Gordon Livingston, How to Love (2009) — Book Review

© 2012 Peter Free


14 March 2012





Gordon Livingston, How to Love (MJF Books via Da Capo Press, 2009)



Highly recommended — for people wondering how to avoid mistakes in picking a romantic partner


This small, 203-page book is misleadingly titled.  Its primary emphasis is not on how to love but on how to pick someone who will respond to generously-bestowed love equally generously.


The difference is subtle, but important.  The distinction avoids misleading readers into thinking that love’s power conquers all.


Successful love is an upward spiraling, mutual reinforcement.  It cannot be flown with someone who does not share the wings.



Caveat for celebrity worshippers — in making his case, Livingston attacks modern culture’s egregiously superficial sparkle


Dr. Livingston uses popular culture’s misguided standards as symbols of exactly what not to do to — if you want to live a meaningful love.


Therefore, readers who are confidently enamored of modernity’s frenetically shallow gleam will dislike his message regarding the mature soul’s actual needs.



It may be that the book’s message can only be appreciated by those who have already suffered the consequences of poor judgment


Livingston writes what I long ago told my kids about mate-finding — run from mental illness, personality disorders, substance abuse, and self-absorption.


These twists of the human core can only rarely be ameliorated enough to make a positive difference in the person who manifests them or regarding the relationship burdened by them.  Most of us don’t recognize the futility, until it is too late to avoid a painful train ride.


If seeking a more fulfilling love — embrace kindness, courage, tolerance, optimism, generosity, and listening.


If that is not enough, add flexibility, honesty, humor, intelligence, and loyalty.


Sum it up by looking for inner beauty.


Core extracts


The book’s essential message lies in these statements:


[T]he fundamental requirement for any satisfying relationship is the reciprocal ability to see the world as others see it, to be able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. . . . This effort might be called becoming the person you long to love.


Those we choose to spend time with define both who we think we are and who we want to be. They must be chosen carefully.


[W]e nearly always get the spouses we deserve.


How we feel when in the presence of another person is an excellent indicator of the value of the relationship. . . . So if we feel more worthwhile as a result of being around someone, that is an important reason for wanting to prolong the experience — and vice versa.


© 2009 Gordon Livingston, How to Love (MJF Books via Da Capo Press 2009) (respectively at pages xvii, 3, 83 and 89]



Sounds simple, but of course it is not


And that is where Dr. Livingston’s easily understood, no-nonsense insights encourage readers to know:


(a) the limits of love’s power




(b) the requirement that both partners be on essentially the same open-hearted page.



Recommended — How to Love combines simple elegance with salutary wisdom


Gordon Livingston’s books are gems.  A life-time’s thoughtful lessons condensed into just a few pages.


As a reader, one cannot ask for more.