How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays

Mandy Len Catron

How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays
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How to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays

Mandy Len Catron

Why does love last? Does love ever work the way it does in films, books and social media? Or does our obsessing over love stories harm real relationships? These were questions Mandy Len Catron set out to answer when her parents' 28-year marriage and her own 10-year relationship finished almost concurrently.

In a series of candid, charming and wise essays, she explores what it means to love someone, be loved, and how we present our love to the world. She deconstructs her own personal canon of love stories, going back to when her grandparents first met in a coal mining town, and also her own dating life as a professor in Vancouver, drawing insights from her fascinating research into the psychology, biology, history and literature of love.

She uses biologists' research into dopamine triggers to ask whether the need to love is an innate human drive. She uses literary theory to show why we prefer certain kinds of love stories. And she tells the story of how she decided to test a psychology experiment - where the objective was to create intimacy between strangers using a list of thirty-six questions - and ended up having millions of people following her brand-new relationship.

Review

A couple of years ago, an essay was published in the New York Times under the undeniably compelling headline, ‘To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This’. It outlined 36 questions supposed to spark intimacy between two strangers. The questions were taken from a 20-year-old study by the psychologist Arthur Aron and his wife, and demanded an escalating degree of self-exposure. But what made Mandy Len Catron’s essay go viral was the tantalising revelation that she had used the questions herself to great effect with a male acquaintance… and fallen in love.

Naturally, cynics everywhere scoffed at the idea that there could be a ready formula for falling in love – one that could be followed over a couple of beers in a bar, no less – but Catron’s essay was still read by millions of people around the world. This memoir-in-essays picks up where her original essay left off, exploring the fascination with fairy tales in pop culture, the ways in which we create and edit our own love stories, and the influence of our parents’ narratives on our own.

It’s more cynical and ambivalent when it comes to love than the title might suggest. Catron is excellent when detailing how marriage has only relatively recently become inextricably connected with love, or dissecting her parent’s relationship, which she idealised as a teenager. It’s fascinating to read about her reaction to the New York Times essay going viral; even more so to infer the pressure she now feels to make the relationship endure. But maybe that’s a question no one can answer in 36 questions: how, or through what, love endures.


Hilary Simmons works as a bookseller at Readings at the State Library Victoria, and as part of the Readings events team.

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