Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
No one wants their love life dissected over Sunday brunch by strangers — unless they’re trying to get an essay into the infamous Modern Love column in the Styles section of the New York Times. Five years ago — and after six rejections — I finally got a submission published a week before my 26th birthday. Of course, I was beyond thrilled to see my byline in print. But, I was also pretty surprised by the way the story was received by pretty much everyone I knew. Ahead, what really happens when you spill the intimate details of your love life in the paper of record.
1. The Person You Write About May Not Even See It. There aren’t any pseudonyms or changed names allowed in the column — in my essay, about how I lied to a friend-with-benefits by telling him I moved to California, so I wouldn’t be tempted to sleep with him again — I had to call the guy John, because that was his name. I’m not sure what they — or I — would have done if his name was less generic, but in any case, I spent the entire weekend panicking that he’d read it. But, he didn’t. He still e-mails me, five years later, asking how I’m doing in California. I continue to lie and say it’s awesome.
2. But Your Parents Will. I was 25 when my story was published, so I knew my mom knew that I’d had sex. But, knowing that and seeing it in black-and-white are two very different things. Even though the article had nothing to do with her, I told her not to read it, because I knew she’d freak out. But, she read it anyway, and we ended up not speaking for a week…and never, ever spoke of it again.
3. It’s Not A Surefire Path To Publishing Success. I’d always imagined that writers of the column would be inundated with e-mails from agents — and a not-so-small part of me was secretly hoping some producer out there would read the column, then snap up the rights for a script. Didn’t happen. I received one lukewarm e-mail from an agent, which was flattering, but definitely not the spotlight (or even the path to publication) that I’d anticipated.
4. Everyone You Date In The Future Will Find It. I suppose that’s true of anything you put on the Internet, but the heading “Modern Love” virtually guarantees that whoever’s Googling you is going to click through, if they're doing their stalking pre- (or post-) date.
5. It's Kind Of Like Free Therapy. Even if you have no interest sharing your personal life with the world, writing 1,500 words on the state of your romantic union, bad breakup, or tendency to always date the same type of guy can be really helpful in figuring out where you stand. The “moving to California” lie was spontaneous, but putting it on paper made it so clear that I couldn’t hang out with him again — this guy just wasn’t good for me. And, once it was in print, I felt like I’d made a promise to myself (and the New York Times-reading public) that I’d moved on. Even if the guy in question hadn’t gotten the memo, millions of other people had, which helped me stick to my guns when I was tempted to call him and say that I’d “moved back.”
6. The Ending Is Rarely Ever The “Real” Ending. Every column — including mine — ends with a hard-won lesson, usually summarized in a pithy paragraph. But, real life is never that neat. And lo and behold, two years after I wrote the piece, I did end up texting the guy I wrote about, telling him I was visiting New York. We ended up meeting for dinner, which was weird and awkward, mainly because I couldn’t stop lying. In my mind, writing the piece — even if he hadn’t seen it — had given me the upper hand. After all, I had strangers e-mailing me to tell me how much they admired my move. But simultaneously, keeping up the lie felt vaguely pointless — and pretty sad. I never saw him again, and I don’t respond to his e-mails anymore, either. And, I’m a lot more cautious now about putting my relationships into print. Which is good, since the men I date now are much better at Googling me than my Modern Love subject seemed to be.