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Stupid Women With Glasses

Anouchka Grose interviewed by Sophie Parkin.

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Anouchka Grose is a qualified psychoanalyst who has written and published two novels, Ringing for You and Darling Daisy. No More Silly Love Songs — A Realist’s Guide To Romance was started when she wasn’t in love. I know this because I was and she came to do a reading at The 3amPP that I used to organise upstairs at The Green Carnation, and we were diametrically opposed. I was all for LOVE and she was definitely not. She so annoyed me I got my own back by casting a spell and making her fall in love. Ha! That served her good and proper right!

So I read her book with interest to see if she’d had to take lots of the negative stuff back once she was a smitten kitten. Analysts are hard and she has kept a level head and doesn’t dive off the top board into wishy-washy land though she demonstrates admirably what Mills and Boon or Jane Austen can do for a gal.

This is a thorough explanation of that disease called love that lifts us to inconceivable heights before burying us deep in the hell of despair and why, why why. And it’s damned good at explaining the impossible in a light, funny but always intelligent way, that doesn’t belittle any of our hard sought intellect and research on the subject.

Read this book if you’re suffering from heartbreak, if you’ve never been in love, but especially if you’ve vowed never to fall in love again. It might just change your mind. I have already sent copies to my daughter and my niece, it was the book I badly needed to read as a teenager when I was forever asking adults: but what is love? How do you know when you’re in love?. Lucky them! As for me, still in love, indeed now married, but I still had a few questions to ask Ms Grose…

3:AM: Love is such a complex integral part of life, as your book shows, shouldn’t it be on the National school curriculum? If so what would the exam be like?

AG: In a way, it is already. They make you read Charlotte Brontë and Shakespeare. The problem is that then they mostly test you by asking you stupid questions about the use of metaphor or rhyme schemes. They should ask why Hamlet’s such a bastard to Ophelia or why Jane Eyre gets off on the guy’s chilliness. Or maybe school’s changed and they do ask you that now.

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3:AM: Is love any more difficult to understand than how to make a really good soup? (And you know what Elizabeth David said about soup!). Give us your favorite Love recipe.

AG: Love is much harder than soup. With soup, if you follow the recipe exactly, you’ll always end up with soup. But with love, what works in one case will be a disaster in another. Even the obvious stuff, like ‘don’t be horrible to your partner’, can’t be applied to all relationships.

What did Elizabeth David say?

3:AM: Elizabeth said you can’t expect to bung everything in from the back of your cupboard into a pan, add water, and for it to come out as soup. You have to be specific and make choices. It’s as important to know what to leave out as to what to include.

Do most people experience love in their lifetime, or are we so befuddled that we settle for the odd bit of affection/attraction/friendship when it comes along and believe it to be something it isn’t? Are we all deluded?

AG: I don’t know what most people get up to, but in my own experience it’s very easy to fool yourself. Still, it seems unlikely that most people will fall in love sometime between the ages of twenty and thirty and then settle down happily for the rest of their lives. What seems much more likely is that most people will make unfortunate, compromised choices because they want to be in relationships and/or have babies. Then they’ll either stay together because of the children/house/dog, or leave and get into yet more unfortunate, compromised relationships. I think happy love is the exception rather than the rule. But that’s why it’s so brilliant — and worth holding out for. The only risk is that, if you do, you might end up very disappointed and lonely and wishing you’d stuck with your half-arsed relationship. It’s a gamble. That’s why so many people stay in unhappy relationships and have affairs; it gives them the best odds.

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3:AM: Why do we project on to our love objects, is it pure laziness or total ignorance?

AG: Romantic love is a projection. Surely we project onto all our objects — especially our hate ones. You can’t climb into other people’s heads, so you generally have to do a bit of supplementary work with everyone you come across. You have to imagine what goes on inside them. But with love objects you might begin by going into imagination overdrive, putting all sorts of excellent things inside them because you find the outside of them so appealing. Then you get to know them better, and are forced to adjust your ideas about who they are. Things come out of them that you didn’t think were there. With a bit of luck the disparity won’t be too shocking and you’ll be able to continue to love them, but on more realistic terms. Or alternatively you might think, ‘Oh shit, what have I done?’

3:AM: Jane Austen said “Imbecility in females is a great enhancer to their personal charms,” and nobody raised an eyebrow. Do you think this still holds true. Do men never make passes at girls that wear glasses?

AG: Jane Austen is very funny. I’m sure she was just being a bitch about some of her neighbours. Of course lots of men like clever women. And stupid ones. Even stupid ones with glasses.

3:AM: Can love at first sight exist without the exchange of conversation — is it really just in his kiss? Can we tell, as scientists say we can, that we know in the first few minutes that someone will become our friend, lover or acquaintance? Or has science nothing to teach us?

AG: I think all that stuff about attraction and pheromones and neurotransmitters is both very interesting and very dull. It would obviously be dumb to argue that it isn’t important. It’s just that it can’t tell you nearly as much as Stendhal or Dolly Parton about the subjective experience of being in love. In a way, who cares whether you chose your partner because your body unwittingly scanned their DNA within a millisecond of meeting them? The interesting bit is what happens afterwards — and what you have to say about it. If your body dictates that you should try to breed with a violent sociopath, then you may find yourself with a good story to tell. If you survive. Animals do all that scanning stuff too, but they don’t write books or pop songs. Still, that’s no reason to ignore science. Or animals. It’s just that recent scientific developments in no way supersede all the fascinating work on love that humans have produced over the last few thousand years — science is just another strand of it.

3:AM: Theodore Zeldin argues that the way we converse with our lovers, can change the way we feel about them. That love can deepen by the thought we give to what we say and the exchanges we have. Why do most people give such little thought to how they speak to their loved ones, less than they do to the evening meal, even when the getting of love is such a preoccupation?

AG: It’s amazing the stupid things that very clever people say. Did he really say that? How long did it take him to notice? Maybe he should spend less time reading. And writing.

3:AM: I think this is most unfair to Mr Z. Lots of people don’t ever think how they talk to anyone (tone, volume, usage of words) let alone the people they supposedly love like wives, girlfriends, or their children or parents etc. Because not everybody is taught to think before they speak.

Why are there so many movies and novels about unrequited love, love going wrong etc. and so few showing us how to do it right? Is constant love boring or does it take us to a height where words no longer suffice?

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AG: In stories things have to change. That’s the whole point in them. There are also tons of stories about people who don’t initially like each other falling in love. If they then stay in love it doesn’t add much to the ending.

In Anna Karenina, there’s a story where people fall in and out of love told alongside a story about two people who stay in love. The one where the people stay in love is bloody boring — you just want to skip to the other bits and find out what’s going on. Happy endings imply that staying in love is possible — they just don’t annoy you with the details. It would be nice to think that long-term love is a kind of wordless bliss. I wouldn’t know. I’d like to try it.

3:AM: a) What should you do when none of your family or friends can appreciate your adorable new beloved, ditch them (you can’t choose your family), or vice versa?

b) How do you know it’s love?

AG: a) That would depend on how much you like your friends and family. People should do whatever they feel like. Maybe it’s nice not to see your friends and family for a while. Perhaps you can learn a lot from becoming a social outcast. And then you can realise that they were right.

b) It’s love if you think it is. That’s all there is. But you can always review the situation later.

3:AM: If everybody who read your book practised what you preach, could we all live happily ever after?

AG: No. I don’t think that’s the promise of it. I know it says ‘self-help’ somewhere on the back cover, but that’s just because the publisher has a sense of irony. But, then again, maybe it’s helpful to hear a bit more about why love can be so difficult. I think the unhelpful books are the ones that say, ‘If you do this then everything will be fine’. I don’t know whether those people are unscrupulous or naïve, but they are mostly very annoying.

3:AM: Noel Coward wrote: ‘Extraordinary how potent cheap music is’. (He also said, ‘Certain women should be struck regularly like gongs’.) Can Mills and Boon romances affect us as deeply as a pop song, and is it true there’s more sex in them?

AG: As far as I know Beyoncé costs the same as Beethoven. I’ve only ever read one Mills and Boon and I was surprised by the explicitness of the sex in it, but apparently they’ve always been like that. Basically, you could have sex in them as long as the people were married, or sometimes if the woman was unwilling. And you could even combine the two in a marital rape. People used to like to read about that, apparently. You don’t get that sort of thing anymore. Maybe we’re more prudish these days. In the one I read they had sex without a condom. I was shocked.

3:AM: There is a certain ironic humour I detect running through your book. Is this really a “Realist’s Guide”? Do you — should we — take love more seriously?

AG: I should definitely take it more and less seriously — and everyone else can do what they like. As you can probably see, I like the idea of people doing what they want. They just need to work out what it is. And so do I.

3:AM: What’s your favorite romantic book, film, record?

AG: All of them. But, recently, I really liked Australia. It’s all about not clinging too tightly to your love objects. And trying to understand people when it seems impossible. And clothes. It’s especially good on the subject of blouses. As for the book and record, Madame Bovary and the Everly Brothers’ ‘Let it be Me’. One very cynical, the other very idealistic.

3:AM: Is it harder to write a book about understanding love, or to be in love?

AG: I think it’s much, much harder to be in love. Or maybe the people who write the books about it are the ones who are less naturally good at it. The ones who are just getting on with it don’t have to bother. But I’m going to try to get on with it from now on.

3:AM: The Lord loves a tryer, or so they say!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sophie Parkin has written seven published books. Three grown-up novels (you can’t say adult, otherwise people think they might be pornography): All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess. For teenagers there is French for Kissing, Best of Friends, and Mad, Rich and Famous. She has also contributed to four other books, from short stories, true stories, long stories, to poetry. Mothers by Daughters, Sons and Mothers both published by Virago, Girls Just Want To Have Fun: the Cosmopolitan book of short stories, and POT 05 – Anthology of Poetry edited by Michael Horovitz. Her new book, Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites (Piccadilly Press), a teenage novel set in Tangiers and London, is out now. Before moving to Holland she ran a monthly 3:AM Magazine/Pen Pusher bash at the Green Carnation in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, January 22nd, 2010.