New Ideas About an Old Ideal
The Romantic Love Question and Answer Book, by Nathaniel Branden and E. Devers Branden, Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1982, 232 pp., $11.95.
A couple of years ago, Nathaniel Branden wrote a remarkable book called The Psychology of Romantic Love. What made it remarkable was that after all the novels and sonnets and correspondence on the subject, Branden actually had some new things to say about romantic love—not only what romantic love is, but how to find it, nourish it, and (above all) keep it from shriveling up and dying.
The Romantic Love Question and Answer Book (which Branden wrote with his wife and professional colleague, E. Devers Branden) is a companion volume with essentially the same message. As Branden writes in the introduction: "Romantic love, rationally and appropriately understood, is not an unattainable dream, an adolescent fantasy, or a literary invention. It is an ideal within our power to reach. But reaching it demands a higher level of personal evolution and maturity than most of us have attained or even understood, and our failure to recognize and meet its demands brings so many love stories to their unhappy conclusions."
As the title says, it is a question-and-answer book. While obviously a companion work to The Psychology of Romantic Love, the earlier book is not a prerequisite to Question and Answer. It could be said that the first was the strategic study and this is the tactical one.
The book has eight chapters, each touching on a particular dimension of loving relationships, explored through questions and answers. The questions are generally simple, but the answers are not. Most are brief essays on philosophy, psychology, and other matters as they relate directly to various aspects of romantic love. The Brandens do give answers, but they aren't once-over-lightly pop psychology solutions. Their answers stem from some very basic philosophical premises. Earlier in his career, Nathaniel Branden was closely associated with novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand, and the influence shows. (But it is influence, not imitation. Branden is a highly original thinker, not a xerox machine.)
This is a very honest, candid book. While the Brandens do show that you can significantly improve your chances for success in a romance, they never offer lifetime guarantees. Taking the joyful risk of love—with no safety net or restrained commitment—means opening oneself up to the terrible possibilities of loss. Branden has been there. His previous wife Patrecia died in a drowning accident, and he writes feelingly about death and loss and the residual effect on his life with Devers Branden. She discusses it from her perspective, as well.
They take on other rough topics—subjects like jealousy and infidelity—with similar frankness and openness. Question and Answer is studded with new insights about familiar situations. For example, outside relationships "sometimes make a bad relationship bearable. They keep a man and a woman from confronting their frustration. Their affairs are not a solution, but a painkiller."
Despite the caveats, painful aspects, and acknowledgment of uncertainty, the overall tone of this beautifully written book is very optimistic. The Brandens are positive people, and the whole theme of the book is that happiness is possible, but it's not a free lunch. "We would like to give back to men and women," write the authors, "the hope with which they started. The dream does not have to be abandoned, but we need more than love to make love last."
Jack Kirwan is assistant editor of the Energy Journal at the University of Arizona.