Everything I Know About Love
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Everything I Know About Love (2018) is the debut book by English author, podcaster, and journalist Dolly Alderton. It is a memoir about her teens and twenties, as she navigates romantic love, female friendship, self-discovery, and self-actualization. Everything I Know was an international bestseller and was adapted in 2022 as a television series for BBC in the United Kingdom and Peacock in the United States. This study guide uses the 2021 Harper Perennial paperback edition.
Content Warning: This guide and the source text discuss alcohol and drug use, body dysmorphia, and disordered eating.
As a teenager, Dolly Alderton believed that romantic love was the most important and most exciting thing in the world and that if she reached adulthood without a significant romantic relationship, she would be a failure.
The early chapters of the memoir detail Alderton’s experiences as a schoolgirl in Stanmore, a suburb of London. There, she befriends Farly Kleiner, a girl her age who supports Alderton when she is publicly mocked by a teacher. Alderton and Farly quickly become best friends; they watch American sitcoms, eat junk food, and sneak alcohol from Alderton’s parents’ liquor cabinet. Alderton begins drinking at an early age in order to feel more like a grown-up and have people take her seriously. Alderton and Farly chat with boys online in Instant Messenger chat rooms and accompany each other on first in-person dates that always prove disappointing. Alderton befriends Lauren, a musician, shortly before transferring to a co-ed boarding school. Alderton struggles to get along with boys and finds herself unable to relax around them the way she feels comfortable with her female friends.
Alderton attends Exeter University with almost all of her friend group—the exception being Lauren, who attends Oxford. Alderton’s partying habits continue, much to the frustration of her first serious boyfriend, Harry. He breaks up with her around her 21st birthday, and the confusion and humiliation Alderton feels afterwards cause her to stop eating. Alderton loses weight quickly and experiences health problems as a result (thinning hair, constantly cold, missing periods, etc.). During this time, Alderton meets Leo, who helps her begin recovering from her disordered eating and exercise fixation. Alderton and Leo eventually break up as she begins her career as a writer because she prioritizes her work over their relationship. Farly falls in love with Scott, the flatmate of Alderton’s former boyfriend Hector, and they move in together. When Scott proposes, Alderton agrees to be Farly’s maid of honor, despite feeling jealous and excluded as her best friend has a new “most important” love in her life.
Alderton travels to New York for a wedding, and there she meets Adam, a young American man in whom she confides her emotional troubles. Adam confesses he loves her mere hours after meeting her, but Alderton rejects his invitation to stay in New York. Upon returning to England, Alderton begins writing a column in The Sunday Times and seeing a therapist, Eleanor, who helps her overcome her people-pleasing tendencies and guides her as she forges an independent sense of identity. Alderton writes a piece on people-pleasing, and through her research she meets David, a guru, with whom she forges an intense yet short-lived relationship.
Farly’s younger sister, Florence, is diagnosed with leukemia and dies at the age of 19. Scott and Farly separate, and Alderton enlists their friend group to take Farly on a holiday abroad. While in Sardinia, Farly mourns her sister and her broken engagement, but with Alderton’s encouragement, she begins to look forward to what her future may hold. Alderton researches sex and love addiction and quits writing her Sunday Times column, believing that it enabled her tendency to seek out casual sex and mistake intensity for real intimacy. Alderton embraces all parts of herself, recognizing that she does not need a guru, a certain body type, or any of the other trappings of “true femininity” in order to be worthy of self-love and the love of others. As Alderton and her friends turn 30, she realizes that the most impactful love in her life is not a romantic love, but the love of her female friendships, which she has had all along.