As a child of the eighties and nineties, I was raised on a solid diet of Disney films, specifically Disney princesses.
We all know the tale, plucky heroine in search of love, over coming many a challenge to marry a prince and live happily ever after. What we never see is what happens next? What happens after Jasmine gets to choose Aladdin, did the magic carpet get boring? What happens after Prince charming reunites Cinderella with her errant shoe? What happens when the Beast is transformed back to his human form? Has he really learnt his lesson and is Belle happy to live in the castle after singing about adventure? Did Ariel miss hanging out with Flounder and collecting, well, junk? I have to admit I’ve spent longer than is necessary thinking about these things, which is why I picked up Modern Love (it was also Valentine’s Day).
This was a different read to normal, Modern Love is a selection of essays from the New York Times column of the same name (soon to be a series on Netflix). All true stories looking at love in all shapes and sizes. From parental love, to romantic love, to love between friends. In short, it’s the reality, the what comes after happy ever after, the day to day, the stuff we seldomly get to read about and watch.
It looks at how we love, how we question ourselves, are we acting in the right way? An essay which really stood out to me was one in which a mum admits she loves her husband more than her children; she loved her children but not as much as she loved her husband. I think that’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever read. I, like the author of the essay questioned that confession and I don’t even have children, but society tells us that once you become a mother the love for your children supersedes all others. I’d never thought to question it until this book.
I found myself giggling reading about the third wheel, devastated that his couple were moving away, gobsmacked at the guy whose ended up in A&E while on date and moved by the elderly widow who found love again even if only for a short time (she even enlisted a wingwoman to help her get her man, proof that some things never change).
How we question who we are and how we act, is summed up by Veronica Chambers, who reminds us we can be and act however we want. She described herself as clingy and desperate, someone who wore her heart on her sleeve, someone who went from one dating disaster to the next, trying to work out if there was something wrong with her (there wasn’t). Now married, she spent her essay reflecting on her dating days and wrote a line that a lot of people could do with hearing from time to time:
“Here’s what I have to tell you, what I wish someone at some point had told me: It’s okay.
Making a fool of yourself for love is ultimately about you, about how much you have to give and the distances you will travel to keep your heart wide open when everything around you makes you feel like slamming it shut and soldering it closed”.
Of course, there’s heartbreak, the mum who can’t listen to the Beatles anymore as it was a passion, she shared with her little girl who passed away. The couples that didn’t make it, those that did but faced tragedy. There’s a lot of big questions raised in these essays; you might think you’d come away with a pessimistic view on love, but the greatest tales dig deep into the everyday. They look at what happens after happy ever after, how love evolves and how love endures in all shapes and sizes.
I’ll end with a final note from Daniel Jones who edited Modern Love, he’s often asked to explain love and I think his explanation is pretty spot on:
“If I were Spock from Star Trek, I would explain that human love is a combination of three emotions or impulses: desire, vulnerability and bravery. Desire makes one feel vulnerable, which then requires one to be brave.
Vulnerability is the animating quality of all stories, and it can take many forms. In every case, though, vulnerability means exposing ourselves to the possibility of loss, but also – crucially! – to the possibility of connection. You can’t have one without the other”.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm