It's strange, when you stop to think about just how many of our ideas about "relationships" come from literature. People can rag on Romeo and Juliet all they want, but at the end of the day, we all love a good love story, especially one about forbidden love between sexy youths. Ideas about painful long distance relationships date back to The Odyssey. And would we even have the entire rom-com genre if it hadn't been for Jane Austen? So, whether you're single or common-law married, here are a few books, both old and new, that will shape your relationships.
Now, of course, there are a lot of books on the market that aim to help you trick amazing people into loving you. And that's all well and good (except please don't ever trick someone into dating you, that's not good). But these books are less advice on how to date, and more pieces of writing that will change how you think about relationships. They'll influence the choices you make. They'll worm their way into your heart, and inspire you to make the most of your life—or, at the very list, to stop dating drips.
So here are a few books that might just shape your relationships going forward:
1'This Is How You Lose Her' by Junot Díaz
Just to be clear, This Is How You Lose Her is not a great model on which to base your relationships. Yunior might be irresistible, but he's also a serial cheater. But still, Junot Díaz captures betrayal and heartbreak like no other. He adds humor and pathos to the most doomed of relationships. This Is How You Lose Her will help you process those relationships that didn't quite work out, because you can still find something beautiful in a short term romance.
2'Modern Romance' by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Look, relationships have always been complicated, but now we have to navigate romance with real people and interpret their emoji choices. If you're feeling overwhelmed by apps and texts and online profiles, check out Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance. It's a smart, thoughtful, hilarious exploration of modern dating, both good and bad, and it might even make you feel a little different about your screen-based relationships.
3'Americanah' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah is about so many different things: coming of age, the politics of hair, race in America, identity, college, immigration, dating, blogging, and much more. But the backbone of the novel is the long, complicated love story between Ifemelu and Obinze. Read this book, and at least one stage of their relationship will resonate with you, or perhaps even reassure you that (spoiler alert) some kind of a happy ending is possible.
4'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is a red flag of a love story. Cathy and Heathcliff are the worst. They love each other, but they also hate each other. They're all about passion, but not so much about kindness. It's not until their kids' generation that there's a glimmer of a healthy relationship in the book. But reading Wuthering Heights will shape how you think about those early, tumultuous relationships you had, and how they're eventually (hopefully) replaced by more mature romance.
5'Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe' by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Aristotle and Dante are both loners. Aristotle is angry with the world and everyone in it, Dantie is a know-it-all who never quite fits it, and the two of them seem to have very little in common. And yet, their friendship slowly blooms into something more. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a captivating story of self-discovery through love, and it'll probably make you cry in a good way.
6'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen
Lizzie and Darcy are the original rom-com couple. They go from scoffing at each other to awkwardly dancing to being madly in love. They're snarky and smart and delightfully real. Read Pride and Prejudice no matter where you are in your own relationship, and Jane Austen will always have some new insight to offer to you with her patented dry humor.
7'Giovanni's Room' by James Baldwin
This is a novel that you can breeze through in an afternoon, but that will stay with you for long after. It's the story of an American man in Paris, who proposes to a young woman, and then falls into a passionate affair with an Italian man. Baldwin explores the beauty and pain of human sexuality and identity in one of the most classic romance novels of all time.
8'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green
This book is just one long punch to the gut. You could hate every single character in this book, and you'd still be ugly crying by the last chapter. Not only will The Fault in Our Stars force you to look at relationships through the uncomfortable lens of mortality and teenage angst, it'll make you want to go to Amsterdam with your pretentious boyfriend and drink champagne by a canal.
9'Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality' by Hanne Blank
As the incorrectly attributed Dorothy Parker quote goes, "Heterosexuality is not normal, just common." Straight will shape your relationships and how you think of them by reminding you just how diverse relationships have been over the course of human history. What we think of as "traditional" today is actually a fairly new set up. It's a fascinating nonfiction journey to remind you that you get to define your own relationships.
10'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare
Sorry, friends, I'm a hack who actually likes Romeo and Juliet. Sure, it probably won't shape your relationship to the extent that you'll run around taking drugs from priests, but if you actually read Romeo and Juliet, you'll find that it's not so much about hormonal young love. It's about a boy with a lot of feelings and a girl who over-thinks everything, who come together to create something beautiful in the midst of hatred and violence. This is a text that inspires relationships built on healing and hope, that that's something we can all get behind.