The editor of the New York Times column “Modern Love,” and the author of Love Illuminated, a new collection of essays about marriage and relationships, Daniel Jones reflects on the diversity—and common threads—of human connection.
In the introduction of your book you say, “Love is about curiosity, not certainty.” After nearly a decade of reading other people’s essays about their relationships, what are you still most curious about?
My wife and I started this column together, and she’s always been most interested in reading accounts similar to her own situation. I’m exactly the opposite. I like to read stories that are completely different from my life, about people who fall in love and conquer incredible obstacles. How does a relationship survive when a husband tells his wife he wants to go through gender reassignment? Why does a woman fall in love with a man she knows has HIV/AIDS and stick by him?
Is there anything you can say about love, with complete certainty?
Yes. Love requires you to be vulnerable. I see so many people trying to take shortcuts, especially enabled by technology. Online dating makes you think there’s some kind of science behind the questions they ask and categories they put people in, but many times people are backed into a box that’s not a fit. There are so many things you can only know meeting someone in person and getting to know them over time.
Is it possible to find a soul mate online?
People want to find a prepackaged soul mate, but that’s a title that comes as people get to know each other. You have to earn it. I wouldn’t have said my wife was my soul mate when I met her. But she and I have gotten to know each other very deeply over years and many different situations, and that’s what makes our relationship so strong.
Is there a “Modern Love” essay that sticks with you in terms of unexpected challenges a couple had to overcome?
What’s surprising to me is how the mundaneness of a relationship can be what tears a couple apart after they’ve gone through extreme hardship. For example, I worked on an essay written by a woman who lost a child within months after the birth. She and her husband thought that nothing could be worse, nothing harder to overcome. The essay moves forward in time, and the couple has two healthy children and everyone is doing well. And yet, they struggle in their marriage more than they ever did before. It’s harder to love each other because the grave situation that had brought them together so closely was taken away. The same is true with another couple where the woman had severe depression. Once she started taking medication and her husband no longer had to provide such intense support for her, they both missed that closeness.
Why do you think “Modern Love” has such an avid following?
The column gives people touchstones for experiences that are different from their own. It’s like sitting across the table in a coffee shop from a father whose child is gay or a woman who didn’t find love until she was in her 70s and having them tell you their story. That vulnerability is what people want.