Nobody sits us down and teaches us how to love. So we’re often thrown into relationships with nothing but romance movies and pop culture to help us muddle through. Until now.
Two little words, until now, got me to consider a book I’d normally bypass: 8 Rules of Love: How to Find It, Keep It, and Let It Go by Jay Shetty, Pub Date 31 Jan 2023, Simon & Schuster.
Until now, none of our parents, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders, or friends have modeled love and instilled in us all the things that matter, above all, love?
The title alone sounds like clickbait. We see these come-ons at every site we visit: Seven Things You Didn’t Know, Eight Rules, that sort of thing. Add “life coach” and I’m gone.
Except, this guy has millions of followers. I should find out why.
“Shetty’s vision is to Make Wisdom Go Viral,” his website explains. “He is on a mission to share the timeless wisdom of the world in an accessible, relevant, and practical way.”
Either he’s that good, or we all need publicity agents like his.
His daily show, #FollowTheReader on HuffPost Live, includes interviews with top celebrities. How does a former monk in his early thirties espouse “unprecedented” wisdom in 400+ videos with over 5 billion views? What does he know that we don’t?
Or is it just that he says the same thing we do but in a more appealing way?
The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Think Like a Monk offers a revelatory guide to every stage of romance, drawing on ancient wisdom and new science. source
I mentioned the book to Newsblaze founder and editor Alan Gray.
A 20-something probably writes the Simon & Schuster items now, he replied.
Everything is new and “unprecedented.”
They don’t realize we’ve seen a lot more than they have and we have long memories.
We can’t let them get away with it.
I ordered an Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley. I started reading.
That was in October. This is January.
This is not the kind of book you read cover-to-cover in one weekend. It’s packed full of exercises, anecdotes, scientific studies, the wisdom of the Vedas, quotes from family therapists and assorted life coaches, and ideas we’ve seen in other books or in memes all over social media.
“8 Rules of Love” won’t hit bookstore shelves until mid-February, but already it’s getting rave reviews: “life-changing,” “transformative,” “revelatory.” Shetty will guide us “at every stage of romance, drawing on ancient wisdom and new science.”
I’ve got to see this book of love, sang the Monotones, a six-member African American band whose only hit was “(Who Wrote) The Book of Love,” a Billboard Top 100 song in 1958. The song kept playing in my head. I wonder wonder who, oh whoah ooh who: who wrote the book of love?
WHAT IS LOVE
The deepest love, Shetty explains, is “when you like someone’s personality, respect their values, and help them toward their goals in a long-term, committed relationship … when you live with someone, see them every single day, and are at their side for their greatest joys, biggest disappointments, and all the mundanity and intensity of daily life.”
He says a lot more, but we will leave it there for now.
WHAT’S A VEDA GOT TO DO WITH IT
Shetty joined an ashram at age 21. For three years he lived as a monk, studying the Vedas, which were written more than five thousand years ago. Their relevance in the modern world “amaze and inspire” him, he writes in the Introduction. This book is rooted in Vedic principles, “applying Vedic concepts in ways they haven’t been used before, applying spiritual concepts to earthly relationships.”
Eh. He had to go there, didn’t he. It wasn’t just the Simon & Schuster employee trying to schill a book; the author himself says he’s doing things that have not been done before. Like Moses coming down from the mountaintop, he brings us rules.
These rules are rooted in The Vedas.
“The Vedas describe four stages of life, and these are the classrooms in which we’ll learn the rules of love so that we can recognize it and make the most of it when it comes our way,” Shetty explains. “After we learn the lessons of one level, we move to the next.”
However, many of us pass through the four ashrams without learning our lessons.
“If you haven’t learned the life lessons of an ashram, life will keep pushing you back to that phase of life in one way or another,” Shetty says.
The book follows the order of the ashrams, which parallel the progression of relationships: “from preparing for love, to practicing love, to protecting love, to perfecting love.”
Brahmacharya, Grhastha, Vanaprastha, Sannyasa. I won’t summarize it all here; you can read the book yourself or check out Shetty’s podcasts and videos. What you can’t do is learn the Vedas yourself online. One YouTube video warned that nobody can study and understand the Vedas without a guru to explain them.
No wonder Shetty is training thousands of new life coaches to share his insights into the Vedas.
Each rule is defined and explained and illustrated with anecdotes. And exercises. Shetty gives us a boxed-in set of “TRY THIS” exercises with questions we should ask our potential life partners. “For each question, rate whether your partner does it always, sometimes, or never.”
Duly noted: Do the research before you commit.
Even if commitments are no longer until death us do part.
I’ll highlight some of the takeaways I took from the rules.
Rule 1: Let Yourself Be Alone
“Loneliness makes us rush into relationships; it keeps us in the wrong relationships; and it urges us to accept less than we deserve.” (I’m nodding, thinking of too many people who settled.)
“If you entered a relationship without coming to appreciate solitude, then you might stay in that relationship for too long because you don’t want to be single again … Sometimes we justify this inertia by convincing ourselves that our partner will change.”
Again, I’m nodding.
Learning to love ourselves is the first step in preparing ourselves to love others? Nothing new there. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler covered this in their 1972 book Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life and Living. But this is 2023, and old insights need to be freshly packaged. Right?
Shetty tells us how to practice being alone. Go to a museum alone, or a restaurant, or take a Master Class alone, etc, etc, hmmm, this sounds very familiar. Not new. I wondered if he’d culled some of this from a 2019 book by Lotte Jeffs. The title doesn’t sound like a Rules of Love book, but “How to Be a Gentlewoman” (September 5, 2019) devotes an entire chapter to the art of learning to be alone before learning to live with a lover.
Shetty’s list (go to a restaurant alone, etc) is nearly identical to hers.
Rule 2: Take a Look in the Karma Mirror
“First, when we learn from the past, we heal it. And second, this process helps us stop making the same mistakes.” We know that, but do we know how to break the cycle?
“TRY THIS: YOUNGER-SELF MEDITATION” is the first set of exercises. The next boxed set has us reflect on our parents, our expectations of them, what they modeled for us, and what kind of love and emotional support we may wish they had given us.
I could see another area I need to work on in my own life: “Even if we feel there’s nothing to heal, sometimes the wounds are so deep, we can’t see them anymore. We take a stoic approach, we tell ourselves we’re fine, but we don’t recognize that we must take stock.”
The next “TRY THIS” asks us to think of movies and whatever ideas of love the media has planted in us. After that comes a scientific study and yet another TRY THIS box, this one describing three types of relationship roles: Fixer, Dependent, or Supporter.
Four more TRY THIS boxes lead us to the end of Rule 2.
Even if you don’t take time to reflect and write out answers to all these questions, just reading all the questions is exhausting.
Rule 3: Define Love Before You Think It, Feel It, or Say It
Ok, I’m not really going to summarize each rule.
My favorite line:
For some of us, saying “I love you” means “I want to spend the night with you.” For some it means “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
The Four Phases of love come next. Along with the science of three distinct drives in the brain: lust, attraction, and attachment. The “TRY THIS” boxes are full of questions we should ask the person we like enough to consider as a potential partner-for-life.
Rule 4: Your Partner Is Your Guru
Ok, this is one I haven’t seen a hundred times before.
Is my husband supposed to be my guru, and am I to be his?
“We don’t usually think about our partners as teachers of guides,” Shetty writes. “But none of us can see ourselves or the world clearly on our own.”
Do we have to be Hindu and study the Vedas to find a guru?
“Anyone you encounter might have something to teach you, but not everyone is your guru.”
Also, gurus teach without scaring, accusing, or guilt-tripping us. “A guru offers guidance without judgment, wisdom without ego, love without expectation.”
Shetty cites research on egocentric bias. He offers more questionnaires. I started skimming.
He asks us to speak to each other the way therapists have been advising for years: “It’s now what you say, it’s how you say it.”
Gurus don’t use harsh words or criticism. “Instead of saying, “You should do this,” the guru says, “I’d love to share this idea with your” or “Have you ever thought of it this way?”
We all talk like that, right?
Some of the advice sounds laughable, but perhaps the next generation of humans will stop saying things like ‘You are a slob; your clutter drives me crazy,” and start saying things like “I appreciate it when you pick up your dirty laundry off the floor.” Hint, hint.
Let me know if this works for you.
“Look for ways to communicate so that the other person can consume, digest, and apply your input effectively. Offer them a love sandwich where you deliver a piece of constructive criticism between two tasty slices of positive feedback.”
This is old advice but it’s something I keep forgetting to do. Cut to the chase is my motto. How has that been working for me? Uh, I may need a life coach!
Shetty drops a lot of quotes from Kripamoya das, along with assorted authors such as Stephen Covey (“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People).
All this, and so much more, form the chapter on Rule 4.
Are you still with me? Should I keep going?
Rule 5: Purpose Comes First
Rule 6: Win or Lose Together
Rule 7: You Don’t Break in a Breakup
Rule 8: Love Again and Again
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE BOOK
My Kindle is full of highlights from the text. I’ll toss out a few at random. Things that sound familiar and true and not exactly new. E.g.,
“Abuse teaches you to suppress your instincts, ignore your own pain, feed someone else’s ego. Emotional, mental, and physical abuse should be deal-breakers for everyone.”
Sadly, we all know someone who remains stuck in an abusive relationship.
“You are always writing your own story … Karma is the activity in your life, but your soul is your identity. You might change and grow together, mixing your karmas, mixing the energy of two families and two communities, but don’t lose your identity. Don’t lose the thread of your own story. Pursue your own interests, not just your partner’s.”
A lot of people need to read this book, internalize it, and put it into practice.
This one is a classic:
THE ARGUMENT THAT NEVER ENDS
Sibling, spouses, we all know the infinite loop of an argument nobody will ever win.
According to Dr. John Gottman, Shetty writes, “69 percent of marriage conflicts are ongoing problems and never get resolved.” (I always wonder how anyone comes up with statistics like that.)
Next, we get the Captain Obvious advice to “face our problems instead of avoiding them.” Sometimes the same old confrontations are so wearying, “we stop fighting because we’re exhausted by all our fruitless efforts to advocate for our own needs or point of view. And sometimes it seems more important to keep the peace than to solve the problem … but eventually it will come out of hiding, with sometimes catastrophic results.”
If ever you thought you lost your one and only Love of a Lifetime, chances are, it was just a biochemical reaction.
“Research shows that areas activated in the brain when we’re in love are the same as those involved in cocaine addiction. So the way your brain experiences a breakup is kind of like the misery of detox. Just as addicts crave a fix, we can literally crave the other person … our brains flood with chemical messengers” and send urgent signals to retrieve what we lost. Furthermore, areas of the brain active in heartbreak also process physical pain. Researcher Helen Fisher tells us the difference is that while pain from a toothache fades, emotions can intensify the sensation of a breakup.”
To find our way out of this chemical morass, Shetty says, we must remember a spiritual truth: the soul is unbreakable. The Bhagavad Gita says the soul “is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same,” and before I could think it, Shetty said it: “Easy for the Bhagavad Gita to say.”
If we do the work and take all the steps Shetty outlines in accordance with Hindu wisdom, we can recognize that while something is breaking, we are not that something. “You existed before this relationship, and you will outlast it … Your life is not falling apart. You are not over.”
My favorite advice boils down to one thing:
DON’T BE A JERK
The whole “How to Be a Gentlewoman” book covers that one.
Shetty touches on it with advice that’s worthwhile, but hardly new. If you’re the one breaking other people’s hearts,
Remember: The pain you put out into the world will come back in your direction. So instead of ghosting someone or cheating on them, be honest. Be clear … Do it face-to-face, look them in the eye,” etc, etc. “Unfollow. Do your best to avoid seeing them on social media,” and don’t try to stay friends.
How many jerks will read this and act accordingly? Those most in need of hearing this stuff seem to be the least likely to tune in to a podcast or read a book on how to be a more compassionate, honest, accountable human being.
Master, or Entrepreneur? (And all before the age of 34!)
In the month of December, I was still revisiting this book.
Not much struck me as “new” or “unprecedented.” I did however find myself nodding a lot. True, this, and true, that.
What wonderful things could I say about this book, despite my irritation that a 30-something is telling me the rules AND is going viral with his wisdom, earning fame and fortune?
If anyone could help me see the positive, I figured, it would be the Egyptian-American thinker/poet and aphorist Yahia Lababdi.
“I’ve mixed feelings, I admit, about Shetty,” Yahia messaged me, “and feel that we live in an age when the student is prematurely thrust as teacher – in the absence of those who know better. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king sort of thing. It’s about stages in life … He’s just getting started. I think of Merton and his reluctance to refer to himself as a spiritual master. This is the sign of a true teacher. The uneasiness with mantles.”
Not that Shetty calls himself a spiritual “master.”
Yahia in a 2020 essay coined a clever phrase: “another spiritual entrepreneur bandying about seductive buzz words,” but not in reference to Jay Shetty.
On Twitter, some are calling Shetty a plagiarist (see Internet Star ‘Exposes’ Award-Winning Life Coach Jay Shetty for Plagiarizing Quotes).
He “built an entire career out of stealing quotes from the internet,” tweeted Safeera (@safeerakaka).
@TheAhmedShariff tweeted in 2019,
“If anyone has a good motivational quote, please leave it here. If anyone has some good life advice, let me hear it. No, I don’t really need your advice, just put it here before Jay Shetty steals it.”
That was more than two years ago. Shetty’s latest book scrupulously identifies all whose wisdom he is appropriating. Lesson learned?
Overall, I can endorse this book for young people who have not already read a hundred other titles with similar messages.
I could swap “offspring” or any family member for “partner,” and a lot of Shetty’s relationship advice would still apply.
I’m not a fan of the “exercises” and advice sections. This book has so many pages and so many questionnaires and assessments, it felt like I was investing hours with a therapist. For thirty dollars, you might find the book is quicker and easier than weekly therapy.
Or you might tune out the pop-up ads and invitations to buy more of Shetty’s wisdom.