Two years ago, Mandy Len Catron’s essay, “To fall in love with anyone, do this,” was published in the New York Times’ popular Modern Love column and made international headlines.
In her new book How to Fall in Love with Anyone— a memoir in essays— the UBC English lecturer reflects on her own experiences with love, and explores myths about love and why love stories may actually be bad for us.
What are some myths about love that you feel are problematic?
Many people think about love as a profound experience that involves finding “the right person” and when you find this person you’ll “just know.” So many of our stories perpetuate this; they ascribe a mystical quality to love. It’s true that falling in love feels profound, but it’s also ordinary: most of us will experience love at least a few times over the course of our lives. That mysticism often leaves us feeling powerless, which doesn’t really serve us well.
One common myth is the idea that there is a direct relationship between love and deservingness. A lot of fairy tales (in the book I look at Cinderella and Pretty Woman) perpetuate the idea that love is the reward for goodness. In other words, if you’re a good person then you will inevitably be rewarded with romantic love—which implies that if you aren’t in a romantic relationship that you have failed, and you are somehow undeserving. But a quick look around will show that plenty of good people are not in relationships, and plenty of people who are loved aren’t particularly good.
Another really pervasive idea is that our lives are always better— more full, more fulfilling, happier— when we are in a romantic relationship. This can make it hard to end a relationship that isn’t working. Or it can perpetuate negative stereotypes about single people. There are a lot of great things about being free from the obligations of a romantic relationship and we don’t really give these things enough consideration.
A key theme of your book is the idea of exerting more agency in love. Why do you think it’s important that people take love into their own hands?
Many people believe love is something that happens to us. This is reflected in so many of our metaphors: falling in love, love sick, crushed. We use the language of illness and aggression to talk about what is supposed to be the most profound human experience. Of course, love often does feel like some anvil has fallen out of the sky and crushed us, but I’m more interested in the ways we can exert agency in love. Even if you can’t always control your romantic feelings, you can decide what to do with those feelings and whom to spend your days with. You can choose to end a relationship. Or you can choose to open yourself to the possibility of love—even though that can often be a terrifying choice.
Your book also explores common themes about love in books and movies. Why should people be cautious of these ideas?
So many of the love stories we find in books and movies focus on how two people got together, and then the story ends. The implication is that the work of love is done. These stories often contain elements of fate or serendipity, and imply there are larger forces orchestrating our lives. This idea is really appealing, but if you step back and examine it, it can be destructive. We make so many important decisions about where to live and how to spend our money and our time, but we hand our decision about who to love over to fate and intuition. As a result, we have a lot of scripts about how to find a partner, but very few about how to make that love last.