Saturday, April 13Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Conversations on Love with writer Chloé Williams

By Olivia Taylor

Natasha Lunn’s book Conversations on Love first appeared on my radar a couple of months ago via an Instagram story of book recommendations on New York-based writer Chloé Williams’ account (IG: @chloeinletters). With the rise of ‘BookTok’ and various other social media platforms allowing us to connect with other readers, reviews and recommendations have a newfound significance, especially when they come from respected writers like Williams. Conversations on Love joins Lunn’s own intimate essays with confessional interviews that give readers a beautiful insight into the heart. There is much to be said about relationships, regardless of whether they fall under the form of romantic, familial, or platonic, and Lunn teaches us that everything we feel is in some way universal. 

Lunn began her conversations on love in 2017, reaching out to people such as Candice Carty-Williams, Dolly Alderton, and Susie Orbach in order to search for the answers on how we find love, how we sustain love, and how we survive losing love. A huge success, it comes to readers at a crucial time, after this period of loss and isolation where we have all struggled with a lack of human connection. ‘Maybe there is comfort in knowing that, whatever we have or don’t have compared to each other, we share this same vulnerability to randomness,’ Lunn writers in her first chapter; perhaps it is scary for us to consider the periods of loneliness we experience when we aren’t in a relationship, which is why we may find ourselves constantly searching for the next. We learn that Lunn herself was searching for a marriage and children, and for her the latter proved to be a challenge. Her narrative often becomes deeply personal, and whilst we may not have had this exact experience, the desire and pain she vulnerably reveals is something we can all relate to. She depicts that caught-up-in-the-moment feeling of being obsessed with what we long for, especially when it comes to the love we have or want. 

Lunn claims that ‘Too many, I think, take familial love for granted,’ which a lot of us can probably agree with. We get so obsessed over the love we want romantically that often we forget how significant the love from our families and friends is to us, if we are lucky enough to have it. In my own experience, the familial and platonic attachments I have made often leave me with unimaginable expectations for new people I meet, because I’ve been so lucky with the love I already have. Every day I learn more about both myself and the people surrounding me. Conversations on Love tackles the complicated issues that we all have to go through, but its broad investigation into topics like loneliness, intimacy and grief provide an understanding for everyone, ultimately making it the answer to all our curiosities and allowing us to appreciate the love in our lives. If you find yourself without a Valentine’s date this year, buy this book. If you do have one, buy it as well. Conversations on Love isn’t just for those looking for love, it should be a companion for everyone developing their own perspective on it.  

I got in touch with Chloé Williams in the hope of coordinating an interview like those in the book, and she did not disappoint. An experienced freelance writer, with social media accounts you could read (or perhaps ‘stalk’ would be a better word) for hours, her writing demonstrates a spectacular attention to detail. Her variety of work allows her words to resonate with a majority; her writing, like Lunn’s, depicts the emotions we face as people who, deep down, all want to experience love. Love and vulnerability are common themes in Williams’ work, and in our own ‘conversation on love,’ she gives some words of wisdom that we may all need, whether we are falling in love, out of love, or just trying to maintain what we have.

Olivia Taylor: I want to start by asking one of my favourite questions Natasha Lunn asks in her book which is, ‘What does being loved mean to you?’

Chloé Williams: When I was 20-22 I had a pretty tumultuous “situationship.” I was allowed everything but love for those years, at a time when I really craved it. This lack really informs my life still because what I noticed was the absence of love often presented itself as not seeing or understanding each other. When I think about being loved in any essence whether familial, platonic, or other I tend to think of moments of profound witnessing. With my family, it’s our nightly walks which we are committed to. In my writing, I have an affinity for talking about water and other people’s houses because of these walks along the beach where my parents and I point out what we might renovate or repaint should we live in these beachfront homes. When we’re not doing that we’re talking about books we read, things we want to do with our lives. It’s a vulnerable time for us all to present a clearer image of ourselves to be witnessed. All this to say to be loved, in my wildest dreams, is to put these tender mundane parts of me in front of someone and to have them see it. I spent a lot of time not existing in someone’s life in a certain way so I think I love you might sound like: I see you as a complex person in the world and this existence you have has a weight in my life that I would notice if it were gone.

OT: In what ways does love make you feel vulnerable, and how do you tackle the inevitable emotions that come with vulnerability?

CW: The vulnerable part of love to me is that, naturally, I am very tender. Often when I try to grasp at love it is in a way that can’t and doesn’t want to play it cool or coy. I’m forward about my feelings with words and actions so I find it difficult for the people I like and want love from to not see me as devoted and intense because I am devoted and intense. My cards are always on the table. I think that is at odds with the world as it stands now. People my age want to be casual and be in and out of love all at once. I don’t blame them or criticize them and I don’t think I’m better for not wanting that way of life. I’m just someone who has had something like that and you can grow tired of it quickly. I don’t want to guess, I want to know how people feel. I live in a naturally vulnerable state with my tenderness and I want someone to try to be vulnerable back which is terrifying to ask but if anyone knows this it’s me! But I also don’t think it’s impossible which is how I face the inevitable feelings of rejection that can come from being comfortable with my vulnerability. It’s not that I need someone to spill their life to me, it’s just I want someone to tell me they’re excited to see me and is willing to say after a first date this was fun and I really want to see you again. That’s not much to ask and I will wait happily for it because I’m also not someone that is dying to end this five-year streak of being single. Like anyone of course I want romantic love, I dream about it, but I don’t need it enough. My life is so rich in love and romance from the people who choose to love me now I’ve found satisfaction in being alone. I tackle those inevitable feelings of vulnerability, those leaps in the dark, by remembering the joy I get by being where I am. I lean generously into the gentle hands of everyone around me, including my own.

OT: You mentioned to me before that love and vulnerability are two of your favourite topics. How have your experiences with love, regardless of what form it comes in, influenced your work?

CW: My goal with my work, as a whole, is to illustrate the love languages I have and collect. Love languages to me are not the five that come to mind when you hear the phrase. There’s this quote I like by Richard Hugo that says “If you are a private poet, then your vocabulary is limited by your obsessions.” There are plenty of ways you can phrase it, affinity, obsessions, love languages, patterns, and so on and so forth. When I sit down to write about love romantically I can feel it more like a translation of my history and every fleeting form of love that passed through me. Usually, I can trace it back to my childhood. I grew up well cared for and deeply loved. The love feels so intense that I don’t think I’ve ever felt capable of writing about being a kid directly and choose instead to bring to life these love languages I learned from my parents as I attempt to show them to other people. If you read my stuff you might notice I talk a lot about the early morning, whether waking from a deep sleep to the blueish half-night half-morning or being the first one out of bed. That’s a love language to me, an obsession, because my mother wakes up at 4 am on average. I remember being afraid in the night and then hearing her walk to the kitchen downstairs and thinking well it’s not night, it’s morning, mom is awake and you are safe. The house has a consciousness to it that will take care of you until you’re ready to get up. In many ways, my work is the story of this fluency with the first languages of love I’ve ever been given and their continued history. My dad, if I’m ever writing about nature and walking that’s my dad. So of course, I recognize though I prefer to write about romantic love I’m not exempt from trying to return home in it. The obsessions were planted there before and it is because of their familiarity that I am drawn to writing about them. My work is a homage to my parents for giving me something great. And truthfully I’m not interested in writing about anything but life through this lens. Spite bores me. I hope that answers the question, I am not sure if I did. 

OT: We often focus on the love we have and receive from others around us, but may neglect the love we have for ourselves. I know from your work that self-love is important to you, so how would you describe your means of self-love?

CW: The means of self-love is mostly the same as any kind of love, which is to really look at yourself with the intention of seeing. Part of that intention I think is understanding that contained in anyone are disagreeable things, emotions we think are ugly, parts of us we don’t like. Self-love comes to me as compassion, comes to me as the bravery to look because I know to see the greater part of my existence is to see the contrast of the less than stellar aspects of myself. The rewards are greater than the fear. I love that I’m optimistic naturally, dislike that I can self isolate. Now that these things have names I can love myself in full by changing and addressing how they show up in my life. You can’t half-look or you’ll only have half-love and as I said I’m not in the business of being coy. So I look all the time. I look in therapy, in my writing, in the mirror. I see me, or I at least make an effort to and I extend the compassionate hand of I don’t like this part of you but I want you to know that my love is going to stick it out because this relationship is forever. 

OT: And a final question to mirror Lunn: what do you wish you’d known about love? 

CW: The pain of begging someone to love you is greater than the pain of leaving someone who only shows you the possibility they could love you. Love is not some gaze that passes just over your head, staring out into the possibility of the people you could be. And I know he is very handsome and he says these things you’ve waited so long to hear, but I also know the person you are around him exists inside you when he’s gone. You don’t need him to be her. Most importantly, love sees you as the person you are today and accepts the terrifying leap in the dark that the person you will be later will be loved by the person they will become. Love thinks ahead sure, but it looks you in the eye.