in the life of a young adult, and the experience of falling in and out of love. It is a great contemporary example of love in modernity, and we can examine the ancient types of love through it.
Philautia: Self-love, by Ruth Brady
Self-love is a word that we are all familiar with, but do we know what it means?
According to Google, those who lack self-love strive for perfection because they need to be something other than themselves (they dislike themselves after all). They lack assertiveness and boundaries because they don’t accept themselves and doubt their own judgement. They endure toxic relationships because they are seeking love from external sources (given that they cannot produce it internally).
These characteristics are what you could use to describe Dolly Alderton’s 20-year-old self in Everything I Know About Love. She places value on her weight, believing if she is skinnier she is more lovable. She would rather spend all of her money on a four hour taxi halfway across the country than let a night out come to a natural end. And at the age of 21, she believes that “when you fall in love with the right man you will feel centred, settled and calm.”
However, by the time Alderton is telling us what she knows about love at the age of 30, she believes that “it is no one person’s job to be the sole provider of your happiness. Sorry.”
The difference across these nine years of lessons? Self-love.
While the book places emphasis on the importance of self-love when compared to all other types experienced, the TV show leaves us hanging. We last see Maggie in the series in a place of despair as friendships and love falls apart. It suggests that she will be spending time alone and that a period of isolation, in which she discovers self-love, may follow. It is not, however, explicitly mentioned.
However, page 305 has one of the most touching paragraphs in the novel. An ode to oneself, it highlights the inner, overarching, self-fulfilling brilliance that is realised by Alderton in what she refers to as a breakthrough. It is a life lesson that should apply to all, a quote that can be torn from the book and pinned above your bed.
As she realises that all she ever needs and ever has needed can be found within herself, she says: “I am a just-pulled pint with a good, frothy head on it…. I am the warm-up act, the main event and the backing singers.”
“…The last chapters of the book show that it is something that has been there all along, in between the cracks of the chaos.”
The contrast of the lack of self-love found in the early stages of the story compared to this realisation at the end allows readers to evaluate themselves and the Philautia in their lives. Although it may not be a prominent theme throughout, the last chapters of the book show that it is something that has been there all along, in between the cracks of the chaos.
It took her years to achieve genuine self-love. It took therapy and heartbreak and constant reinventions of herself (three months of celibacy, attempts to quit drinking, a dating app, a new city) to find her way home to herself. It is potentially the hardest love to unearth — because you have to find it for yourself.
But, once you crack it, as Alderton says about the unconventional types of love she explored: “You can carry it with you forever.”
Storge: Unconditional Love, by Molly Longstaff
Unconditional love is love without expectation. With the strings that so often entangle and complicate romantic love expunged, Storge could be regarded as the most powerful love of all. Entering the remarkably relatable realm of Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, a face-value analysis may suggest that Aldteron’s story centres around the protagonist’s journey to find true love. However, when we delve a little deeper it is clear that the consistent, subtle demonstrations showcasing the supreme power of unconditional love are really at the core of her work.
The chaotic Maggie (loosely based around Alderton in her 20s) attempts to navigate adulthood in a modern world where unconditional love is apparently severely undervalued. At 24, she possesses the unfortunate total self-absorption that so many modern young adults fall victim to. Maggie adores her friends wholeheartedly, yet she consistently chooses self-serving paths that often inflict negative outcomes on those she is closest to.
Maggie’s self-indulgence is seen quite viscerally when, after several manic months, she returns for a visit to her family home. The frustration of returning to a totally familiar yet simultaneously unfamiliar setting that is so specific to those who have moved in their late teens or early 20s feels painfully real at this moment. Swamped by warm embraces and luxuriant welcomes, Maggie immediately rebuffs these affections. Her mother is seen desperately attempting to appease her yet is harshly rejected by Maggie’s foul expressions and sulking body language. After a few days where her parents’ love is quite literally thrown back in their faces, Maggie’s resentment accumulates in an angry outburst where Maggie declares that her parents’ unconditional love is the source of all her problems and flaws.
“Looking at vividly executed examples of Storge in Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, the romantic ventures of Maggie seem to pale in comparison.”
This moment felt painfully relatable to me, a student who has often returned home in a foul mood, wielding hurtful comments towards parents who I am lucky enough to continually receive unconditional love from. Yet despite Maggie’s misconduct, her parents are not swayed in their adoration of their daughter. Yes, their hurt is palpable, but there are no breakups, blocking or berating as would occur within the confines of romantic love. Looking at vividly executed examples of Storge in Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, the romantic ventures of Maggie seem to pale in comparison. Although unconditional love from family is often overlooked and neglected, its unwavering nature causes it to be, ultimately, the most potent.