Readers of Modern Love may want a good story, but they’re also hungry for advice that can help them navigate the baffling world of relationships. Every year, our most popular essays offer lessons on how to find love or keep it — tips, rules and surprising strategies.
This year’s most-read columns delivered wisdom about living with a slob, exposing your vulnerabilities, finding the silver lining in breakups and more. Here’s a sampling of what they seem to suggest, whether subtly or directly, humorously or tragically. May you be a better partner, spouse, parent or friend in 2018.
1. Be willing to market your spouse, if necessary.
How would you advertise your husband or wife on a dating app? Sounds like a raunchy parlor game with friends, but this question became all too real for Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who, at 51, was dying of cancer and worried about her husband finding love again after she was gone. In writing about him, she both captured his appeal and showed her love. You don’t have to be in Amy’s position to write one for your spouse and do the same.
“You May Want to Marry My Husband”
2. Realize your charming quirks get less so over time.
In Helen Ellis’s marriage, she was the lovable slob, but after a while her husband just wanted to be able to glimpse the surface of the kitchen table when he got home. So with the help of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Ms. Ellis transformed herself and her marriage. As she wrote: “And now the first thing he sees when he comes home is me.”
“Making a Marriage Magically Tidy”
3. Don’t be too reliable.
We think of constancy as a plus in marriage, but it can also spell doom. Ada Calhoun fantasized about ditching her husband every time he was unreliable, which was too often, she felt. But then he surprised her with a moment of creative genius, and made her realize she didn’t have him figured out after all. “To feel awed by a man I thought I knew completely,” she said. “It’s a shock when that happens after so many years. And a boon.”
“To Stay Married, Embrace Change”
4. If tragedy strikes during a hookup, get dressed immediately.
It’s hard to know how to behave during those awkward morning hours after you’ve had sex with a stranger. For the random guy Andrew Rannells had spent the night with, this confusion was compounded when Andrew learned that his father had suffered a heart attack. Meanwhile, the hookup dude kept strutting around naked, asking what had happened. “Clearly nothing good!” Andrew wanted to shout. “Put on some pants!”
“During a Night of Casual Sex, Urgent Messages Go Unanswered”
5. Come out, come out, wherever you are (and at any age).
Few stories are more fueled by regret than those by people who have tried to deny their sexuality through years and decades, marriages and children. In William Dameron’s case, it was his wife of 22 years who saved him when she finally asked, in a Walmart parking lot, “Are you gay?” To which he replied, “I don’t want to be.” But he was, and now could be, leading him to his new, open and fulfilling life.
“After 264 Haircuts, A Marriage Ends”
6. Don’t treat your love search like a job search.
We may have similar online tools for finding jobs and finding love, but since the two pursuits are so different in the end, don’t be fooled into approaching them the same way. As Marisa Lascher, 37, discovered (in the bed of a 23-year-old guy): To win a job you need to present a perfect version of yourself. To win love you need to be able to reveal your imperfections.
“Single, Unemployed and Suddenly Myself”
7. Allow your partner to keep some secrets.
We tend to think keeping secrets is the opposite of intimacy. It’s not. As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan has heard many surprising deathbed confessions, enough to know that her own husband is surely a mystery, too. “Why, then,” she asks, “would any of us leap into marriage, knowing that the future is unknowable, knowing our spouse is a mystery we can never fully understand?” Her answer: faith.
8. Define romance broadly.
Preconceived notions about romantic compatibility can box you in. When Victor Lodato moved to a small town to focus on his work, he instinctively turned down an invitation for a drink from an elderly female neighbor. Then, only to avoid being rude, he ran after her and accepted. Had he stuck with his no, he would have missed out on the greatest platonic romance of his life.
“When Your Greatest Romance is a Friendship”
9. Be grateful for breakups.
Try not to dismiss failed relationships as mistakes, but instead appreciate them for the essential lessons they provide. Unable to move on from a stinging rejection, Miriam Johnson asked her therapist, “What more can I do to let go?” The therapist replied: “You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not about letting go. The work is to be grateful. Grateful every day that someone crossed your path and left a mark on you.”
“The 12-Hour Goodbye That Changed Everything”
10. If you only want one lover, don’t match with 1,946.
If dating apps are swamping you with too much temptation, maybe delete a few? Lauren Petersen was enjoying monogamy until her relationship flamed out. That’s when she logged back in to Bumble and discovered that nearly 2,000 men were awaiting her swipe. “And yet,” she wrote, “almost comically, I wanted to date only one particular person.” The one who wasn’t awaiting her swipe.
“Wanting Monogamy as 1946 Men Await Your Swipe”
Daniel Jones is the editor of Modern Love and the author of “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers).”