Awakin Calls » Mandy Catron
Mandy Catron: Writer, Professor
“It seems like we want it both ways: we want love to feel like madness, and we want it to last an entire lifetime. That sounds terrible.” -- Mandy Len Catron Driven largely by her attempts to make sense of the divorce between her parents as well as the end of her first romantic relationship as a young adult, Mandy Len Catron started examining the narratives and scripts that individuals organize their love lives around. “So I turned to science. I researched everything I could find about the science of romantic love,” she said in a popular TEDx talk. She came cross Dr. Arthur Aron’s “36 questions that lead to love” – a series of questions that were designed to study and promote closeness and trust (i.e., not necessarily romantic love) See full.
“It seems like we want it both ways: we want love to feel like madness, and we want it to last an entire lifetime. That sounds terrible.” -- Mandy Len Catron
Driven largely by her attempts to make sense of the divorce between her parents as well as the end of her first romantic relationship as a young adult, Mandy Len Catron started examining the narratives and scripts that individuals organize their love lives around. “So I turned to science. I researched everything I could find about the science of romantic love,” she said in a popular TEDx talk.
She came cross Dr. Arthur Aron’s “36 questions that lead to love” – a series of questions that were designed to study and promote closeness and trust (i.e., not necessarily romantic love) between strangers inside a lab setting through "sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure."
After giving the questions a go with an acquaintance and deciding that it would make for a good story, Mandy in fact fell in love with her experiment’s partner and eventually sent her story off to the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column. The article that was eventually published became one of the most popular articles in the New York Times.
“I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.”
The popularity of her New York Times story found her on the receiving end of accounts of many relationship and love stories, and accompanying that, people seeking her out for advice. Drawing from personal experiences in love and the letters she often receives, there’s something she wishes more people knew: it take intention to cultivate love, and sustainable relationships often feature a process of making one mindful choice after another. She tells us that “falling in love is the easy part.” Beyond that, the longer journey of staying in love is a deliberate process, one that implies a process of revisiting regularly what it means to practice love.
In a second TEDx talk, Mandy reminds us that the metaphors we adopt to talk about love have the propensity to shape how we perceive it. She sees love not as something we should “fall into” passively in periods of passion and madness, but as a collaborative work of art, involving “everything that collaborating on a work of art entails: effort, compromise, patience, shared goals.”
And this applies to building a more trusting, loving world more broadly, because while “these ideas align nicely with our cultural investment in long-term romantic commitment, … they also work well for other kinds of [non-romantic, loving] relationships … because this metaphor brings much more complex ideas to the experience of loving someone.”
In 2017, Mandy published How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, which was recently long-listed for the 2018 RBC Charles Taylor Prize. The process, she recalls, made her confront her own notions and scripts about love, her willful ignorance about wanting to keep love in the terrain of the “unknowable and mysterious.”
“Love isn’t something that happens to us — it’s something we’re making together.” And so the presence of an explicit agreement can make visible and name desires, needs, and expectations. “It’s amazing how empowering this can feel: to name your desires or insecurities, however small, and make space for them.”
Mandy has been and continues to write about love and love stories on The Love Story Project. Her writing unpacking the notion of love and all its accompanying appendages (like romance, cohabitation, monogamy etc.) can also be seen in her articles regularly appearing in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Rumpus, and The Walrus, as well as literary journals and anthologies. From drawing parallels to the prairie voles’ mating habits and the pain they express on being separated, to using data to debunk myths on love, Mandy tries to make these nuggets of wisdom on love relatable.
Originally from Appalachian Virginia, Mandy Len Catron is a writer living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia. She teaches English and creative writing at the University of British Columbia.
Join us in conversation with this writer and student of love!
Five Questions for Mandy
What Makes You Come Alive?
It feels like such a privilege to spend my days writing, thinking through complicated ideas, challenging unspoken or uncontested assumptions about how the world works. I also love sleeping in a tent in the woods with my partner Mark and our dog Roscoe.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
My parents' divorce, when I was twenty-six, caused me to rethink many of the assumptions I had about what it means to love someone, what a family looks like, how to be kind.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
I was so struck by the generosity and love I received at the Gandhi 3.0 retreat in India where I met Nipun and many other members of the Service Space community. I've never received such warmth and trust from a group of strangers.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
I'm not really a bucket list kind of person. I just want to keep writing books that think about what it means to be human.
One-line Message for the World?
Though we may not always be able to control our on feelings, we do get to choose who we spend our days with, who we invest in, and how we treat those we love.
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