Tell us about your book. How did it come about? What was your inspiration?
“Well, this book is the result of having done this column a surprisingly long nine-and-a-half years. I never thought it would last that long. A few years in, I started writing editor observation columns for Valentine’s Day, where I would try to figure out what had happened in the previous year, what the trends were. If you’re looking through approximately 5,000 stories a year, what are people writing and obsessing about? I started doing that every year, probably six or seven times, and finally my agent said to me, ‘You’re giving this stuff away!’ We talked through, over a two year period, how we could think about this. At this point, it’s not 5,000 stories, but 50,000. What are the trend lines running through all of those stories? What are people dealing with? It just turned into a project of looking through everything I’d run, things I hadn’t run, and notes I’d taken over the years and columns I’d written. What it adds up to is sort of an arch of life in love, from meeting until you’re 85. So, that’s what it was. It's about what sort of stands out through each phase, and what to do about how we find love through technology or sustain it that way.”
How did you become the editor of "Modern Love?" Were you doling out relationship advice to your friends and thought, ‘Maybe I’ll just do this for a while?’
“It was kind of an accident. My wife, Cathi Hanauer, did an anthology in 2002 called The Bitch In The House, and it was a huge hit. It was all first-person essays about relationships and what women struggle with in thinking they could have a family and a career and a marriage, and have it all work seamlessly — and being disappointed. Not only disappointed, but angry that they couldn’t balance all of that well — and really angry at their husbands. So, that book kind of backed me into the corner of having some sort of response, and I did. It was called The Bastard On The Couch.
Do you think there’s a difference between the way men and women write about or discuss love?
Do you have a dramatic increase in submissions at certain times of the year? Some seasons tend to bring people to a more romantic place.
“I can’t say I’ve tracked them that carefully. It’s been pretty stable over the last five years, with the only drop off being in August when people are on vacation. But, otherwise it's sort of 400 or so a month, every month.”
And, you read them all yourself?
“I read them all myself, but I don’t read all of them. I promise to respond at least with a form message, but I’m starting to lose the ability to do that. It’s just sort of inching up past the level where I can keep doing that. But, I feel like people are pouring out such devastating stories, and they’re not publishable stories. Just to send it out to the ether and have nobody respond at all just seems so depressing.”
What would you say to someone who feels that they’ll never find real love in their life?
“One of my favorite pieces has since turned into a book by Sara Eckel called It's Not You. She didn’t meet her now-husband until her early forties, and she dated a lot. Being in the women’s magazine world, it was all about, 'What is wrong with me that has led me to this barren place?' She tried one thing after another to change who she was, and at the end found the guy that was right for her and liked her for who she was. It’s sort of a cliché story, but in the end she was like, 'There’s plenty wrong with me, but what’s wrong with me isn’t the point. I just hadn’t found the right person yet.' And, some people never do. I don’t think that’s because there’s something wrong with that person. You see these couples walking down the street where each person is so odd I can’t believe they found someone. Some of it’s just bad luck, I guess, but it does truly seem like anyone can find it and if you don’t..."