“Ten years ago, I thought love was about knowing every corner of another person and not wanting to be with anybody else,” says Natasha Lunn, as we discuss love – at length – over the phone for an hour.
“Now, I think it’s a choice you make every day with yourself and with another person. It’s a frequency you can choose to tune into or ignore. And it’s not just between two people. Love requires you to love many number of people and allow them to see you in different ways.”
Lunn has been researching love for four years, having started her popular newsletter – Conversations on Love – back in 2017. Twice a month, she’d interview an expert who had something valuable to say about relationships, to uncover truths about love in all its forms.
Now, she’s written a book of the same name.
I followed Lunn’s newsletter from those early days, tearing up through several of her interviews on the Tube to work after a painful breakup. I messaged her on Twitter in 2018 to say how much those words had helped. And, since then, as my own understanding of love progressed, I became fascinated with the nuances of love that experts would share with her – romantic love, yes, but also our love for family, friends, and children.
“I’ve always been obsessed with what I thought was love,” says Lunn whose book intertwines the interviews with a lot of honesty about her own loves and losses. “But what I was obsessed with was longing. I guess we obsess over what we lack – I couldn’t find a way to make relationships work. I typically put a lot of energy into stuff – work, friendships – and I found those things easy, but relationships hard. It’d never go right for me.”
Lunn realised it was, in fact, infatuation that held its grip on her. Later on, in her 30s, she started to understand she had misunderstood love entirely. “Love was even a bigger mystery than I once thought,” she says. “I thought romantic relationships were love, but I fell deeper into the mystery once I had a relationship and was trying for a baby after miscarriage. I was getting those longing feelings again and, all of a sudden, I was obsessed with trying to conceive. I wanted to understand where that longing comes from.”
Lunn felt like the way she used to be in relationships was a private shame. She was embarrassed for a long time how she would change shape and lose herself. “But I spoke to other people, including smart, successful woman, who say: ‘I completely did the same thing’, and I realised it’s a deeply unoriginal problem.”
The problem, perhaps, is that many of us from a young age believe love is about knowing everything about somebody. About not being able to live without them. Going into relationships, Lunn would “fear change and the unknown”.
Now, she says, she understands that being in love means tolerating the mystery – and that mystery is actually what makes it more beautiful.
Learning about love, though, has been a long and ongoing process. She initially learned from books, she says, remembering a quote from Bell Hooks: “The lack of education around love means a lot of it comes down to books. The job of books to educate us.”
But while books filled a gap, the heartbreak was still necessary. “You can’t protect yourself from that,” she says. “You do need to learn through heartbreak – my issue was I didn’t leave some of those patterns and habits that are natural as a teenager there, I carried them on into adulthood.” Young people should have infatuations, she says – enjoy the fantasy and feel the lure – but be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
“Love was even a bigger mystery than I once thought.”
Lunn wanted to balance a message that romantic love shouldn’t be the finish line, while making space for people to say, “I want a relationship”.
She’d read a lot of books about needing to be happy and find contentment on your own, and not chasing love. “I felt like a failure,” she says. “I wondered what was wrong with me. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Some people don’t want romantic relationship. And others, if you want romance, should be able to voice that. I wish I was less embarrassed about trying it.”
Her book guides you through chapters and interviews on finding and sustaining love, but also surviving losing it. How do we keep comfortable with the mystery?
“Our natural state is lazy, cranky and busy,” says Lunn. “We have to find rituals and tricks to keep coming back to what matters. In love, we need these reminders. We need to put them in place. We can’t go around every day automatically thinking, ‘I love you!’ We need some sort of reminder to trip ourselves out of our frustrated stress.”
Perhaps one of the most inviting aspects of the book is how it covers love in all forms – with our family, friends, romantic partners, children. For Lunn, it also included the love she had for a child who never came to exist. “At first, I felt like I couldn’t even write about it,” she says, speaking of her miscarriage. “Could I count it as love? How could you love something you never held?”
It took her a while to give herself permission to love in that sense, she says. “All forms of love are so different, but we need all of them. Even now, having my daughter, people say, ‘motherhood is most amazing love’. And I think, it’s a huge shifting of yourself and beyond your control. I felt like an animal when I first loved her, it wasn’t an actively made together love – like romantic love. It’s a beautiful love, devoted to another person.”
Lunn wanted to show these other forms of love are no less important. “It was my mistake to think, I will only be happy if I have this,” she says. “I would be devastated if I couldn’t have had a baby. But I wanted to show it wasn’t all or nothing. There were other forms of love in my life, through every decision of choice or circumstance – and you have to look around. Of course, I don’t want to underplay how difficult it is for women who are trying to conceive.”
The mistakes we make in love, says Lunn, are unavoidable – but we can learn from them. What are the most common? “Trying to talk someone out of their feelings,” she says, “and trying to compete in relationships – that’s the death of love”. In friendships, she says, we should be honest about envy and stop being afraid of saying difficult things. And with our families, we should remember love isn’t inevitable, and we still have to be as active in those relationships as in our friendships and romantic relationships. As she puts it: “we should be curious to keep knowing the people we love, as we change.”
Conversations on Love is published by Viking on July 15.