Julia Edelman (Interview)

Words by Jessica Jacolbe. Art by Hallie Bateman.

A late night text from an ex would’ve been a fun case study for Freud, but what if the late night text was coming from Freud himself? Great minds have wants and needs, too, right? What if Freud would’ve had a late-night text backfire? It’d pretty much be the only thing Freud and I would have in common. In Love Voltaire Us Apart, author Julia Edelman imagines how a conversation as such with Freud about could’ve been like, along with every other kind of existential angst that could come from the terror of modern dating.

In her humorous take on a relationship guide, comedy writer, Edelman, spouts love advice from the mouth of our greatest philosophers. If ever you needed relationship advice in regards to communication, then the practiced Socratic method is sure to be of help. While it is a fun read, there is some advice to be taken from the philosophers, like how to feel normal after again a break-up (Nietzsche says existence has no meaning, so your ex should be dead to you) or if you should get married (de Beauvoir suggests to challenge the social construct. Hello, open marriages!).

Since the release of the book’s trailer, which features Mara Wilson as Ayn Rand, Love Voltaire Us Apart has become the number one book on Reddit, hit the top charts on Amazon, and even earned an endorsement from Tom Hanks. Earlier this month, I spoke with Julia about how dating has been annoying us for centuries and if being witty can really pay off online.

JESSICA JACOLBE: How did the idea for a book about philosophers giving relationship advice first come about?
JULIA EDELMAN: I initially got the idea for the book when I was in this philosophy class in McGill University in Montreal. I remember my professor telling us how Kant would’ve been the greatest man of all time if he had been able to feel love. I thought that was so sad because he was so close to being perfect, but was never able to be in a relationship. It made me think about what other philosophers’ dating lives would’ve been like. Most philosophers are self-involved and super depressed, so that led to me writing excerpts of philosophers’ break-up letters. I wrote that and submitted it to The New Yorker, and then a few months later, they responded and wanted to publish it. Then eventually a publisher in London, Icon Books, saw the article. It had been doing well, and they asked me to expand it into a book. They asked me to do a whole book of break-up letters, and I instantly thought that was way too depressing. I wouldn’t even read that. It turned into love letters, quizzes, and this guide to relationships incorporating different philosophers.

As much as this book is humorous, there are hints of the philosophers’ feelings on their own romances. Did you end up researching those philosophers’ actual love lives?
Yeah. A lot of them are imagined based off of their philosophies. A few of those philosophers were actually in relationships, like Jean Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir, Heidegaard and Hannah Arendt, Voltaire and Emelie du Chatelet. I wanted to stay close to the truth and be historically accurate, but also have the creative freedom to make it humorous and playful. That was also interesting balancing that line of trying to remain accurate to history but also making it fun and easily consumable for people who don’t fully know everything about philosophy, but are interested.


Art by Icon Books/Hallie Bateman

We published a news story recently of a report that showed how myths about love and romance are ruining our health. How much do you think is our modern perception of love and romance due to the writings of those philosophers?
I think each great writer or artist influences the next generation. When I think of how people view love now, I don’t feel like people are quoting Aristotle. I definitely feel their works influenced pop culture in a way, and that perpetuates it. In a way, I don’t think there were many philosophers who were too overly sentimental or romantic, and so I don’t think at least within the category of philosophy, they would’ve been harmful. More reserved to the point of having a balanced relationship.

What kind of love did you believe in growing up? Even while studying philosophy or writing this book, did that change your perception of love or romance?
I consider myself a pretty romantic person and tend to want to believe in the best in people and things can work out. Growing up, I had a soft spot for rom-coms. I feel like growing up, all the books that I read had some romantic element to it. When I look back at this book, there is a sharpness to it because so many philosophers are struggling in their love lives. I think that reflects the fact that I had been going through a break-up. It had been ending when I decided to write this book, so I think it definitely reflects the place I was in when I was writing it. If anything, it gave me some perspective on love lives and how people throughout history have been dealing with break-ups, rejection, and pursuing people. It made me realize that nothing has truly changed, even when Plato and Nietzsche were trying to date. In a way, since I was going through this weird break-up as I was writing it, it gave me this great way to express those feelings through the book. Now, I generally have the same mentality or attitude towards love.

Since you’re a comedy writer, how much of your skill of being funny or writing jokes matters in your texting game? I would think that with so much of modern dating being very text-based, funny writers would have an advantage.
The craziest thing is no. [Laughs] I was once approached to write for this app where strangers would send you screenshots of texts and they would ask you for a witty response to send to people. It would go to this chatroom of a bunch of other comedy writers. The person who got the best response got 20 cents or something. Then it would build up.

That’s hilarious. Do you remember the name of the app?
I forget the name. At first, I did it as an experiment because this is a funny way to be casually waiting for the subway. Let me write a good response for this person and make five bucks by the time I get to where I’m going. They ask for texts or they could ask for advice. I remember one time someone was like, “I wanna take my cousin to prom and I don’t know what to do.” Then, there was this one where they were actually asking [for] some real advice, like “I’m feeling pretty depressed because this girl doesn’t love me.” I was like, I should not be helping these people. [Laughs] I think that was the time when I [thought], I’m gonna let this job go. I’m wary of giving people advice. If anything, it made me better at dating and relationships. It’s hard. Sometimes I’ll look at a dating experience [of mine] and it’ll go wrong. I’ll be like, alright cool, a fun story that I can write about now. But I have to remember, oh, this is also my life. Not everything is just a fun story.

In your book, you have a quiz to find out which philosopher is your crush. Having tried to get into the minds of these philosophers, is there one philosopher you would love or hate to go on a date with?
Ideally, I would want to be matched up with Aristotle. He makes the most sense. He’s a super balanced nice guy and would make you a better person. That could work for a little bit, but then I’m like, nah. If I wanna be self-destructive, then I would be with Nietzsche. [Laughs] I’d like a balance between the two, but Aristotle is the one you should always go back to.

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