What to do when the people you love are annoying?


I have such a crush on Alain de Botton. I’m pretty sure he narrates The School of Life’s The Weakness of Strength video, but I don’t care if it’s not him, I’ll just imagine it is. At all times, Alain knows what to say to fix my life. I guess that’s why he started something called The School of Life.

As time goes by, he says, “It can be the disappointing sides of the people we love that dominate our view of them.” He’s talking about friends and partners, but it applies to families, maybe more than anyone. We love them, so much, often unconditionally, but what that means is that they get so much, unconditional access to the parts of us most vulnerable to frustration and disappointment. (Dear all of my family: I’m talking in universal principles here, obviously. None of you could ever annoy me in any way and all those times I’ve yelled and screamed and thrown things were totally just for laughs.)

“Even worse, we feel they could change, if only they really wanted to,” Alain says, “If only they weren’t so mean.” Family, even though they know you like no one else, or maybe because of that, also have the ability to get under your skin like no one else. Bizarrely, I can accept almost any flaw in my friends (Dear all my friends: obviously none of you have any flaws,) but I take the shortcomings of my family so personally, as if they do them on purpose. We all do. But it’s when the people we love are at their most annoying, says Alain, we need to remember a theory he calls “the weakness of strength.”

“We should always strive to see people’s weaknesses as the inevitable downside of certain merits that first drew us to them, and from which we will benefit, even if none of those benefits are apparent right now.”

The shitty, annoying things one’s family do aren’t faults—they’re “the shadow side of things that are genuinely good about them.” What this mainly does is convince me that when Alain and I get married, every fight we have will turn into him telling me I’m great. Love you, Alain! You are also great.


Alain tells me how my other imaginary husband Henry James became friends with Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev when they lived in Paris in the 1870s. Henry really liked Ivan’s relaxed writing style, the way he took his time until everything was perfect. But in real life, this was a massively annoying trait. “Arranging anything with him was a nightmare,” says Alain, “Yet his social waywardness was really just the same thing that made him so attractive as a writer.”

“My Russian friend is exhibiting the weakness of his strength,” wrote Henry. “It is impossible to have strengths without weaknesses…not all the virtues can belong together—ever—in a single person.”

Alain says remembering this helps us stay calm in a crisis. (Remember that, Alain, when we’re running late for my appearance at the Pulitzer luncheon, and realize we forgot to take the Duck à l’Orange out of the oven; remember my absent-mindedness is “part and parcel” of my literary genius, and stay calm!)

“The theory usefully undermines the properly unhelpful idea that if only we looked a bit harder, we would find someone who was always perfect to be around,” says Alain. People who seem more perfect than those we’re currently tired of/frustrated by come with their own “new litany of weaknesses.”

I can’t work out if that’s a good thing or extremely depressing, but my husband Alain says I need to remind myself “of the incredible idea that perfect people simply don’t exist.” So, family, looks like I’m keeping you for now.

This post originally appeared on Flo & Frank. It’s a happy place for smart women, come say hello.