The Incurable Romantic

‘Frank Tallis brings a lifetime’s clinical experience and wise reflection to a condition that, by its own strange routes, leads us into the very heart of love itself. This is a brilliant, compelling book’ Ian McEwan

Love defines us. It shapes the individual, ensures the preservation of the species, and is the principal subject we – as a culture – choose to examine in the stories we tell. The experience of being in love is powerful and it inevitably changes how we feel and how we behave. Even when love is normal it is so intense that for thousands of years doctors and poets have described love as a kind of madness; however, love can also go wrong. When this happens the consequences for the individual and those around them can be far reaching and in some instances truly astonishing. Lovesickness is not a trivial matter. Unrequited love is a frequent cause of suicide (particularly among the young) and more than ten percent of murders are connected with sexual jealousy. In the course of his career, Frank Tallis has treated many fascinating patients, and their stories, told here, are dramatic, bizarre and revealing.

From flagship NHS hospitals to luxury apartments, as well as notorious council estates Tallis has treated aristocrats, billionaires, film stars, middle managers and people in unspeakable poverty. The jilted Lord is just as vulnerable to the maladies of love as the jilted bus driver.

Love is a great leveller. Everyone wants love, everyone falls in love, everyone loses love, and everyone knows something of love’s madness. And when love goes wrong, wealth, education and status count for nothing. In this astonishing, honest book, we learn of love’s myriad maladies, and witness first-hand the ways they can drive us to madness.

Click here to read an extract

Praise for The Incurable Romantic

‘Frank Tallis brings a lifetime’s clinical experience and wise reflection to a condition that, by its own strange routes, leads us into the very heart of love itself. This is a brilliant, compelling book’ (Ian McEwan)

‘I have enjoyed The Incurable Romantic, in which psychotherapist Frank Tallis opens his casebook. There have been quite a few such books recently, most of them overpraised and not as well written as their admirers claim. But Tallis writes with clarity and wit about the morbid condition of love, which emerges here as a kind of mental disorder … riveting stuff (Sebastian Faulks Guardian)

‘A hugely entertaining, informative and often disturbing look at love in some of its strangest forms. Can’t recommend it enough’ (Mark Billingham)

‘Compelling’ (Susie Orbach)

‘Fascinating and beautifully written’ (Brett Anderson)

‘It is utterly compelling: the details, the dialogue, which bring each character, however heavily disguised, leaping off the page. Tallis’s years of close observation might not always have solved his patients’ problems … but they have helped turn him into a fine writer … He knows how to tell a story. Boy, does he know how to tell a story. This powerful and moving book is not just about individual cases. It’s also about what the human animal needs … They are certainly enough here to create something that feels profoundly truthful. Something that feels, in fact, like an act of love’ (Christina Patterson Sunday Times)

‘Through these cases Tallis makes a strong case that “love” can be the cause of great distress in many ways. He intersperses the cases with observations from history, literature, and scientific reports, making for an enjoyable, entertaining, and informative read’ (Dr Richard Smith, British Medical Journal – Opinion)

‘[Tallis is] a brilliant raconteur with an acute ear for dialogue and sleuth-like capabilities. Only someone who has never felt sick falling head over heels, suffered the agonising pangs of jealousy, battled bestial fogs of lust or wallowed in the delirious happiness of being entwined with the object of their love could fail to be fascinated’ (Evening Standard)

‘Will interest anyone who wants to know what makes people tick … The Incurable Romantic earns its place in the fine tradition of popular psychoanalytic writing … an amiable and acute guide to the madness of love’ (The Times)

‘Thoughtful … Tallis has a graceful narrative style, easily incorporating brief digressions on deeper philosophical issues such as free will versus determinism. Most importantly, his book is suffused with compassion, avoiding facile categorization and struggling to understand and empathize with his patients as people in pain’ (Publishers Weekly)

‘A gifted storyteller … Tallis’s characters remain sharply, painfully real, their stories as inconclusive, messy and fascinating as life’ (The Economist)

‘This fascinating memoir peers deep into the dark heart of love’ (Herald)

‘Outstanding’ (Strong Words)

‘Eye opening stories of lovesickness, rampant sex, and obsessions with inappropriate partners’ (The Guardian)

‘Astute, self-deprecating and funny.’ (Jane O’Grady, Literary Review)

‘Like a 70s Woody Allen movie, hilarious and tragic – strangely compelling’ (Libreria London)

Answers to questions posed by readers and journalists

With particular reference to Delusional Disorder: Erotomaniac type, can a patient presenting with this ever be ‘cured’? What are the dangers of shattering their delusion?

Until relatively recently the generally held view has been that Erotomania is rarely associated with successful therapeutic outcomes. However, some recent research suggests that this may be overly pessimistic and that successful outcomes are more common than past reports imply. Delusions detach people from reality – and being detached from reality is clearly a bad thing with respect to mental health. Providing a patient is made to feel completely safe in therapy and delusions are challenged with sensitivity – there are few (if any) dangers.

Why do we need love so much?

There are good evolutionary reasons why love is so strong. Love makes couples procreate and stay together for long enough to raise their children. Ultimately this ensures the survival of the species. Love is one of our deepest needs. Some would argue that it is actually our deepest need.

What is true love? How do you define it?

The American psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests that healthy, satisfying love consists of three elements; passion (or sexual interest), intimacy (or liking) and commitment. Lasting love seems to require all three. If you only have only one or two of these elements, then your relationship is likely to be less stable. For example, relationships based primarily on sexual attraction tend to be very short-lived – they are perhaps better described as examples of infatuation than true love.

Is it healthy to feel jealous?

Jealousy is a normal and universal phenomenon. As such, a certain amount of jealousy is probably healthy. However, jealousy – when excessive – is one of the most dangerous and destructive of all human emotions. It is strongly associated with violence and murder.

Why do men get more jealous than women?

Evolutionary psychologists believe that jealousy is a kind of emotional alarm system. It alerts us to the presence of sexual rivals. Men tend to be more jealous and possessive than women because men can never be entirely sure of their paternity. If a woman is unfaithful, then a man may spend his whole life working to support another man’s child. A woman is always 100% sure that her children are her own!

You describe Mavis and George – who had a marriage based on sex. What does Mavis’s case say about the role of sex in long term relationships?

Usually, a relationship based entirely on sex will not last. As we get older, the desire to have sex tends to diminish. When this happens, a couple must have other reasons to stay together – for example, companionship. Mavis and George were unusual, because they remained very sexually active into old age. They didn’t need to talk very much or have shared interests, because they were having so much sex! This case shows that if sexual desire doesn’t diminish, a couple can remain happily married. Sex can be enough in these circumstances. The latest research shows that most couples in long term relationships have sex about once a week.

Is there any connection between OCD and the obsessive love you talk about in the book?

There are many commonalities between the state of being in love – particularly at the start of a relationship – and OCD. People can’t stop thinking about the person who they’ve fallen in love with. They become more concerned about personal hygiene and compulsively check their phones for messages. There is also an increase in superstitious and ritualistic behaviour. Mementoes from special occasions – like a champagne cork – are hoarded and acquire the potency of magic charms. There is even some evidence to suggest that OCD and being in the first throes of love are underpinned by similar brain states.

Are you able to identify what causes obsessional love and lovesickness?

It’s almost impossible to determine the precise causes of problematic love; however, we can probably assume that certain biological factors and life experiences combine to make some individuals more vulnerable than others. Cultural factors are also important. The beliefs associated with romantic love frequently lead to disappointment, for example, beliefs such as ‘the person I fall in love with must be perfect’ or ‘I am destined to meet my one true love’. No one is ever perfect and Fate does not organize our social lives. Impossibly high expectations are the very reason why many relationships fail.

Comments are closed.