The Secret of Modern Love

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Modern Love

“She dumped me.” That’s the first line of the first Modern Love column, published on Oct. 31, 2004, and it’s a tale of heartbreak, obsession and regrettable emails. In the 13 years since, more than 670 columns have followed, and while heartbreak and obsession still dominate, regrettable emails have mostly given way to regrettable texts, Instagram posts and Tinder swipes.

Our aim with Modern Love was to create a forum that explored love in all of its messy permutations — romantic love, yes, but also joys and strains of friendship and family. After commissioning our first batch of essays, we ran an email address with the column to encourage reader submissions, hoping to find exciting and surprising ideas from beyond our Rolodexes. Within a month, more than enough writing was pouring in to meet our need — to date, some 80,000 essays.

The essays have come from Brooklyn and Boston, Mississippi and Mumbai. Often they represent the most important story in the writer’s life, but they also explore fleeting moments, like the 21st century anxiety of waiting nine hours for a guy to respond to your first tentative, suggestive text message.

As the column has grown up, it has begun to try on new forms. The Modern Love Podcast, produced with WBUR-Boston, puts these stories on the air (and sometimes in theaters), with actors such as Emmy Rossum, Jake Gyllenhaal and Colin Farrell bringing their own interpretations. In 2017 alone, people have spent more than 140 cumulative years reading Modern Love online and have downloaded the equivalent of 600 years of Modern Love Podcast episodes.

The column has amused, enraged, enlightened and moved. Mary Alice Hostetter’s “Dear Dad: We’ve Been Gay a Really Long Time,” detailing how she came out in her 60s to her 95-year-old Mennonite father, caused a Mennonite teenager in Lancaster County, Pa., who was struggling with her own sexuality, to write: “Reading this has given me hope that maybe, just maybe, I won’t be met with hatred if I ever decide to come out.” Heather Burman’s “My Body Doesn’t Belong to You” spurred story after story from women who also had been catcalled and harassed.

Marriages worldwide resulted from strangers asking each other the 36 questions in Mandy Len Catron’s essay “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” And who knows how many spouses were subjected to exotic animal training techniques after Amy Sutherland’s 2006 essay “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage” went viral. (My father-in-law was one of them.)

More recently, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” a love letter in the form of a personal ad published 10 days before her death, led to a mass cry event — one that began, prepublication, among my own colleagues.

When it comes to love, we want answers. We are tired of flailing in the dark. But if these 670 weekly dispatches have taught us anything about love, it’s that answers are scarce. We see that curiosity will serve you better than certainty. Embrace curiosity about new experiences, and new people — and about new aspects of the people you already know. That’s where you’ll find love.

For more from Awkward and Amazing: Modern Love at 13, click here.