4 Books to Read If You’re Worried You Don’t Know How to Love

I turned twenty-six this year. Twenty-six is a weird age because nothing really changes except the first half of your twenties is over and the second half begins, bringing with it a number of questions about where you are going and who you want to be.

This year was a difficult mess of interrupted plans. My hair is now streaked with brittle gray threads, which does not look as cool as the full-silver trend that took Brooklyn by storm. I feel old; more accurately, I feel like my life is full of adult challenges and I wake up petulant most mornings, wishing I could chop off my hair and move to a tiny house where no one can ask me for anything.

In the midst of this, all those questions. Do I want to get married? Do I want to be a mother someday? Where do I want to live? What is my five-year career plan? Am I an introvert who needs massive amounts of alone time or do I have commitment issues, or both? If I do want to have kids, how will I continue to write and get enough sleep and remain an individual? Would I be one of those mothers who gets impatient and snaps at her kids to shut up and hold still on the 3 train because it’s been six days/weeks/months/years since she’s been able to stay in bed until 11am on a Sunday and read the newest feminist dystopian novel in her underpants? I think this is pretty typical quarter-life crisis material for a sheltered white woman without basic survival issues to occupy her anxious mind. Womanhood in 2018 is glamorous.

My goal for the summer was to write the first draft of my book proposal. What I did instead was read, ostensibly to find memoirs and novels and essay collections to model my own project after. In aggressively buying books that might inspire me, I accidentally put together a self-taught curriculum in my own psychological issues. The women I read this year grapple with the same questions that keep me up at night. They are willing to lovingly scrutinize the pain, lies, misunderstandings and ill-fitting scripts they learned from their family and society at large about love, family and happiness. Thank goodness for them.

When I read these books, I saw my anxieties and defense mechanisms reflected in blunt, eloquent paragraphs. Is there anything more comforting than realizing that you are not alone? That your specific brand of fucked up and afraid is not all that specific? That a stranger out there doesn’t have all the answers but does have some, and she was generous enough to share them?

So here it is, my curriculum for the emotionally lost and intimacy challenged. If one of your goals is to understand your distrustful mind, unpack the legacy of bullshit you inherited, and identify your needs and wants separate from what you were told, there’s a book for that. Here are some of my favorites.

How to Be Alone: If You Want to, and Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore

IMG_9677 Read this essay collection if you’re tired of being told you’re too much of a romantic and your expectations are too high. Read this book if you would like to take the person who came up with “Netflix and chill” out back and kick them in the ribs for giving guys who lower the bar a socially-acceptable catchphrase. Read this book if you are desperately, unfailingly not chill, not “cool with whatevs,” not willing to concede that romance is dead. Read this book if you keep dating toxic people and the problem is them but it’s also you, because you deserve better but better scares the shit out of you. Read this book if you feel personally attacked when someone asks you about your attachment style. Read this book if your parents abandoned you, or abandoned you emotionally, or taught you all the wrong things. Read this book if “alone” feels less like a state of being than a personality trait. Read this book if you’re tired of healing being talked about as a linear journey rather than an attempt you make day after day after day with limited rewards that hurts you so much in the short term and in the long term. Read this book because true healing does not have cute inspirational phrases on coasters. Read this book because Lane Moore is really fucking funny and loves dogs.

Buy this book.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick


Read this book if you love being alone. Read this book if you crave solitude like oxygen. Read this book if you are fiercely ambitious and creative, and you are tired of being made to feel guilty for prioritizing your goals and the space and independence you need in order to achieve them. Read this book if you need female role models who have made the radical decision to choose their desires over the compromises that marriage requires of women. Read this book if you want to see how other creative women have made committed relationships work with their craft and not against it. Read this book if you really like Edith Wharton or Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Read this book if you think “spinster” is a stupid word. Read this book if you think “spinster” is a great one that we should reclaim. Read this book if the idea of ending up a spinster keeps you—or your mother—up at night. Read this book if you love your apartment and your local corner bodega and your commute and your giant, messy bed, and you think that might be enough for you. Read this book if you aren’t sure if your desire to be single is fear of commitment or love for yourself.

Buy this book.

Many Love: a Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s) by Sophie Lucido Johnson

IMG_8484Read this book if you have had wildly different experiences of love and sexual attraction in your life and a one size fits all approach to relationships has utterly failed you. Read this book if you’ve had a friendship that was more intense and important to your heart than any romance could ever approach in magnitude. Read this book if you need a new definition of love that includes all of the relationships in your life and not just The One, The Only, The Forever. Read this book if you think of polyamorous people as only those creepy couples who wear knitted hemp hats and tell you too much about their dates when you’re just trying to get coffee before your 10:30am status meeting. Read this book if you experience attraction to men and women differently, or if you’re totally crap at communicating boundaries and needs with partners, or if you love learning about sexuality through black and white ink diagrams and comics. Read this book if you have always sensed that love is additive, a renewable resource, not something to be hoarded or fought over, but you’ve never had the language to explain it.

Buy this book.

How to Fall In Love With Anyone by Mandy Len Catron

IMG_8725.JPG Read this book if you learned all the wrong things from your family about love. Read this book if you wrapped yourself in romantic fairy tales of your grandparents during your childhood that read as disturbing now that you are an adult. Read this book if your parents got divorced and it lit a quiet wildfire in your heart. Read this book if you worry that being bad at relationships is genetic. Read this book if you need to abandon the first loves and love stories that don’t work for you anymore. Read this book if you worry that love can’t last, or that some love lasts too long, or if the idea that you might just fall out of love with your partner someday sends a chill down your spine. Read this book if you’re not sure if you’re a romantic or a cynic or both. Read this book if you have put enormous faith in meet-cutes and were shocked to discover that having a “good story” for your relationship doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Read this book if you’ve approached love like a writer or a director or an actor and not like a caring, collaborative partner. Read this book and then talk about it at length with your therapist, and your best friend, and your dog. Read this book and then email me about it, because it was my favorite book I’ve read in years.

Buy this book.

Want more book recommendations? Follow my bookstagram for mini-reviews about feminism, relationships, sexuality and culture.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

3 thoughts on “4 Books to Read If You’re Worried You Don’t Know How to Love

  1. How To Be Alone sounds like the kind of book I’ve been looking for. Thank you for this list. And the rest of your website as well.

    Unless I’m being thick these are mainly meant/directed at for women (although I’m sure most lessons will apply to both sexes) but do you know of any books like this directed at men?

    And/or any similar websites that deal with intimacy, emotions, and relationships for a man? Again, plenty of lessons and tips will translate but it would help. Please. Thank you.

  2. Took the words out of my mouth, i just added all these books to my reading list!
    I am so glad I am not alone in my 26 year old female thoughts!!!

    P.s glad i stumbled across your blog x

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