You might’ve read Mandy Len Catron’s New York Times article, “The 36 Questions That Lead To Love”—millions of Americans have. Now Catron is applying her trademark vulnerability and inquisitiveness to a series of personal essays. It’s a treatise on love and its relationship to the human condition—essential reading for anyone who’s ever loved. Here’s an excerpt from Mandy’s new book, How To Fall In Love With Anyone, available today.
I liked being friends with Mark. Friendship suited us. As I wrote and revised [the essay that would become “How To Fall In Love With Anyone”], my relationship with Mark changed. We became friends who saw each other two or three days a week. Friends who went on long hikes with my dog. Friends who said lingering goodbyes.
Part of what I liked about spending time with Mark was that the stakes felt low.
I didn’t know what I wanted, so I didn’t feel stress about finding out what he wanted. I understood that he would be a good match for me, someone worth investing in, before I really developed feelings for him. In my previous experiences with love, the romance had always preceded the friendship. But this was different. The difference felt empowering.
I knew we weren’t dating, though it often felt like we were. I wondered if part of the thrill of spending time with him— apart from the conversation, which was wide-ranging and always interesting to me—was the tension, the question of whether we would get together. Was I really interested in him, or did I just want to know the ending to our story?
In October, we became friends who tried kissing again, just to, you know, see what it would feel like. By Halloween we were friends who were holding hands, friends who had deleted our OKCupid profiles.
e were in a bar in a hotel basement a couple of weeks later when Mark told me he loved me. True to form, I responded awkwardly, not with reciprocation, but with incredulity: “Are you? How do you know?”
“I just know,” he said happily. “I know what I feel.” I marveled at his confidence, how assured he always seemed of his place in the world. I resolved to be like that, to let love in, even if I wasn’t sure I was ready. It was November and cold and wet in Vancouver, a good month to choose to fall in love.
By December, loving Mark came easier to me. I knew I wanted to experience a version of love that did not make me anxious or overly self-conscious or weird, but I was accustomed to drama and conflict. I was better at loving the kind of guy who wasn’t so sure of his feelings for me.
I was relieved to feel the force of my love for Mark growing. I thought that maybe sometimes love needs to have its own momentum or else it’s just too much work.
I chose to fall in love with Mark because it felt safe. But I did not account for how that love would grow, for what it might be like to be loved by someone so conscientious and calm and kind. I didn’t see then—couldn’t have imagined—how high the stakes would get.
He sits on the couch in his underwear and reads me an essay on Hamlet while I fry eggs and think how astounding it is that such a person exists and that he has chosen to love me. Some days I am silenced by the way he inhabits a T-shirt. And then I feel it again, that urge to look away for fear that he will see it in my gaze, how much I really want from him.