Tuesday, February 10, 2015
This Is How To Write About Love
I’ve had a diary since I was 5. Yes, as soon as I could put letters into words, I was chronicling my little life—usually talking about piano lessons, or ‘gymnastiks’ or what snack I had that day (old habits die hard on that one.)
So when I came across “How We Write About Love” by New York Times’ Daniel Jones, editor of the weekly, submission-based Modern Love column, I was pretty intrigued (because, um, I like to write about love. . . and snacks.)
And even if you’re not a writer, there is something fascinating about human nature and how we memorialize the idea of love. Is it accurate? Is it idealized? Does it change or shape our expectations?
After a decade of fielding personal essay submissions about romantic issues, Jones has learned a thing or two about the way we write, when we write about love. His insights are really helpful if you’re looking to submit your own essay to the column, but it’s also just fascinating from an anthropological perspective. Apparently, certain aspects of our identity and culture inform how we perceive romance, and Jones has seen it all. Here’s what he’s gleaned:
Our Age Colors Our P.O.V
Makes sense, right? Jones observed that generally speaking, young people write filled with both anxiety and hope; essentially pondering how it’s going to turn out for them, middle-aged folks write from a place of disbelief and discomfort asking “is this all there is?”— and older people write with a sense of appreciation, looking back fondly regardless of how things turned out.
Good Meeting Stories Matter
A unique “how we met” story, according to Jones, makes for a particularly engaging read. Hey, we all want to believe there’s more to life besides Tinder. He observed that a chance encounter is high on people’s good-story-meter and the less hard you tried to find love, the more praise-worthy the story.
Men and Women write about love differently
Here’s a seemingly obvious revelation, that’s, nonetheless, illuminating. According to Jones, women write with a general sense of really wanting to figure love out (preach!) and they keep lists of what they’re looking for and what has let them down. They also try to find humor in the hopelessness. Men, on the other hand think that their romantic ideal is not in the future, but in the past; someone they loved and lost.
Good writing is like a good relationship
I liked this analogy that Jones made: “Good writing about love features the same virtues that define a good relationship: honesty, generosity, open-mindedness, curiosity, humor and self-deprecation. Bad writing about love suffers from the same flaws that define a bad relationship: dishonesty, withholding, defensiveness, blame, pettiness and egotism.”
Love stories have evolved over time
The Modern Love column has stayed true to its name—reflecting the cultural and socio-political aspects of love in the present moment. For example, Jones writes that submission topics from gay writers have shifted over time, coinciding with the progress we’ve made in terms of equality and acceptance. “They write about looking for love, marrying, starting a family, being a parent, even getting divorced. Sexual orientation that had once been central is now incidental. Which seems like a nice change.”
We Are Often at a Loss For Words
One thing that people do when writing about love is turn to stock words and phrases like “amazing, gorgeous, devastating, crushed, smitten, soul mate and electrifying,” and ““meet cute,” “heart pounded,” “heart melted,” “I’ll always remember,” “I’ll never forget.” Jones suggests this is because when we feel things really intensely, we often can’t find the right words to properly describe it. Hahstag been there.