I listened to an audiobook version of Mandy Len Catron’s How to Fall in Love with Anyone, instead of reading. It was an accident. In my book-addled brain I clicked ‘order audiobook’ instead of ‘book.’ On the plus side, I got a lot of crafting done while still “reading” Writers Fest.
Mandy Len Catron’s book stems from an article in the New York Times. The article, which appeared in the Modern Love column, was called ‘To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This’. In 2015, when it came out, it got more than 8 million views and was shared 400,000 times.
In How to Fall in Love with Anyone, Catron expands on the essay with more detail on her journey to the New York Times essay and her family and personal love stories. And science. Because what is love without science?
Catron offers some compelling arguments. Namely, that our existing collective love stories are dangerous, culturally irrelevant and outdated. I agree with much of what she says. She breaks down love stories as all fundamentally being a riff on the Cinderella story, or the meet cute, or the grand gesture. We treat love as though it’s fate, as though we have no control over ourselves or it.
The Cinderella framework is troubling because it presupposes that is you are a good, kind, polite, gentle, hardworking woman your value will be recognized the by the prince. Catron posits that we love Cinderella because women want to be recognized for their modesty and ability to put others first. Women want to prove our worth by being loved by the most interesting, most valuable person in the room. These days, women know their worth outside of this narrow view and all this love story does is reinforce the patriarchal norm. And, yuck. But the story sticks.
As far as Cinderella and stories like go, I see her point. More importantly, I see the dangers in the idea that a man (or someone else) can save us. We should focus on being equipped to save ourselves, men and women alike.
Other dangers include romantic movies portraying stalking as romantic. Persistence is hard to swallow during a time where no means no and plenty of men are being taken to task for not hearing it.
The argument against the meet-cute is interesting too. I also remember how much I loved these movies in the ‘90s. When I watch them now, I cringe a bit, because usually, the women seem a bit silly. They’re always swooning and falling down and the men are portrayed as heroes in some capacity or another. This doesn’t fit my view of how relationships functionally operate. Or how women really are.
I like Catron’s point that the love stories we read in books or see on TV don’t show the full breadth and capacity of love. Love changes—how it demonstrates itself and what it needs changes over time.
Catron’s book reframes love as a choice. I understand our compulsion to accept love as fate, as a beautiful story. If it’s fate, it’s easier not to be hurt when someone doesn’t love us back by saying: it wasn’t meant to be. We can write it off as a whim of the universe. But our stories and our acceptance of fate makes us less culpable. Less able to choose. Less able to accept love stories that don’t fall into our prescribed views on what love is.
As I listened to Catron read I realized I’d already come to believe and recognize much of what she said. She just forced me to be more truthful about it with myself. Her book is a realistic and honest look at love and culture and it’s painful at times. Such blatant honesty can sometimes be difficult to absorb, even when it’s good for us.
Mandy Len Catron was at Event 12 (That Thing Called Love) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Fest.
Related read: You can read Catron’s original article that started all this here.