Everything I Didn’t Know About Love (Until Dolly Alderton Taught Me It)


by Bethanie Culyer


I first picked up Everything I Know About Love in the last year of my first long term relationship. I chose it because it was the book I saw everywhere- being unmissable with its bright yellow cover. The last time I read it was last night – the cover slightly turned in from being read one too many times in the bath – next to the man I hope I’ll spend the rest of my life with. The book is the most worn, by far, of any book that I have bought in my adult life- so it may not photograph well, but it still reads the same. It’s the kind of book you get half way through and you get a copy for your sister – your friend – anyone who you think would benefit from it. Which is everyone- because you never know as much about love as you think you do.

When I first read this book, I thought I knew everything there was to know- what is it to be in love, what it is to be loved, what it is supposed to look like – feel like. One of the quotes emblazoned on the cover reads “I thought I knew a lot about love- not as much as Dolly. and that rings true. It has done at every time I have read it, no matter where I have been in my personal life. There’s always something to be learned from it, something new to realise and relate to.

The life Dolly has lived – at least romantically- does not resemble my own. I am a ‘Farly’- the long term relationship type. I love the commitment, the picture perfect ideal, dreaming of the marriage, the future children, a pet tortoise… that’s just me. I could never cope with the dozens of encounters, the uncertainty, the wildness of Dolly’s life. I sometimes wished I could. Kissing a stranger at a bar is about as out there as my love-life has ever been- I’d much rather be where I am now- in the home I’ve created with the person I love, building flat-pack furniture together, growing cacti and reading books. We are two Farlys- and it just works. With that in mind, here is my pick of the best advice from Everything I Know About Love- with annotations and anecdotes from a true Farly.

      ” No practical matter is important enough to keep you in the wrong relationship. Holidays can be cancelled, weddings can be called off, houses can be sold. Don’t hide your cowardice in practical matters”

This is the advice I wish I had, and I’ve known it to apply to my friends as well. I think this definitely applies to the Farly-type character as you aren’t only non-confrontational, but you’re a planner. You’ve planned exactly how everything is going to go, from your day to the trajectory of your relationship. Everything is supposed to happen a certain way, and when it doesn’t, that’s difficult for you. Deep down you may be unhappy, but leaving everything you’ve built up over the years is too much to even comprehend, and so you find some smaller, insignificant reason to say- like an upcoming holiday or event. You’ll wait, and put it off, and eventually the event is long-gone and so is your desire to stay. You shouldn’t stay in a relationship for any other reason than that you want to- and if you find yourself looking for these small reasons to stay, it’s already as good as over. I wish I was kidding when I say I once stayed for someone just because I would miss their family. No matter how daunting it may seem, everything and anything can, and should, be cancelled for the sake of your own happiness.

“You cannot predict how another person is going to behave in a relationship. You can risk-assess, you can be cautious, you can make sensible decisions about who you choose to trust and invite into your life and heart. But you can’t manage the unruly variables of another living, breathing human. To choose to love is to take a risk. Always. That’s why it’s called falling- no one meanders-with-a-compass-and-Ordnance-Survey-map into love”

I recently found an Instagram post that pointed out how scary it is that we can never really know what someone else is thinking, and that we have to rely solely on what they tell us – and honestly- this is a terrifying concept, because it is true. Someone can tell you that they love you every day and after years, turn around and say they never loved you at all- and you will never know if they really mean that. I have friends who over-analyse everything that was said and done in a relationship, who years later are trying to work out why this person said what they said and did what they did – and I am honest with them and tell them they’re never going to know- even if they asked, they’re unlikely to get the whole truth.

For a Farly-type person, this is a particularly difficult truth to acknowledge- just how quickly the rug can be swept out from under your feet, and your life turned upside down, by the words and actions of someone you thought you knew. It’s enough to make anyone leave the world of dating forever. In this though, Dolly is right- loving someone is a risk. You can never know anything for certain, as much as you’d like to, and sometimes you just have to jump in, head first, and hope for the best. It might take just one more try- it might take twenty- but things always have a way of working out for the better.

“Shared interests are one of the most misguided considering factors when it comes to choosing a partner. Deciding that someone is a good person, our your soulmate, or made of exactly the same stuff as you simply because you both love the music of George Harrison is ridiculous. Having the same Martin Amis collection or enjoying holidays in the same part of rural Wales will not help you weather the varied unexpected storms of life together.  A much underrated and incredibly simple considering factor is [..] how much you love their company […] the most important thing in a relationship is how well you work as a team. It’s a hackneyed notion for a reason: a couple need to be really, really good friends.”

This is one bit of advice that has always stuck out to me, I suppose partially because it has been brought up to me previously when discussing a relationship. What I have generally found is that I don’t have a great deal in common with my friends- for example, one of my best friends has a completely different outlook on love and relationships to me, and as a result we act, and think, differently when it comes to relationships. We don’t share the exact same interests for the most part – besides a great love for the movies of one Colin Firth- but we are best friends, regardless. So I don’t necessarily understand why anyone would find contention with the fact that they have little in common with their partner- even my parents have fundamentally different interests.

I brought this up with my partner, and while its true that on the surface, on meeting we don’t have anything obvious in common, since we have been dating we do a lot of activities, and have started liking new things, together- we play board games, we watch the sopranos, we play co-op games on our consoles and bond over our tortoise, Tony. Despite all this, we are different people. I am quite shy around people I don’t really know- he can sit down next to someone and within ten minutes they’re chatting and sharing biscuits. I am overly worried by what people think of me, and he couldn’t care less. But these differences are helpful- what good is a partnership where both people are exactly the same? Nobody wants to date someone exactly like themselves, and in the same vein, it’s also good to be friends with someone who isn’t exactly like you. Firstly, it balances out the strengths and weaknesses in both your characters, but it also exposes you to different views and ways of thinking, and its just plain more interesting. Everyone needs a Dolly to their Farly (and vice versa).


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