“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!