‘Modern Love’ Editor Talks Column, Societal Change

DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA The New York Times’ “Modern Love” Editor Daniel Jones commented on the nature of relationships in today’s society as part of his speech hosted by the Lecture Fund, The Hoya and the Lannan Center on Tuesday.

The New York Times’ “Modern Love” Editor Daniel Jones commented on the nature of relationships in today’s society as part of his speech hosted by the Lecture Fund, The Hoya and the Lannan Center on Tuesday.

Relationships have become more flexible as society has evolved in the last decade, argued The New York Times’ “Modern Love” Editor Daniel Jones in Copley Formal Lounge on Tuesday.
The event was co-sponsored by the Lecture Fund, The Hoya and the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice.

“Modern Love” is in its 12th year as a reader-generated column inside The New York Times’ weekly Sunday Styles section.

In 2015, the most-read article at The New York Times — “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” — was published in January in the “Modern Love” column, receiving more than 20 million hits online and accumulating a collective reading time of over 100 years.

Jones said his column bears witness to societal changes that have influenced trends in relationships over the past decade, such as the legalization of gay marriage and popularization of nontraditional family structures.

“I see that, even in college campuses, that there is an aversion to being placed into boxes, there is an aversion to calling yourself something, there is an aversion to calling your relationship something,” Jones said. “People want things to be fluid and undefined, and I think that’s a big change where it was not this way 12 years ago.”

Jones said the column aims to capture love in all its forms, from life-changing encounters to more ordinary episodes, such as the agony of an unanswered text to a crush.

“This column is about relationships, it’s about human love, which means you don’t write about a love of place or a love of your favorite book, although people submit essays like that,” Jones said. “This kind of complicated love is given means, and it’s not necessarily romantic love. Some of the most moving essays I see are from family, especially parents and children, the sort of blood lines that can be very trying and complicated.”

According to Jones, falling in love is about finding a balance between vulnerability and dependence.

“To fall in love you have to show your weaknesses, but you have to be smart about it – you have to be vulnerable and smart at the same time,” Jones said. “You can’t be vulnerable to the point where you’re a mess, or you’ll scare the other people away. But you have to be vulnerable to the point where the person feels invited in.”

Lecture Fund board member Anisha Vora (SFS ’19), who introduced Jones at the event, said she invited him to campus because he signified a departure from the typical lecturers invited to the university.

“We have a lot of politics speakers come in, and those are great, but we definitely don’t have as many arts-based speakers, and I definitely consider the type of literature and the type of journalism Dan Jones does to be a kind of art form,” Vora said.

Jones, who now reviews over 8,000 annual submissions to “Modern Love,” was a ski instructor before he published “The Bastard on The Couch,” a follow-up to his wife Cathi Hanauer’s feminist essay anthology “The Bitch in The House,” which captured the attention of New York Times editors who approached the duo with the idea for the column.

Jones said both he and his wife were skeptical at first.

“We didn’t think it was a good idea, I have to say, but I was largely unemployed at the time having just finished my book and not having anything else to do, so we started the column together,” Jones said. “We said let’s see how this works. That’s how I wound up, surprisingly, at this job.”

Though his wife left the project after a month to finish a book, Jones said he stayed to accomplish his vision for a new type of column.

“I wanted to open the floodgates to stories about people who didn’t have any connection to any editor, who weren’t experienced writers, who had a wealth of stories that would be fresh, would be surprising and honest, people who hadn’t already told their stories,” Jones said. “In my estimation, that’s what’s made the column what it is and given it the longevity that it has had.”

Jones said the idea to include personal essays in an established newspaper like The New York Times, while ordinary now, was a novel idea when “Modern Love” launched in 2004.

“I didn’t get it when I first started; I just did not see how this belongs in a newspaper with news articles, and now newspapers, online magazines, they’re all saturated with personal essays,” Jones said.

Shifts in the way people consume news has prompted Jones to explore different platforms for disseminating “Modern Love.” Jones said the launch of the “Modern Love” podcast in December 2015 opened up a new opportunity to monetize storytelling.

“Podcasting is very profitable right now, and some people would even say it’s in a bubble, but right now it’s easy to get advertisers,” Jones said. “People are really searching for ways to monetize this material out to people and have them pay for it.”

Sydney Green (COL ’17), an avid listener of the “Modern Love” podcast, said the pieces published in the “Modern Love” column reflect Jones’ concept of love.

“I just love them. Like he said, I like them because they are very sweet and very sincere, but also very smart,” Green said. “I think he knows what he’s looking for and does a great job finding it.”

Sarika Ramaswamy (SFS ’18) said she attended the event because as a culture and politics major, she is interested in how media intersect with broader political trends.

“I like this idea of using more human stories to talk about broader issues,” Ramaswamy said. “These changes in romance are reflective of a change in society, and it’s a good way to talk about the world through these more human stories.”

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