'Romeo and Juliet Farewell' by Eleanor Fortescue-BrickdaleEleanor Fortescue-Brickdale via Wikimedia Commons

‘You May Want to Marry My Husband,’ writes Amy Krouse Rosenthal, a children’s author who passed away from cancer only ten days after the publication of her article in The New York Times’ ‘Modern Love’ column. She selflessly transforms the column into a dating profile for her husband, “a man who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffeepot: a spoon, a mug, a banana,” so after her death someone too may experience a love as earnest as theirs. For 19 years, The New York Times has published articles such as Amy’s, and with them the hopes, heartbreaks, and griefs of the masses in small digestible bites, fragments of hundreds of lives offered for our consumption in print, podcast and on screen.

“The hopes, heartbreaks, and griefs of the masses, in small digestible bites”

Conceived of by husband and wife team Daniel Jones and Cathi Hanauer, ‘Modern Love’ offers a self-professed treasure trove of stories on “love, loss and redemption”. It is the journalistic equivalent of Richard Curtis films, ranging from the hilarious to the harrowing; I make dinner as Haydn Gwynne narrates the suicide of Anne Marie Feld’s mother on her 16th birthday. I stop, placing my weight against the counter, the status of my pasta feeling impossibly unimportant. Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Terri Cheney in the dramatisation of her piece ‘Take Me as I Am Whoever I Am’ opens with a La La Land dreamscape where the mundanity of grocery shopping is imagined through a lens of old Hollywood glamour. Parading though the aisles, an irreplicable shimmer pervades the screen, with a fully wrought musical interlude in the car park, before the realities of her experiences of mental health dawn and the quest for the perfect peach slips into insignificance. The column’s beauty is in its perpetual movement from the seemingly inane to emotionally immediate.

The weekly ‘Love Letter’ waves a familiar hello as I skim my emails, pressing its presence into my inbox, while the podcast would punctuate long sixth form commutes. They are not ‘how to’ guides; they do not pretend to offer the solution to the complexities of life’s problems. Even Laurie Sandell’s essay ‘How to Break Up With a 2-Year-Old’ resembles a meditation on motherhood more than an instructional guide. She reflects delicately and generously on the boundless love you can have for a child, even if their presence is transient and they are not biologically yours. The column is for the essentially curious, bordering on nosy, among us, peeking behind the pretence of near impenetrable social exteriors to vulnerability; they are not always tragic but are often deeply joyous. The cosmological perfection of ‘The Night Girl Finds a Day Boy’ is radiant – a love held under the stars, against diurnal conventions and against all odds.

“The column is for the essentially curious, bordering on nosy, among us”

Do not fear if whirlwind romances and messy divorces do not pique your interest – love in the most unexpected of forms is held within the column’s margins: the symbiosis between a father and a pet fish, and a spin instructor seeking revenge through a carefully curated playlist for the cheater in her Saturday classes. The clement Manhattan evenings of ‘When the Doorman Is Your Main Man’ felt impossibly distant from the hermetically sealed Cambridge bubble until I was introduced to the infinite kindness of college porters, and while Kathryn Hahn’s narration of ‘The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give’ feels relevant only in a very distant future, perhaps we can think of them as time capsules, reference guides for all the obstacles we are yet to face, suspended until the point of connecting your headphones. They are not ‘how to-s’ but ‘how-s’: how humanity can exist with such polarities of experiences and still find beauty, or even just something to take away from acute tragedy – or maybe how someone can love a fish so intently.


Mountain View

Why we should be reading more fiction

Spotify categorises ‘Modern Love’ under ‘Relationships’, but I think this may be a disservice. While the column in its broadest sense is undoubtedly about relationships, of all configurations and dimensions, it is unwavering love in the face of degenerative and terminal illness and oceans of separation, and how to survive without parents – or even with them. It somehow gathers the vast range of human experience and stamps them onto laptop screens for coffee break perusal and muffling train announcements. But maybe that is too wordy for a podcast category.