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Learning About Love From 'Modern Love'

NPR
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

As the editor of the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, Daniel Jones has read some 50,000 essays about love, attempts at love, and love gone awry.

He shares some of those stories as he delves into ideas and ideals about love in his new book “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers).

As Jones tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, the book isn’t filled with advice but with stories.

“I feel like we learn to live our lives through stories, not through advice; advice is more like sanctioned nagging,”  Jones said. “When we read people’s stories of people who are going through situations similar to our own — or perhaps very different — that can instruct us on how to live and can make us more empathetic toward people in other situations.”

‘Modern Love’ columns mentioned in the segment

Book Excerpt: ‘Love Illuminated’

by Daniel Jones

Let’s start with a quiz. Books about love often open with a tantalizing quiz so readers can discover, without too much flipping around, how smart they are, or maybe how stupid the book is.

My quiz won’t be the kind where you check your answers against a key to determine your Love IQ . Nor will you be able to upload your responses to an online Personality Pikker® that matches you with a certified LifeMate™ whose compatibility is guaranteed or your money back.0212_love-cover

This isn’t a book of ironclad answers or money-back guarantees.

I will not be locating Mr. Right by GPS, explaining the psychology of why men love bitches, or providing a list of field-tested strategies for entrapping romantic prey. Very little scientific research underpins anything herein because I am not an esteemed doctor or a lauded academic but a lowly newspaper editor, one who—rather improbably, I admit—reads other people’s love stories for a living.

At the New York Times, I edit a personal-essay column called Modern Love, in which strangers spill their guts about their relationship woes. It’s a job I have worked at more or less full-time for the past nine years, a period during which some fifty thousand laments about love have filtered through my brain and, often, my heart.

The stories arrive by e-mail around the clock, pouring into my laptop, dribbling out of my printer, and spilling across the tables of my office and home. They follow me into bed at night, tag along on family vacations, and ping into my iPhone when I’m walking my dogs or standing on the sidelines of my son’s soccer games. They also frequently are told to me in person, at cocktail parties and public events and in planes, trains, and automobiles.

When people find out what I do, they invariably say, “You must know a lot about love.” Or they might invoke the name of the newspaper sex columnist played by Sarah Jessica Parker on Sex and the City and remark, “You’re like a male Carrie Bradshaw.” The first person to make that observation was a journalist who interviewed me early on in my job, when I was so out of the loop love-wise that I didn’t even know who Carrie Bradshaw was. I thought the journalist had said, “Terry Bradshaw,” the famous Steelers quarterback (now Fox Sports

commentator) I’d grown up idolizing during my suburban Pittsburgh childhood. It didn’t occur to me to ask what Terry Bradshaw had to do with editing confessional essays about relationships. All I could think was: I’m like a male Terry Bradshaw? But he is male.

Shows how little I knew about love back then. Now, nine years later, I apparently know enough about love to fill a book. Yet I hardly see myself as some guru who sits atop a mountain of accumulated wisdom in my robe and sandals, eager to dispense sage advice to the lovelorn. In my mind I have not been mastering love all these years so much as marinating in it.

Asking me what I have learned about love is like asking a pickle what it has learned about vinegar.

Let me try to explain it another way.

Say you’re on an ocean cruise, and you’re enjoying your narrow experiences and sheltered life, sleeping in your climate-controlled cabin and dining on your private balcony as you gaze out across the ocean, finding it all vaguely pretty as you eat your toast and jam and prepare for your fencing lesson on the lido deck.

That’s sort of what my life felt like before I became the Modern Love editor.

Then one night you stumble over the railing and fall into the ocean. But it’s not just any ocean—you’ve fallen into the Sea of Love.

Excerpted from the book LOVE ILLUMINATED by Daniel Jones. Copyright © 2014 by Daniel Jones. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins.

Guest

  • Daniel Jones, editor of the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column and author of “Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers).” He tweets @danjonesnyt.
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