Modern love lessons
Writers and lovers across the world vie to tell their stories in the popular Modern Love column of the ‘New York Times’. Editor Daniel Jones explores how people, once they’ve found love, can hold onto it
Weather the storm: Daniel Jones says couples deal with boredom and loss of love in their marriage in three ways – those who sneak, those who quash, and those who restore. Illustration: Getty
Restorer couples make plans to reignite the passion in their marriage, such as committing to frequent hugs and kisses every day. Photograph: Getty Images
What’s the best way to recalibrate a marriage as the years pass? I wish I had the answer, because clearly millions of us would like to know. As the editor of the New York Times Modern Love column for nearly a decade, I have sifted through roughly 50,000 stories that have crossed my desk.
I have noticed people wrestling with two questions above all others. From the young: “How do I find love?” And from those wallowing through marital malaise: “How do I get it back?”
Though it’s not really love they want back as much as attention, excitement and passion. No one doubts the enduring benefits of long-term relationships. But marriage can also get boring, punctuated with deadening routines, cyclical arguments and repetitive conversations.
In my own 21-year marriage, my wife has a habit of asking me to do something and then saying: “You’re not going to forget, are you? Just tell me now if you’re going to forget so I’ll know to do it myself.”
I’ll say (for the 100th time): “I can’t know in advance if I’m going to forget. That’s not how forgetting works.”
“Just tell me,” she’ll say.
Among my 50,000 strangers, I’ve also heard from just a handful of couples who claimed to have maintained sexually charged marriages throughout the decades.
The one story I published from this happier-than-thou crowd, by the writer Ayelet Waldman about her still-sexy marriage (with four children) to the Pulitzer-winning writer Michael Chabon, was met with jeers and hostility when she went on Oprah to talk about it, mostly because she dared to confess that she puts her marriage ahead of motherhood.
That alignment of priorities, she said, is part of what has allowed her to keep her marriage passionate. And she argued that doing so is also a healthier model for children, most of whom would be better off with a little less time in their parents’ spotlight. As she spoke, the studio audience seemed to regard her as if she were from another planet.
She might as well have been, given how rare that kind of marriage is these days.
So what to do about it? Sneak around, trying to get our needs met elsewhere? Resign ourselves to the limitations of marriage? Confront the issue head on and work together to try to reanimate our relationship? And ultimately, what does each approach entail?
Those who sneak
Sneakers neither sulk nor celebrate; they redirect their attention to distractions that entertain and titillate. For convenience, much of their sneaking will be conducted online.
Sneakers are never without electronic devices. When sitting, they will almost always be staring into an open laptop or tablet. While walking or doing chores, they’ll be staring into a smartphone.
For these gadget-obsessed types, the hardest work of marriage is listening. To their spouses they’ll mutter, “What?” constantly, but they won’t listen when the statement is repeated and they are too embarrassed to ask a second or third time.
Sneakers typically log a lot of hours on social media stalking old flames from school and college. Have you ever received a friend request from a long-ago love who very early in your messaging session asks leading questions about the state of your marriage or confesses to loneliness in theirs? If so, you’ve been targeted by a sneaker.
After an opening exchange of how-do- you-dos, the sneaker will start in: “yeah im married 2 but we do our own thing these days. what about u?”
Target: “lol i know how that is”
Sneaker: “do u really?”
Target: “omg who doesnt”
Sneaker: “u and me used to have so much fun partying right?”
Target: “like 100 yrs ago lol”
Sneaker: “we should get together 4 lunch sometime”