If there ever was a “Modern Love” essay that needs no introduction, it would be Mandy Len Catron’s deliciously-titled “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This.”
The Vancouver-based writer’s essay, in the popular New York Times’ column, was published in January 2015, and though the writer was incredibly pleased to have her work in the paper (and anticipated a bit of a career bump), she had no idea the essay would explode the way it did.
For those unfamiliar, the essay described Catron’s experience of putting to the test psychologist Arthur Aron’s 36-question exercise for initiating a spark. Aron’s study was 20 years old at the time Catron tried it, but she evidently tapped into something readers in 2015 were grappling with: the article was circulated millions of times within weeks.
Today, Catron releases her debut book, “How to Fall in Love with Anyone,” from Simon & Schuster, which covers topics like “Bad Advice From Good People,” “The Tyranny of Meeting Cute” and “If You Can Fall in Love with Anyone, How Do You Choose?”
We chatted with the writer ahead of the book’s release.
WWD: In the book’s introduction, you talk about how when “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” was published, you were not anticipating the windswept popularity it was met with. What was that experience like?
Mandy Len Catron: I was definitely very excited about publishing something in the New York Times — it changed my career, so I was hopeful and nervous. I just don’t think I could have ever anticipated the way in which people embraced these questions. I was working full-time, teaching three classes; I would come back from class, and would be on my phone doing radio interviews. I’m so glad it happened, but I am perfectly content not having to live through that again (laughs).
WWD: Why do you think people connected with it so strongly?
M.L.C.: I spent a lot of time thinking about this, and mostly what I think is that everybody wants to feel known by other people — whether that is strangers or partners or spouses of 50 years. It’s scary to tell someone, “I want to connect with you” or “I want to tell you the details of my life,” but it’s not that scary to say, “Hey! Do you want to try this cool experiment?”
The other thing is that this is the era of online dating and apps like Tinder. It’s not very easy for one person to connect with a ton of other people. The number of potential partners is higher than ever before; so many of those interactions are really superficial, whether it’s a single date that you never hear from again or just exchanging of messages for a week. But [the experiment] was sort of a total 180-degree alternative to that. It was like, “Oh wait! Can I get in-depth with one person?”
WWD: You write about your fascination with your parents’ relationship (he was a high school football coach, she was a cheerleader), and how that was your launching point for exploring love — what was it about their story that intrigued you?
M.L.C.: I grew up going to football games every Friday night; when we were little, my sister and I always had cheerleaders for baby sitters. I think part of what I loved about my parents’ story is that it was so tightly connected to the world of football. It felt like I had this real sense of belonging. I loved being the coach’s daughter. I think I wanted to belong to this world that really validated my parents and sense of self, and their love story was kind of an origin story for this world. Also, I just loved love stories. It was just a really sweet love story.
WWD: One of the book’s chapters is called “The Problem of Deservingness: Our American Obsession with Cinderella,” and you talk about love stories that are problematic. Who, then, are some of your favorite writers on the topic of love?
M.L.C.: One recent book that comes to mind is “The Course of Love” by Alain de Botton. It’s a novel about two characters, a man and a woman, who meet, connect, fall in love and get married. This was in the first 20 pages, and then the chapter ends and there is a blank page and all it says is “ever after” — so there is another 200 pages that is just about their marriage. I think it’s great because we have this idea that the reason that all of our love stories focus on the beginning of the relationship because that is the most interesting part, but that doesn’t have to be true. The details of the marriage, even the mundane aspects, can be interesting.