The New York Times Modern Love column is one of my favs. It offers a range of fascinating, nuanced stories of regular folks’ journeys falling in and out of love. Stories that are messy, complicated, heartfelt, and emotional – much like dating itself. And one of the most popular essays ever published (8 million views) focused on the current problem of dating, and what people can do to get past all the first date BS and find someone already. It was entitled: “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.”
Of course, the headline was definitely click-bait, but not misleading. It laid out a test with several steps that you could take and practice on your next date. The 36 test questions were based in psychological studies, and included gazing into each others’ eyes for several minutes without talking. Anyway, the essayist – Mandy Len Catron – found success with this method – the man she tried it on became her boyfriend. Now, Catron has penned a memoir based on the essay. (How To Fall in Love With Anyone, Simon & Schuster). It dropped today.
At first, I was intrigued. Was there more to the test? Would the memoir include the trajectory of her new relationship, and did it work out?
I won’t disclose any spoilers about her relationship – you can read it yourself – but her journey was captivating. She’s a gifted writer who academically studies the dynamics of relationships and how people come together and break apart. She’s a professor, after all. But she was most interested in the marriage of her own parents, whose romantic love story she tried to emulate in her own life. To her dismay, her parents mysteriously (in her eyes at least) announced they were getting a divorce. She wanted to know why – and she wanted some guarantees in love. (Spoiler alert: there are no guarantees.)
I was particularly drawn to Catron’s observations about love advice.
She writes: “Not everyone who eats imagines herself a dietician, but nearly everyone who has loved – which is nearly everyone – presumes to know something about how to do it right…The goal is not to make someone else’s life better, but to assure the advice giver of her own choices.”
While this seems a cynical take on our friends and family who are looking out for us, it does bring up a good point. Nobody has the market cornered on how to create the perfect relationship. We are all individuals, with our own preferences, attitudes, and beliefs that aren’t necessarily going to work with someone else’s advice. And it’s true we look for ways to make ourselves feel validated, especially if we question our own judgment.
But there is something beneficial about working on yourself and improving the way you hold yourself in romantic relationships. We’re far from perfect, and often we don’t see ourselves clearly.
While I get defensive when receiving advice, I recognize I’m reacting because there might be some truth to it. I have to ask myself how I’m contributing to whatever problem I’m facing. There’s no magical answer to relationship issues, but it is healthy to take a step back and consider your own choices, and what you can do differently.
Partnership isn’t a finish line; it’s constantly shifting and evolving and changing. It can be amazing and heart-wrenching both. You can’t fall in love and declare yourself done.
If you are in a long-term relationship, it takes work to grow together. You must both want the relationship to move forward and grow along with you, and you must be open to seeing what it becomes. Every relationship looks different. We each have our own beautiful trajectories. So follow your own path.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with dating itself.
When you are dating, it does take effort to find someone. You have to be willing to grow, to learn, to understand more. You have to be vulnerable and open to falling in love. And you also have to pick yourself up from heartache and be willing to move on, to claim love again.
But you also have to believe love exists – in all of its magical, imperfect forms.
This is not to say that love is all work. Love is a beautiful thing, sometimes lasting, other times not. But if you’ve experienced love, chances are you want to experience it again. And as Catron seems to argue – isn’t that worth it?