In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, my library had a table of books for “singles, ready to mingle.” As cringe worthy as that is, I perused, finding Mandy Len Catron’s book, How to Fall in Love with Anyone. I remember reading Catron’s New York Times piece, the most clicked of 2015, and figured this book was worth a shot.
Catron is famous for popularizing a 20 year old study on intimacy building, where two participants discuss 36 questions with one another, which can ultimately lead to built trust and a level of familiarity that can lead to love. Catron did this with an acquaintance, and this lead to the two of them falling in love.
In the book, published in 2017 and written in a series of linear essays, Catron tells the story of a major break up from a relationship that started in college. The reader, if you’ve read the Times article, know how this story ends, and the book even ends with a republication of the NYT article and the 36 questions.
The meat of the story, however, recounts her parents love story, her grandparents love story, grappling with divorce, break ups and loss, what it means to be ones own person in a relationship, and how modernity has changed dating in the 20th and 21st century.
And this, alas, is where the title misleads. The front cover does not mention that this book is a memoir, but shows itself from the outset to be a guide for beleaguered lovers to find solace in a slice and dice book that lays out how to love.
Rather, Catron discusses mostly how love is shared, and how one weaves the tale of love, and how to peel back the veneer of perfection that comes with the lore and legend of love. This is the part that resonated most with me. You can have the cutest meeting in the world, the best relationship story, and your relationship can look shinier than a new penny on the outside, but if it’s broken, it is broken.
As Catron discusses the generations of relationships, from her grandmother marrying a man double her age as a teen to her mother marrying the football coach from her high school, she dissects what made their relationships work over time, and how, inevitably, they fell apart. This ties into her relationship with Kevin, the man she spends the better part of nine years with, and we watch why the relationship fell apart.
This memoir reminded me distinctly of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Maybe it was the breakup central to the memoir, or maybe the ubiquity of the New York Times article, but there was something about this memoir that made me want to re-read Gilbert’s work.
Ultimately, this isn’t a guidebook to fall in love, but a reality check on what love really is, and what it means to fall in love in modern times. If you love sociological memoir, you’ll enjoy this.
Question for my readers: Have you done the 36 question quiz that made Catron famous? How did it go? Let me know in a comment below.