I do not, as a rule, read relationship self-help books. I don’t go to therapy (though maybe I should). I don’t spend hours on the phone with my mom asking for romantic advice, and though I do talk to my friends about the men in our lives, I also talk to them just as much about work, traveling, our families, and whatever else we have going on. We pass the Bechdel test; we really do. I do, however, have one deep, dark secret about how I approach my love life: Every time I meet someone promising, I turn to Linda Goodman’s Love Signs: A New Approach to the Human Heart, a 1,000-page astrology book published in 1978 that quickly became a best seller and set a record with $2.25 million paid for paperback rights.
My personal copy comes complete with a New Agey maroon cover featuring hearts and stars and a lion cuddling with, I believe, a ram. Inside, Goodman peppers lengthy, prose-poetry musings with whimsical, often wackadoo flourishes, speaking of “windows of the soul,” “faeries,” and how “love alone has the power to bring peace at history’s twilight hour to Earthlings of good will.” Rest assured: I’m not the sort of person who capitalizes Earthlings, much less the type to drone on about faeries. The book is a bit dated and certainly heteronormative, with each pairing organized by gender: Aries man, Pisces woman, and so forth (a 2011 edition included editorial changes to address “gender references and role models which were quite differently perceived in 1978 than today”). But despite the crunchy lingo and traditional categorizations, Goodman’s not trying to put anyone in a box. Love Signs is about freeing yourself — the you who you are — to the experience that is love. It’s also somewhat like finding yourself in a conversation with a person on mushrooms who’s been reading a lot of Peter Pan, and realizing, to your great surprise, that this person makes a lot of sense, and you might want to hang out with them for a while.
So, several times a month, I’ll open my weathered copy of Love Signs to the appropriate section — what’s the Capricorn who’s been texting really about? Why, again, did things end with that Scorpio? — and pore over the information there contained. With any man I date, and often, too, with family members and friends, it is a near guarantee that I will, over the course of our relationship, repeatedly check back in with Linda Goodman for her insights on why we’re fighting, how we communicate, how compatible we are, and why I’m feeling the way I am. (Of course, I’ll check Susan Miller, too. But Linda? She gets me.)
Of late, it’s become more fashionable than ever to profess an interest in astrology, if only in a semi-ironic way. Still, I’d hardly bring up Love Signs to a date I was hoping to impress with my steady relationship potential. Even Goodman herself is cagey about what she’s offering. “Look up a lover before you leap and find out if that ‘right’ person is really right for you!”she promises in the straightforward, sales-y intro pages, later explaining that she knows you might not buy what she’s peddling: “We may point out the path to others, but each must walk along that path alone.”
I’m not the only person walking that path. Said one friend, “I really only use it when the relationship is making me insecure. It’s weirdly a control thing because I hate not knowing the answers about everything.” Another mapped out all of her exes on her star chart after a breakup. “It was extremely therapeutic,” she says. “It’s like the ultimate unscientific answer to the question Why am I so messed up? Which was exactly what I needed right then.”
I’ve been dating for 20 years, in nearly as many astrological combinations as are possible. That’s a lot of breakups, but it’s not just another breakup if you read Linda Goodman, who has a way of knowing more about you than certain exes ever did. With astrology, as with psychic readings, we thrill to recognize what we know or wish for, and then happily ignore the rest. She nailed my relationship with another fish, with whom things ended because neither of us could ever make a decision: “The private anxieties of the Pisces are also doubled (even quadrupled, considering that there are ‘four’ Fish between the two of them) when these lovers plunge into an emotional relationship.” And when I asked a certain Aquarius, “Did you know that if you date someone who is the sign right before or right after you, miscommunication is more likely?” he answered, “Same thing if you date a lunatic.” Typical Aquarius, “not bothered in the least if they please absolutely no one,” writes Goodman.
Love Signs, as woo-woo as it is, can be a rock: It’s a religion of sorts that doesn’t require me going to church, and when applied to the mysteries of romance, Goodman’s starry language fills a gap that stark, grounded thinking simply can’t. “When you’re making romantic choices, you never know if you’re making the ‘right’ choice or not,” a friend told me. “You probably dismiss a lot of perfectly good men, and you just have to live with that knowledge. So something like astrology is a sort of false comfort, but false comforts are sometimes necessary. You can say, ‘Oh, it was fate.’”
How freeing that is, in a world of constant indecision and blaming yourself when you’re wrong. After all, sometimes, you just want a categorical system to fall back on, a structure for analysis. Tell me about me! you demand, and Love Signs, the precursor to any BuzzFeed quiz revealing something about yourself you basically already know but want to have reaffirmed in another format, does that so well. There are surprises, too. In some ways, studying one’s astrological love matches is itself a bit like falling in love. Both pursuits rely on hope, giving something (or someone) the benefit of the doubt, and finding someone (or something) who sees you the way you want and need to be seen. The closer to compatibility you come, the closer you feel to something real and permanent.
Recently, I loaned Linda Goodman’s Love Signs to a friend, but quickly, I told her I needed it back (to write this article, I explained, though it was also to check out how I might work with a Virgo: “This woman can’t remain in love with a man who’s stingy, with either his cash or his emotions”; noted!). I may never find my perfect astrological match, but Love Signs and I are very happy together.