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“Love is friendship on hard mode”: an interview with Henrik Karlsson about his essay Looking for Alice
on marriage, dating, "not dating"
Tamuna Sirbiladze, In which it is whether they went with it, 2015
Hi! Happy Sunday. For the second ever episode of the Bookbear Express podcast I talked to Henrik Karlsson, who writes the amazing blog Escaping Flatland, about his essay Looking for Alice. A brief excerpt (if you haven’t read it, you need to read it. 50 friends sent me this essay):
Some people think Stein was lying when she said she wasn’t lesbian. And they are disappointed by that. (The fact is that most people Stein liked happened to be gendered like Alice.) But hers is the right attitude: you do not like a category. You like individuals. And you’re not born knowing which kind.
So what do you do? You go talk to a thousand people (increasingly less randomly sampled) and see if there are any patterns in who makes you feel excited and alive and true and heard. And then you start hanging out with people like that.
So, as I was saying, by my early twenties I had reached this stage. I had crashed and burned through a couple of relationships. I had tried a lot of weird things. And now I could sort of gesture at what I liked—kind people who are intellectually voracious and think it is cute that I obsess so hard about ideas that I fail all status games. Plus a lot of tacit stuff that I can’t formulate well.
This essay is about how Henrik found his wife, and the subtitle is “Not Dating.” I’m new to podcasts and there were a couple technical issues (forgive me!) but it was the best conversation I’ve had in ages, and touches on several topics I am personally obsessed with.
A preview of what we discussed:
Henrik knew right away that he was interested in Johanna because they had enough shared context: she liked books, they had friends in common, they knew the same poets.
For romantic relationships, continued curiosity is key—the question is, where do you find people you’re curious about?
“Love is friendship on hard mode”—we talk about how we believe friendships and romantic relationships are way more similar than most people think. One is just substantially more difficult.
The problem with most dating apps is that there’s a lack of shared context: you are swiping on random people you might not have very much in common with. As a result, you both might struggle to be continuously curious about each other. Henrik describes Tinder as a “lossy search—there’s so much noise to your signal.”
The quality of sourcing matters when it comes to finding a partner.
“If you’re a super strange person,” most people won’t get you. How do you find someone who does?"
Henrik and Johanna collaborate on writing and editing, and this is another example of choosing to do the relationship on “hard mode”—it’s more difficult, but it’s also more rewarding.
Marriage is like writing an essay: it takes work, “it’s not divine inspiration.”
You can’t be with everyone, but on average you should probably try harder to make it work with the person you’re with. If it’s boring, Henrik thinks that maybe you should try harder.
Henrik: “You should have trust if that someone is kind of good, they can become really good with your help.”
Housekeeping: I really loved doing this podcast and want to do more! I bought a mic, and if you guys have suggestions for like… podcast apps or audio editing apps or people you want me to chat with, I’m all ears.
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