modern love tv essays

As a self-professed mega-fan of rom-com novels and films, I was thrilled when Amazon announced their upcoming Modern Love TV series , based on the long-running New York Times Modern Love column . Premiering on Oct. 18, the series boasts a star-studded cast (Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Dev Patel and Andrew Scott are just four of the show's featured actors) and will feature eight anthology-style episodes about love in all of its many forms — romantic, familial, platonic, sexual, and for oneself. Whether you're a long-time reader of Modern Love or are just discovering the column, now is the perfect time to catch up on some of the greatest essays before the show premieres.

In the revised and updated version of the Modern Love book (first published in 2007) editor Daniel Jones compiled 42 of the columns best essays. In his introduction to the book, Jones writes:

"I suppose if we are going to try to define what a love story is, we should begin by defining what love is, but that can be even more slippery. Our definitions of love, too, tend toward the flowery treatment. From where I sit, however -- as someone who has read, skimmed, or otherwise digested some one hundred thousand love stories over the past fifteen years -- love, at its best, is more of a wheelbarrow than a rose: gritty, and messy but also durable. Yet still hard to put into words."

'Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss and Redemption' Edited by Daniel Jones

Below are seven of my favorite of the 42 essays that appear in the Modern Love book, a great refresher for seasoned readers and a perfect precursor to the series for new fans, too:

'You Might Want to Marry My Husband' by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

In this March 2017 column (published just 10 days before she died of ovarian cancer at age 51) author Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote a moving letter to her husband, Jason Rosenthal, in the hopes of finding him a new partner:

"Here is the kind of man Jason is: He showed up at our first pregnancy ultrasound with flowers. This is a man, who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffee pot: a spoon, a mug, a banana. This is a main who emerges from the minimart or gas station and says, 'Give me your palm.' And voila, a colorful gum ball appears. (He knows I love all the flavors but white.) My guess is you know enough about him now. So let's swipe right."

Read "You Might Want To Marry My Husband."

'The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap' by Eve Pell

Although Eve Pell's Jan. 2013 essay has not been officially confirmed as part of the Modern Love series, clues from the trailer highly suggest its inclusion. In it, Pell wrote of her late-in-life marriage to a Japanese American widower named Sam:

"Old love is different. In our 70s and 80s, we had been through enough of life’s ups and downs to know who we were, and we had learned to compromise. We knew something about death because we had seen loved ones die. The finish line was drawing closer. Why not have one last blossoming of the heart?"

Read "The Race Grows Sweeter In Its Final Lap."

'When Eve and Eve Bit the Apple' by Kristen Scharold

In this Nov. 2016 essay, writer Kristen Scharold wrote about coming out as queer and leaving her Evangelical church when she meets and falls in love with a woman named Jess:

"I felt my cramped religious framework of false dichotomies and moral starkness beginning to collapse. What once seemed like a bleak choice between losing my soul or losing my most cherished friend was in fact a lesson that true love is the only thing that could save me."

Read "When Eve and Eve Bit The Apple."

'When the Doorman is Your Main Man' by Julie Margaret Hogben

Hogben's Oct. 2015 essay (also seemingly included in the Modern Love series trailer) focused on the unique friendship she shares with her doorman, Guzim, and how his support helped her embark on the journey of single motherhood with courage:

"I became fodder for gossip: Who was the father? Did I dump him, or did he dump me? Valid questions, sometimes asked to my face, sometimes not. But down in the lobby, Guzim was there with no dog in the race. I wasn’t his daughter, sister or ex. I wasn’t his employee or boss. Our social circles didn’t overlap. Six days a week, he stood downstairs, detached but also caring enough to be the perfect friend, neither worried nor pitying."

Read "When The Doorman Is Your Main Man."

'Rallying to Keep the Game Alive' by Ann Leary

Leary's Sept. 2013 essay about the almost-end and subsequent reunification of her marriage to actor Denis Leary is a moving look at a modern marriage (and another essay that, though currently unconfirmed, also seems to be included in the Modern Love trailer.) She wrote:

"When we met, I was 20, he 25. We were too young and inexperienced to know that people don’t change who they are, only how they play and work with others. Our basic problem was, and is, that we are almost identical — in looks, attitudes and psychological makeup. Two Leos who love children and animals, and are intensely emotional and highly sensitive and competitive with everybody, but especially with each other."

Read "Rallying To Keep The Game Alive."

'Now I Need a Place to Hide Away' by Ann Hood

In her Feb. 2017 column, author Ann Hood wrote about The Beatles fandom she shared with her young daughter, Grace, who died suddenly of complications from a virulent form of strep when she was just five years old:

"It is difficult to hide from the Beatles. After all these years they are still regularly in the news. Their songs play on oldies stations, countdowns and best-ofs. There is always some Beatles anniversary: the first No. 1 song, the first time in the United States, a birthday, an anniversary, a milestone, a Broadway show. But hide from the Beatles I must. Or, in some cases, escape."

Read "Now I Need A Place To Hide Away."

'Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am' by Terri Cheney

Terri Cheney's Jan. 2008 essay, which has been confirmed as the inspiration behind the episode of the Modern Love series starring Anne Hathaway, is about the author's experience with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder and how it affected her dating life. Cheney wrote:

"In love there’s no hiding: You have to let someone know who you are, but I didn’t have a clue who I was from one moment to the next. When dating me, you might go to bed with Madame Bovary and wake up with Hester Prynne. Worst of all, my manic, charming self was constantly putting me into situations that my down self couldn’t handle."

Read "Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am."

This article was originally published on Sep. 12, 2019

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How Amazon Picked Which ‘Modern Love’ Essays to Translate to the Screen

Anne Hathaway and Gary Carr in Modern Love

Where to Stream:

  • Modern Love

Amazon’s Modern Love is a cynic’s nightmare. Obscenely earnest, sweetly vulnerable, and unabashed in its optimism, the star-studded anthology series is out to prove there’s a whole lot of love in the world.

Each episode of Modern Love is a dramatization of one of the hundreds of essays that The New York Times editor Daniel Jones has selected for the popular column of the same name. “What makes a good column is a combination of vulnerability and intelligence. And those are kind of at odds in a way because when someone is really vulnerable it seems like they’re out of control and they’re not smart in a way,” Jones said to Decider following Modern Love ‘s panel at Summer TCA . “But being able to go through something that makes you vulnerable and come to an understanding and some sort of wisdom, that’s the tightrope you need to walk to do that kind of writing well.”

As the mastermind behind the column’s appeal, Jones was brought on as a consultant for Amazon’s adaptation of the column. He explained that he didn’t see much difference between an essay that worked well on the page and one that was perfect for adaptation, noting that’s how Modern Love ‘s producers approached their decisions. “They’re looking for stories that have real vulnerability, but it’s done in a smart way. It’s not simplified and it’s not exploited,” Jones said.

Shepherding Modern Love ‘s translation to the screen is showrunner John Carney. Jones praised Carney and said the Once and Sing Street director was “not afraid of being earnest.”

Cristin Milioti stars in the first episode of Modern Love , “When the Doorman is Your Main Man,” as a young woman who finds more solace in a friendship with her doorman than with her potential suitors. Milioti ironically starred in the Broadway adaptation of Carney’s Once , and she agreed with Jones’s take on why Carney was perfect for Modern Love.

“I think what I love about John [Carney] is that he’s really comfortable in the uncomfortable, and I think that’s where the best stories come from,” Milioti told Decider. “He wants to delve deep. He wants to be like, ‘Yeah, let’s get into the stuff that’s grey. Let’s get into the nuance. Let’s not just package it.'”

“I love the phone conversations I have with [Carney] when he talks about how he thinks about this on a deeper level and how a show like this can have a positive impact on a world that just feels meaner by the day,” Jones said. “How returning to this kind of basic human one-on-one relationship, the dignity of that, is a positive force in the world today.”

Actor Gary Carr plays a handsome man who falls in a flirtation with Anne Hathaway’s character in the third episode of Modern Love , “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am.” Carr admitted to being a huge fan of Hathaway’s going back to The Princess Diaries — “ I wasn’t going to say it ,” he joked. But he was also hyped to work on a project that amplified that spirit of “love.”

“I feel like there is a lot of love in the world. I see it everywhere, all the time. It’s just not reported all the time,” Carr said.

“Anything that makes people open their heart and feel less alone, or like makes them want to reach out and have a connection to someone regardless of outcome is incredible,” Milioti said.

Stream It Or Skip It: 'At The Moment' On Netflix, An Anthology Series About Love During The Pandemic

Woman crush wednesday: look out for lucy boynton in 'the pale blue eye', stream it or skip it: 'little america' season 2 on apple tv+, with more heartwarming stories about the immigrant experience in america, stream it or skip it: 'modern love: tokyo' on prime video, the tv show inspired by the new york times column goes to japan.

Jones teased that there have already been conversations about which essays have the potential to work for a Season Two, but right now he’s more focused on managing the massive inbox of submissions he gets for the column. And yes, he’s worried that Modern Love might cause a tsunami of submissions if it becomes ultra-successful.

“My main concern is volume, an increase in volume that’s unmanageable,” Jones said. “There’s always something about the column that people think, ‘I could do that,’ when in fact it’s really hard to do.”

Even if Jones is concerned that there might be too many submissions for Modern Love , Carr sees the silver lining in Jones’s problem. “That’s good,” Carr said. “That goes to show that the amount of essays he receives, that’s a great example on its own of how much love there is in the world.”

Modern Love premieres on Prime Video on Friday, October 18.

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First Lines of Rejected “Modern Love” Essays

By Zach Zimmerman

Crumpled up pieces of paper come together to form a heart.

Modern Love is a weekly column, a book, a podcast—and now, in its 16th year, a television show—about relationships, feelings, betrayals and revelations. — The Times.

My husband and I don’t text, we don’t talk, we don’t live together, I don’t know where he lives (I have my guesses), and we’ve never been more in modern love.

The vows wrote themselves, pouring from my ballpoint pen like milk being poured from a gallon of milk.

At the top of Machu Picchu, as the woman I would one day call my wife vomited up the engagement ring I’d hidden in her Nalgene, I caught a glimpse of God’s plan.

I asked Sally to watch “When Harry Met Sally” with me on our third date. My name isn’t Harry—it’s Henry—but it would have been very cool if it were Harry.

It felt right when I swiped right, but when he left I wished that I had swiped in the other direction (left).

The charcuterie board was covered with meats, cheeses, and a dog-eared letter from my late great-grandfather.

First, he stole my identity. Then he stole my heart.

In this “Modern Love” essay, I will argue that, although my ex cheated on me with my best friend, I share blame for the demise of our relationship, insofar as I could not successfully articulate my emotional wants, needs, and feelings in a concise, productive way during the relationship.

When I met Sally, I asked if she’d seen “When Harry Met Sally.” She had. I hadn’t. My name is Brian.

“What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me,” Haddaway sang over the hospital loudspeakers as a baby named Haddaway hurt me during a scheduled C-section.

I’m Christian. My husband is Jewish. We’re getting a Buddhist divorce.

Of all the Etsy shops in all the towns in all the world, she bought used baby shoes from mine.

I called No. 54 at the D.M.V. where I work. The next day, No. 54 called my number.

Men always ask me to watch “When Harry Met Sally” because my name is Sally, but they’re never named Harry, so they’re not as clever as they think.

Everything on my wedding day was picture perfect—it’s how I knew that something was horribly wrong.

Love is like a box of chocolates, in that I like both of those things.

In rural Alabama, where coyotes holler and jug bands play, “I love you”s are rarer than routine medical care.

The dick pic looked familiar, as if I’d seen it in a dream; then it dawned on me that it was a picture of my own penis.

When you realize you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible, Sally.

I didn’t know love until I gave birth and fell in modern love with the obstetrician. ♦

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Episode One: “When The Doorman is Your Main Man”

The first episode of the season follows book reviewer Maggie (played by Cristin Milioti) as she braves the New York dating scene and an unexpected pregnancy with the fierce support of what seems to be the only constant in her life: her doorman, Guzmin (real name Guzim). The story is based on the 2015 essay of writer Julie Margaret Hogben, who currently lives in Los Angeles with her twelve-year-old daughter, Isabel.

In a new interview with The New York Times , Hogben reveals that in actuality, the father of her child proposed to her after she revealed her pregnancy to him; she declined his proposal. She also explains that, unlike in the episode, she never debated whether or not to go through with the pregnancy.

Today, Hogben is still single, despite her daughter's earnest attempts to sign her up for dating apps. “She wants a distraction for me and she thinks I should get a life, which I should. So, yeah, I’ve got to get out there,” Hogben told The New York Times . She hasn’t been in a relationship since her daughter Isabel was born, which makes the closing scene of the episode, in which Guzim finally approves of the man Maggie brings from California to meet him, entirely fictional.

And yes, Guzim the doorman still holds his post on the Upper West Side, where Hogben pops in to visit him whenever she’s in town.

Suit, White-collar worker, Conversation, Botany, Adaptation, Event, Businessperson, Formal wear, Sitting, Smile,

Episode Two: “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist”

Episode two recounts an interview that leads to both journalist Julie (played by Catherine Keener) and subject Joshua (Dev Patel) opening up about their romantic pasts, tracing not one but two gut-wrenching tales of lost love. The episode is based on author Deborah Copaken’s 2015 essay of the same name.

In reality, there was no job interview, whirlwind love-at-first-sight, or trip to the zoo for Joshua and his love interest. Nor was there an infidelity that caused their separation. The real Joshua, Hinge founder Justin McLeod, had actually met the love of his life, Kate, in college , where they dated off and on until graduation. Kate, however, was engaged to another man at the time of McLeod's interview with Copaken, and had not spoken to him in years.

The real-life Copaken was indeed heartbroken by the boy who never showed at her Paris flat, but their upstate rendezvous was imagined. It was Copaken who found him online by accident while doing research for a book she was writing, and they did meet up, albeit for lunch on a bench in Central Park. She in fact left her husband of 23 years while he stayed in his marriage, and the two still follow each other on social media, though they’re no longer in contact. Copaken is now in a happy relationship with a new man, who she met on Bumble, not Hinge, contrary to what her character reveals in the season finale.

However, Copaken's interview inspired McLeod to win Kate back in the wistful way the episode depicts. Kate left her fiance a month before their wedding (the invitations had been sent, the hall booked) after McLeod showed up on her doorstep in Zurich, eight years after they’d last seen each other. The two were married this year in Colorado, with Copaken in attendance.

People, Red, Yellow, Fashion, Snapshot, Human, Fur, Outerwear, Street fashion, Event,

Episode Three: “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am”

In Episode Three, Anne Hathaway dazzles as Lexi, an entertainment lawyer who’s been hiding her bipolar diagnosis from everyone in her life. This episode stays exceptionally true to many of the details in Terry Cheney’s 2008 essay , down to the trembling hand with which Lexi applies her mascara before her date. The only fictionalized aspect of the episode is the character of Lexi’s coworker, played by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, who becomes the first person to whom she discloses her diagnosis. In reality, Cheney never lost a job .

Today, Cheney is no longer practicing law. She has authored two books, including a New York Times -bestselling memoir entitled Manic , with another book slated to publish next fall. In terms of her love life, she says that the men she dates usually read her book first, as a sort of prerequisite. “I don’t know necessarily if I’m in a relationship. I do love. I am in love. So that’s great,” she told The New York Times .

Even though she still goes to the same grocery store, she never saw or heard from the real-life Jeff again.

Snapshot, Night, Standing, Street, Urban area, Metropolitan area, Pedestrian, City, Infrastructure, Crowd,

Episode Four: “Rallying to Keep The Game Alive”

Tina Fey and John Slattery portray real-life couple Ann Leary and actor Denis Leary in episode four of the series, which follows their marriage as it teeters on the edge of divorce. The TV adaptation resembles Ann Leary’s 2013 essay quite closely; March of the Penguins is indeed the couple’s favorite movie .

What Leary didn’t mention in her piece, nor did the show explain, is that the couple’s therapist at the time didn’t think they had a bad marriage. “He pointed out that we would say things negative about each other, but if he said anything even slightly negative about either of us, we would jump to the other’s defense,” Leary told The New York Times in a new interview.

Ann and Denis Leary celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this year, and they still play tennis.

Room, Furniture, Comfort, Interior design, Bed,

Episode Five: “At The Hospital, An Interlude of Clarity”

In the fifth episode of Modern Love , Brian Gittis’s 2014 essay in which he severs a major blood vessel in his arm on a second date is brought to life by John Gallagher Jr. and Sofia Boutella.

Although the TV version leaves the fate of the lovers rather ambiguous as they doze off in the early morning light of the Elizabeth Street Garden, in Gittis’s essay, his date ends up back together with her ex-boyfriend about a month after their night in the E.R.

On the 2016 recording of the Modern Love podcast, Gittis says the woman featured in the piece really enjoyed the essay, and after it was published, they met up to talk about it over drinks. They ended up going on a few dates before their relationship fizzled out again.

Brian Gittis works in book publicity in New York, and he is now married with a one-year-old son.

Photography, Vacation,

Episode Six: “So He Looked Like Dad. It Was Just Dinner, Right?”

The sixth episode of the series features a young girl, Madeline (Julia Garner), who having lost her father goes searching for a paternal figure in an older coworker, Peter (Shea Whigman). He, on the other hand, is under the impression that their developing and ambiguous relationship is more than platonic.

The episode is based on writer Abby Sher’s 2006 essay , which features several specific details that the show did adapt, like the golf pattern on Peter’s socks and the creaminess of their shared risotto. However, Sher’s essay concludes after she goes over to the man’s house for dinner, as she realizes that the relationship isn’t going to give her what she needs. Amazon’s adaptation extends the tale (and the relationship) far beyond this night, shaping it into something more complicated and uncomfortable than what it is in Sher’s original piece. Sher, however, loved the episode, and feels that the fictionalized elements of the narrative were true to the sentiment of her experience.

“I am a huge fan of Audrey Wells and was so honored that she wrote the screenplay. I especially loved the MRI scene and I felt like Julia Garner and Shea Wigham completely understood and personified this complicated, yet really primal attraction,” she told Esquire in an email.

In actuality, Sher never saw the older man again outside of work after that first dinner. No stuffed seal at the Zoo, red coat, or sabbatical came of their initial date.

And as for how the piece has aged?

“I mean, I think daddy issues will always be a thing, right? I'm so grateful that Emmy Rossum directed this amazing cast so thoughtfully and stirred up so many emotions between the two main characters. There's no clear cut right or wrong in this scenario, as far as I can see,” Sher wrote.

Today, Sher is married to man whom she says is a wonderful father to their three children, and says she will always miss and adore her father.

Town, Neighbourhood, Facade, Street, Pedestrian, House, Architecture, Home, Building, City,

Episode Seven: “Hers Was a World of One”

Episode seven is loosely adapted from author, sex columnist, and podcaster Dan Savage’s 2005 essay entitled “ DJ’s Homeless Mommy ,” in which he conveys the ups and downs of his and his husband’s open adoption experience. The episode is largely focused on the couple’s time hosting their future child’s homeless mother in their apartment, which was entirely imagined.

In the piece, Savage ruminates on the increasing difficulty of explaining to his small son, DJ, his mother’s complicated existence and long absences from his life, which we get a small sense of in the final bedtime story scene of the episode.

“The last time she visited, when DJ was 3, he wanted to know why his mother smelled so terrible. We were taken aback and answered without thinking it through. We explained that since she doesn’t have a home, she isn’t able to bathe often or wash her clothes. We realized we screwed up even before DJ started to freak. What could be more terrifying to a child than the idea of not having a home?” Savage writes in his essay.

The original piece is thought-provoking and in many ways more solemn than its TV adaptation. It details DJ’s mother’s battles with addiction and jail time, and it recounts Savage’s visceral fear that she was dead at various points over the years when she would drop out of contact.

While the episode draws inspiration from Savage’s piece, it also veers decisively away from his somber narrative. However, both the essay and the TV adaptation leave the fate of the adopted baby’s mother unknown.

“DJ's mom is alive and well. She's on her feet. She's housed. We talk on the phone occasionally. She and DJ speak on Mother's Day and on DJ's birthday. Things leveled out,” Savage told Gays With Kids in 2016.

Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller live in Seattle, and their son DJ is now 21 years old.

Yellow, Fun, Interaction, Event, Sitting, Photography, Flash photography, Night,

Episode Eight: “The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap”

Before it interweaves all the season’s characters together in a tacky montage of entirely implausible New York happenstance, the final episode of season one adapts author Eve Pell’s 2013 essay on the love she found later in life. Amazon’s version stays faithful to the real-life events of her relationship with her late husband, Sam, with whom she ran, traveled, and saw movies for the last several years of his life.

In an interview with NPR in early 2017, Pell explained that her distress after Sam’s passing led her to a bereavement group, where she met another man and fell in love again. However, Pell said she won’t be marrying again.

“I can't stand the idea of having four husbands. It's just too much,” she told NPR, laughing.

Modern Love is streaming now on Amazon Prime, and has officially been renewed for a Season Two coming in 2020.

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Searching For Meaning In 50,000 Essays About Modern Love

Dan Jones tackes the intricacies of love in book, Love Illuminated

“This is not rehearsed,” Dan Jones says into a microphone.

He’s standing in front of packed crowd in a small auditorium at the Santa Monica Public Library in Los Angeles. The group of 100 or so –which looks to have no shortage of New Yorkers in addition to locals – sucks on Sweet Tart candies; we’ve all been gifted with a pack, along with a Valentine’s Day card, as we made our way through the doors.

Jones, 51, is here to talk about his book, Love Illuminated , which takes on the least rehearsable subject of all (love). He is something of an expert (if anyone can be) having read 50,000 essays on the topic as the editor of the popular New York Times Modern Love column. Yet even after a decade immersed in tales of the heart, Jones isn’t here to offer advice (or answers) about what he calls “life’s most mystifying subject.” He is here to add an editor’s touch — and a wry sense of humor — to other people’s stories.

The book, like the weekly column, is not about Jones. And so instead of talking about himself up on stage, he calls up 12 members of the audience. Each is a one-time Modern Love essayist, and each has prepared a flash reading.

Hope, a writing instructor, explains that the ancient Greeks had eight different words for eight different kinds of love. “So why do we, caretakers of the planet’s international language” she asks, “expect a single generic monosyllabic word to carry so much weight?”

“What I’ll never understand about love,” explains Liz, an architecture professor, “is just how much of my experience of it happens against my will.”

Each of these presenters has written for the popular series: about maternal love, about looking for signs, about marital finance, about a health scare that turned out to be a blessing, about dating (and remarrying) after a divorce. There are at least 20 others in the crowd who’ve also written essays.

“The book was an attempt to figure out what I knew,” says Jones. “I felt like I’d been doing this column for years and years, and it’s the kind of work that you get lost in. These essays are pouring in, you feel like you’re immersed in it, and I feel like I was more marinating in love than mastering it. I was sort of… stewing in it.”

The Modern Love column started ten years ago somewhat by accident. Jones is a novelist, as is his wife; the column was first offered to them as a couple, after essays each had written about their domestic lives caught the attention of an editor.

Nobody turns down an offer to create a column for the New York Times. And yet, “I can’t say we thought it was the best idea,” Jones says. Who was the audience? What would be too risqué? How did you fact check a column about love, anyway?

And yet the essays began piling up, submitted each week by the hundreds. In the beginning, Jones tried to save them all: clipping each published one out from the paper each week, and sliding it into a protective sleeve; he still has dusty stacks of them on a bookshelf by his side of the bed.

But overtime, the physical collection became too much. And, who needed it? The column had grown into a cultural phenomenon. The actress Maria Bello, who hosted Jones’ book party in Los Angeles, used the platform to come out about her female lover. Dennis Leary’s wife, the novelist Ann Leary, wrote about picking up tennis — and a rough patch in their marriage that lasted for years. There has been an attempt to make the column into a TV show (it lost out to a reality show about Sarah Palin’s daughter), albums inspired by it, and anthologies of essays published. And, of course, pouring out one’s heart onto the pages of the New York Times has become a kind of writer’s right of passage not just therapy on the page, but a launchpad for book deals, films, and even future relationships. (There have been at least 37 books spawned from the 465 essays that have run so far.)

Some of what Jones has learned isn’t all that surprising: People still find love by meeting in the flesh; some find it online. Some treat their search like a job, while others happen upon it by chance. Online matchmaking hasn’t made the quest for love any less fraught. And yes, those OK Cupid algorithms do sometimes suck. (He and his wife of 25 years signed up for a dating site to see if they’d get matched with each other. They didn’t.)

But there is a certain wisdom that comes from reading the essays of thousands of strangers. He’s observed how our notions of love have changed over time: there is less incentive to commit and marry than there used to be (especially for women); love has become more about romance than necessity. He notes that a huge number of us (73 percent, according to a 2011 Marist poll) still believe in destiny, and that many of us still go out of our way to look for meaning in otherwise clinical online interactions. He observes how technology – while making matchmaking more accessible – has also made us painstakingly detached. “Acting aloof,” he writes, “is so common these days that sincerity and vulnerability, for many, can start to feel disgusting and unnatural.” (The term “stalker,” he notes, has been watered down to the point where confessing that you really like someone might qualify.)

There are sections on “booty texting,” “sending d**k pix” and “hooking up.” He speaks about the changes to the column topics over time (transgender issues, gay marriage, hooking up), the stories that really touched him (a couple who stayed married after the husband underwent sexual reassignment surgery) and those that drew the most ire (a woman who admitted in print that she loved her husband more than her children).

He’s heard all sorts of “rules” for dating: when to make the big reveal about bisexuality, or an STD, or a divorce, or – in one guy’s case – a single testicle. While a subject like spanking, for example, may not have been suitable for the Grey Lady at the start, “any sense of taboo or self-censorship has vanished.”

As you might imagine, as an editor of a column about love, Jones is frequently asked what he’s learned. But he has no desire to play guru (or therapist). He doesn’t claim to have any particular wisdom, other than knowing a lot of intimate, absurd, funny, and poignant details about a lot of different people’s love lives.

At the Santa Monica library, he pulls out a stack of heart shaped red rubber bracelets – a gag gift he’ll hand out to his guests, for Valentine’s Day. He bends the rubber around his wrist and holds up his arm. “It actually looks not unlike a sunburnt ass on your wrist,” he laughs. But, he continues: “An overexposed private part is what the Modern Love column is all about.”

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Modern Love

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Emilie Poplett

Writer , editor, consultant.

  • Nov 6, 2019

Making Modern Love

Updated: Jun 11, 2022

What I learned from getting published in the New York Times' beloved column, and what I want aspiring Modern Love authors to know.

Fellow writers and readers, let's be friends! Connect with me on Twitter .

Modern Love has been called the “American Idol” of aspiring memoirists —and for good reason. The New York Times column has inspired a star-studded podcast, a television show, and some 50 or 60 book deals.

And an acceptance is hard to come by. Even before the column exploded into pop culture, editor Daniel Jones was receiving 9,000 or so submissions a year. With only one spot per week, that puts the chances of acceptance at… slim. (I don’t do math, okay? I do words only. You get it.)

In some ways, my acceptance into the column feels like too much of a fluke for me to offer any sound advice about "getting in." I am not an aspiring memoirist. I don’t rub elbows with Twitter-verified reporters or bestselling authors. I am a 29-year-old cat lady who copes with the not-so-shiny parts of life by writing them into essays, and I don’t typically submit those essays for publication.

This time I did.

So here's a little bit about what my experience was like, what I learned from working with Dan, and how I (unwittingly) “cracked the code.”

A note on "getting in."

I’ve seen dozens of articles about how to get an essay accepted into Modern Love. They’re all about studying the formula—the “thesis in two beats," the "four step narrative," the declarative nature of the column's first sentences and the revelation that comes in its last sentences—and then emulating what you’ve read.

I’m not sure I buy it.

Yes, you should familiarize yourself with the column, respect its submission guidelines , and only submit what could reasonably be considered a potential fit. But if you’re trying to replicate someone else’s voice, it’s going to feel duplicative and inauthentic. And you’ll be doing your story a disservice.

I think my essay was accepted because I didn’t dissect the formula and try to reproduce it. I told my story as honestly as I could, in the way I felt the story needed to be told, and that was good enough.

modern love tv essays

That’s not to say that I wasn’t familiar with the types of essays they typically run. I've read and loved the column since I was 22, and my essay was inspired by a piece that ran four years earlier, “ When a Couch is More Than a Couch ” by the late Nina Riggs. Her essay, along with her gorgeous memoir The Bright Hour , felt so immediate and profound to me. She had received her cancer treatment at the same hospital in North Carolina where I was a patient. We drove the same routes, entered through the same doors, likely made small talk with the same nurses. So I wrote my story because Nina wrote hers.

But her work is far too beautiful and transcendent to reduce it to a strategy for snagging a high-profile byline. Nina made me want to understand the ways I was coping with my mortality. She made me want to explore my own story. Maybe there’s an essay somewhere in the archives of Modern Love that will do for you what Nina’s essay did for me. I hope so.

I can’t tell you what worked for other people, but I can tell you what worked for me, and it was writing by ear. Writing because I wanted to make sense of what had happened to me. Writing until I felt like I had a story that moved and breathed and said what it needed to say, for no other reason than I needed to have said it.

I know this is sort of eye-roll-y advice. "How do I get published in Modern Love?" "By not trying so hard to get published in Modern Love!" Bleh.

My point is that you should tell your story the way your story demands to be told.

Tell your story as honestly and painstakingly as you know how.

Tell your story because it matters.

Then decide what to do with it.

With all that said, if your goal is to get a byline in Modern Love, there are patterns worth noting—many of them provided by Dan himself.

Dan has said that often the pieces that get published are the ones that tell the story of someone’s life. The story of the most painful, the most absurd, the most significant thing that has ever happened to that person.

It’s not something you’ll write in a weekend. I spent probably eight or 10 months chipping away at mine, and for at least the first handful of them, I had no intention of publishing it. My draft lived in a Google doc titled "This one is for me." As is the case with most personal essays, I didn’t know where I was going until I got there. It took a lot of time—a lot of letting myself write in different directions—before I realized what the essay was even about.

One of my favorite creative nonfiction authors and editors, Sari Botton (whose Skillshare class I highly recommend ), has said, “Write from the scars, not from the wounds.” If you're writing from the wounds, you might also need some intentional time away from the piece before you can return to it with enough emotional distance to do some decent editing. If this is the most important story of your life, it deserves time to breathe, and so do you.

A magical writing fairy named Laura Copeland did the work of compiling a whole bunch of other great tips from Dan . One of my favorites is tip #14 : Ditch the pitch mentality. Here’s what he says about it:

I still end up reading many essays that read as though they were written with a pitch mentality. They don't seem to have grown organically or stumbled into surprising places or reached a place of heightened awareness. Instead, they feel constricted and workmanlike, hemmed in by a need to execute a pre-conceived point…

It's comforting to write that way, to not let yourself get lost, to write by following the essayist's equivalent of a pre-set GPS device. And it can be scary and inefficient to careen off the road into the deep woods. You might waste all kinds of time and energy and still wind up totally lost. But you also might discover a place that can't be boiled down into a two-sentence pitch. It just can't. If someone wants to understand, they're going to have to read the whole thing. And if you've done your job well, they're going to want to.

What I love most about creative nonfiction is that it gives the writer the ability to explore, to deviate, to discover. Give yourself the space to do that rather than locking yourself into formula or analysis, and I think you will end up with a much more authentic, more interesting essay. When you write with the intention of exploring, you might stumble on something unexpected and beautiful. It'll be meaningful for you , first and foremost. It'll be honest. And that will make it good.

Most of us have that piece. The one we've been writing quietly, in private, for months or even years. The one that scares us the most. The one that is the most emotionally taxing to write. That's what this essay was to me.

Go write that one.

Then, when you're done, if you think it might make sense for Modern Love (and if you're cool with turning your soul inside out for millions of people to read and scrutinize), you can read all 34 pages of Dan's tips and incorporate them into your editing process in whatever way feels genuine to you.

I have not done a lot of submitting in my life, but I understand the rules to be:

Follow the submission guidelines .

Don’t be a jerk.

My cover letter was brief. Basically: “I think this essay could be a good fit for Modern Love. Thank you for reading it.”

I didn’t include any credentials because I don’t have any. I’d written one previous essay which was published in HuffPost . I don’t have an MFA. I never took a college course on creative writing. I don’t have a long list of clips. None of that was required. Dan is great about working with emerging writers who have interesting stories to tell. As he puts it, “ If your essay is rejected, it's not because you didn't have a connection or credits. If your essay is accepted, it's not because you have a book coming out. It's because you wrote an essay that made me stop drinking my coffee.”

I sent the email off and went on with my life. I had no expectation of a response of any kind. About four and a half months later, I got an email. It read:

This piece is fantastic. Let's talk about it?

I was only halfway through my first cup of coffee in the morning when I saw it. Having honest-to-God forgotten that I ever submitted the piece, I figured Daniel Jones was the guy from whom I was awaiting a quote for gutter cleaning. Then I saw his email signature, at which point I probably stopped breathing for 20 seconds, because "Oh, that Daniel Jones."

Despite his illustrious career and success, Dan is a super nice, down-to-earth guy with absolutely no discernible ego. You're submitting your words to a real live human, and he is a really good dude.

The Modern Love editing process

We set up an initial phone call, which lasted for about an hour. For the first half of it, he asked me questions about my story, and I walked him through what happened. In the second half we talked about the essay itself.

He read his notes aloud for me. It went basically like this:

I like that sentence…

Let’s establish your age higher up in the piece…

You can’t say ‘batshit’ in the New York Times …

It was a funny and encouraging and all-around nice conversation. I was nervous about it, but he put me at ease. He told me my essay was an easy acceptance, that it was well written but not overwritten. He approached it with the eye of a seasoned editor, but—if I may be so cheesy—with the heart of a reader, which is part of what makes him so good at what he does.

When we ended the call, I sent along a bone marrow biopsy pathology report and some notes from my oncologist to verify that my story is true.

The editing process was smooth and easy. We didn’t make many edits. Dan tightened it up and sent it my way in a Google doc for approval. Then it went to a second editor, Anya, for final edits. And that was it!

"Did it change your life?"

This is what people want to know. Did it change your life? Did publishers come banging down your door? Did the local news contact you for an interview? No (although that has happened for plenty of Modern Love writers). But I got a pretty beautiful moment out of it. Here’s what I wrote after I picked up a newspaper with my name on it:

modern love tv essays

I used to see people achieving their bucket list goals and think, “Their lives must change overnight.”

Then I got a bucket list opportunity. And my life didn’t change. It didn’t become more glamorous. I didn’t become more worthy. People didn’t love me more than they had the day before. I heard beautiful, kind, life-giving words from loved ones and colleagues and strangers, and then we all went on with the regular stuff of life.

I am still scrubbing cat puke out of the carpet. I am still up in the middle of the night wondering if my sadness will crush me for good this time. I am still doubtful, still insecure, still (almost) as sick as I was in the story they ran in the Sunday paper.

It was a beautiful experience, but it was just a moment. And now it’s a really pretty piece of paper that hangs on my wall.

This is all just to say, your accomplishments don’t determine your worth. The visible successes are not the core of us. They are momentary. We are momentary. Whatever it is, we go on.

Some final thoughts

It was the honor of a lifetime to be published in Modern Love. A completely thrilling and beautiful experience. But I know I didn't get there through hard work alone. Publication involves luck and good timing, and I am not a particularly lucky individual, historically speaking. So it would have been easy for me not to submit my essay at all.

If I had only submitted my writing to places I thought might actually publish it, I would never have sent it to the New York Times . Never ever.

So, as the saying goes, don't self-reject. Don't be the one to decide that it's not good enough. Send it anyway. You never know.

Connect with me on Twitter .

Thank you so much for sharing this, Emilie. It’s delightfully satisfying to hear about the other side of my favourite column in the paper, a peek at this particular Oz. (Ozes plural? You and Daniel Jones? The second editor too?) Anyways. Sending you gratitude and happy healing vibes from Toronto.

loved this! Thank you for sharing and wishing you all the best x

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waves, the accidental older woman | with rosie perez, when a couch is more than a couch | with kate winslet, a fighting chance | with bobby cannavale, from he to she in first grade | with jennifer beals, the accident no one talked about | with uma thurman, overfed on a mother's affection | with kumail nanjiani and emily gordon, missing a father i hardly knew | with willem dafoe, modern love 100: your stories, a dose of empathy | with andrea martin, in my fantasy, i caught up to reality | with richard jenkins, yes, we do. even at our age. | with lois smith, in the new year, more cuddling | with margarita levieva, sharing a cab, and my toes | with greta gerwig, how the 'dining dead' got talking again | with kristin scott thomas, was i on a date or baby-sitting | with sasheer zamata, a boyfriend too good to be true | with caitriona balfe, modern love encore: 'a heart of gold', we didn't have a plan, but the baby did | with paul sun-hyung lee, urgent messages go unanswered | with andrew 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brooks, before the web | with griffin dunne, finding marriage, losing self | with taylor schilling, standing by your man | with chris messina, marry my husband | with debra winger, a slow fade to black | with minnie driver, just don't call me mom | with gideon glick, sharing the shame | with anna chlumsky, a prince charming for the prom | with tituss burgess, it took a villain | with melanie lynskey, in a small bag | with harry lennix, a child of two worlds | with mireille enos, i will be your mother figure | with laura dern, death bear will see you now | with ry russo-young, the end of small talk | with paul rust, elvis and my husband have left the building | with malin akerman, single, female, mormon, alone | with justina machado, live from the wilbur theater (part two) | with emmy rossum, live from the wilbur theater (part one) | with brian tyree henry and alysia reiner, modern love: the podcast valentine's special, seeing the world through my wife's eyes | with david oyelowo, on the precipice, wings spread | with megan hilty, the boy who makes waves | with mykelti williamson, groomzilla | with john cho, a family that takes 'no' for an answer | with darby stanchfield, taking a break for friendship | with sela ward, modern love encore: 'a millennial's guide to kissing', beware of big boxes | with pamela adlon, two decembers | with haydn gwynne, modern love encore: 'friends without benefits', dj's homeless mommy | with dan savage, fractured beauty | with molly ringwald, out of the darkness | with mark duplass, a heart of gold | with ruth negga, screens between us | with issa rae, modern love live at town hall, take me as i am, whoever i am | with rebecca hall, marry a man who loves his mother | with constance wu, a path to fatherhood | with dash mihok, the wedding toast | with kathryn hahn, modern love bonus episode: emmy edition, revenge of the friend | with kristin chenoweth, kept together by the bars between us | with cherry jones, modern love bonus episode: near-death experiences, what the psychic knew | with angela bassett, my first son, a pure memory | with sterling k. brown, the race grows sweeter | with mary-chapin carpenter, to fall in love with anyone, do this | with gillian jacobs, three mothers, one bond | with gaby hoffmann, just friends | with tony hale, live without me | with catherine keener, one last swirl | with jason alexander, estranged spouses | with lance reddick, live from new york | with michaela watkins, amirah vann and lauren molina, fighting words | with alysia reiner, the doorman | with cecily strong, the wait | modern love bonus episode, coming out as a modern family | with maria bello, how i got to here | with katie couric, friends without benefits | with taissa farmiga, a heart outrun | with colin farrell, a second embrace | with cheryl strayed, i see my superhero | with sarah silverman, between the bars | with joshua jackson, my first lesson in motherhood | with connie britton, maddy just might work | with jennifer finney boylan, broken, not bound | with america ferrera, mom/not mom/aunt | with jesse tyler ferguson, where it all started | modern love bonus episode, a millennial's guide to kissing | with emmy rossum, seesawing libidos | with stephen bogardus, leaps of faith | modern love bonus episode, a faithful leap | with amber tamblyn, in darkness and in light | with patina miller, magically interrupted | with michael shannon, a 'modern love' audio valentine, 'the plunge' | with dakota fanning, 'an interlude of clarity' | with judd apatow, not so simple math | with sarah paulson, missed connection | with lauren molina, introducing 'modern love: the podcast'.

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Even A-listers can’t save a show this bland ... Anne Hathaway in Modern Love.

Modern Love review – vapid, nauseating ... and that's before Ed Sheeran shows up

Based on the long-running New York Times column, Amazon’s new comedy-drama boasts big names but flattens real stories into schmaltzy fantasies

T he New York Times’ Modern Love column, a weekly first-person essay about love and relationships, is such an institution that it is a wonder it has taken so long to make a series out of it. It has already been spun off into a very good podcast, with the stories read by big-name stars. But Modern Love (Amazon Prime) for television continues the streaming giant’s run of so-so dramas that can’t quite break new ground. This should be a surefire success. It’s A-list and painfully classy, but over eight episodes it only rarely lifts off, and instead settles into an oddly bland, will-this-do middle ground.

I expected something along the lines of Easy, another half-hour anthology show about love and relationships. Easy was – well – easy to love, though this is far more wholesome. If Easy is a 4am taxi back to a stranger’s house after a big night out, Modern Love is an afternoon coffee, but just one, because you both have somewhere else you would rather be. Its eight episodes follow lovestruck or lovelorn New Yorkers, and while it is mostly about romantic love, it has a healthy respect for the power of supportive friends and family, too. The first episode is about a doorman’s years-long paternal affection for a woman who lives in the apartment building where he works; a later instalment is about a first date that ends up in a trip to the hospital. Episodes are pleasant, if slight, and if you’ve seen any film about finding love in New York from the past 30 years, will feel very familiar.

One of the biggest draws is episode three – Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am– in which Anne Hathaway plays Lexi, a lawyer with bipolar disorder struggling to manage her highs and lows. It is by far the most distinctive of the eight, and views mental illness through an ambitiously theatrical lens. When she is manic, Lexi is a Rita Hayworth-esque bombshell who craves peaches in the middle of the night and charms men in the supermarket into having breakfast with her. When she is low, she can barely get out of bed and can only bring herself to eat muesli. John Carney, who executive produced the series and directs most of the episodes, has turned it into a sort of musical, with My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend flourishes and a joke about La La Land. Strange, then, that it is the stripped back scenes that ring most true: it finds its emotional core in a scene in a diner, with two women deciding simply to become friends. The razzle-dazzle window-dressing feels extraneous, with Hathaway’s performance at its best when it is quietest.

Dev Patel and Catherine Keener in Modern Love.

There are two episodes that prove exceptions to Modern Love’s mostly saccharine and straightforward worldview, and both have moments of honesty that feel authentic rather than stagey. When Cupid Is a Prying Journalist (I do not recognise this description of journalists) sees Dev Patel play a tech mogul who invented a dating site, while Catherine Keener is a writer sent to profile him. She asks him if he has ever been in love; they end up swapping stories about the one who got away. It nails the romance perfectly, in part because they are a great platonic pairing, but also because it allows each story to take a different path. One is fairytale, the other stoic. It is the episode that packs in the elegance you suspect they were reaching for elsewhere, and its finale is a genuine tearjerker.

The other standout, Rallying to Keep the Game Alive, adds some much needed vinegar. Written and directed by Sharon Horgan, it stars Tina Fey and John Slattery as a long-married couple with two teenage children who are wondering why they’re still together. They watch a film about penguins, and wonder what the point of long-term love is; they go to couples’ therapy, and bicker their way through it, grasping impatiently for some common ground. (A line about whether cooking can be a hobby is the finest in the whole series.) Eventually, they settle on vicious, rule-breaking tennis. It is the least sentimental episode, and by far the best.

Though they are based on true essays, the rest of the stories have a peculiar veneer of fantasy to them. As an occasional indulgence, it’s sweet, but over eight episodes, it becomes sickly. That is to say nothing of its insistence on adding to the inexplicably long list of Ed Sheeran cameos out there in the world. Overall, the feeling is one of anecdotes that have been told over and over until they have been smoothed into one familiar shape, losing all of the rough, awkward edges of what actually happened over time. Advice for anyone reading who might be interested in making a series out of the Guardian’s own Blind Date: the one with the house party and the left-behind knickers might have just enough bite.

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‘Man’s Castle’: Free Love, Hard Times

Restored to its original length and screening at the Museum of Modern Art, this 1933 movie starring Spencer Tracy feels at once surprisingly frank and disquietingly coy.

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In a black-and-white still image, a man in a suit and a woman in a light-colored dress sit on a brocade sofa. The woman holds a glass and slyly looks at the man.

By J. Hoberman

A celebrant of redemptive love, Frank Borzage (1893-1962) was the most romantic of classic Hollywood directors and, however unconventionally, perhaps the most religious as well. “Man’s Castle” (1933) conflates an economic crisis — namely the Great Depression — with a spiritual one. The movie also represents premarital pregnancy as salvation rather than sin, and scenes were consequently cut for its post-Production Code rerelease in the late 1930s.

Restored to its original length of 78 minutes, screening at the Museum of Modern Art (April 18-24), “Man’s Castle” feels unique — at once surprisingly frank and disquietingly coy.

A leading director of silent films, Borzage (Bor-ZAY-ghee) left the Fox studio and went independent in 1932. His first production was an adaptation of Hemingway’s World War I novel “A Farewell to Arms.” “Man’s Castle” also concerns love in extremis with the starving innocent Trina (20-year-old Loretta Young) falling for and shacking up with an older if equally indigent man of the world, Bill (Spencer Tracy).

Their meet-cute on a park bench, with Bill feeding the pigeons as ravenous Trina looks longingly on, proceeds to a nice restaurant (where Bill gets out of paying the check) and winds up back at his jerry-built hovel in a homeless encampment near the East River. A natural man, Bill amazes Trina (and possibly the viewer) by diving naked into the water. She more discreetly follows. Cut from Edenic skinny-dipping to radiant Trina at the washboard happily scrubbing Bill’s clothes.

A brash roughneck with a golden heart, Bill inspires Trina’s puppy-like devotion. In his New York Times review, Mordaunt Hall praised the stars’ “thoroughly efficient portrayals” — an odd choice of words to describe their evident mutual attraction. Indeed, the chemistry was real. Young’s daughter would later detail the pair’s guilt-ridden love affair. (Both were Catholic; Tracy was married.)

For Trina, Bill’s Hooverville home is “heaven,” with various down-and-out denizens adding to the allegorical flavor. Bragg (Arthur Hohl) is not only a lech and a thief but a leftist loudmouth. His alcoholic companion, Flossie (Marjorie Rambeau), is both a fallen woman and a salvation project tended to by a former minister (Walter Connolly). Dismissive of all three, the cynical Bill is tempted by the fun-loving cabaret star Fay La Rue (a reliably sassy Glenda Farrell, here mimicking Mae West).

Topical yet timeless, “Man’s Castle” sets its characters in the world of popular culture. A theater marquee glimpsed when Trina and Bill first meet advertises George Raft and Sylvia Sidney in the movie “Pick Up” (1933). Bill’s kiss-off missive to Faye is a word cut out from a piece of sheet music. Trina explains herself by citing a song from “Show Boat.” At the same time, the movie evokes scripture — the Song of Songs and tale of the Nativity — ending as Trina and Bill hit the road with intimations of a December birth, perhaps even in a manger.

MoMA is showing “Man’s Castle” in conjunction with four other Borzage restorations — the misleadingly titled “Bad Girl” (1931), the antiwar “No Greater Glory” (1934), the genre-mixing “History is Made at Night” (1937) and the late-career “Moonrise” (1949), a low-budget hillbilly noir later championed by auteurist critics. When this “glorious opportunity” to make a complex, guilt-shadowed redemptive love story presented itself, the critic Andrew Sarris would write, “Borzage was not stale or jaded.” Neither is “Man’s Castle.”

Man’s Castle

Through April 24 at the Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan; moma.org .

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