A dear friend recently told me about a weekly New York Times column gaining widespread popularity. Bored and lonely last Tuesday night, I remembered the recommendation and decided to read through a few posts. Within minutes, I was immersed. “Modern Love” features reader-submitted essays about love, in all its forms and iterations. Though anyone can submit, the stories selected are well-written, moving and, most strikingly, deeply personal.
For instance, “Finding Equilibrium in Seesawing Libidos” ties the familiar marriage quandary of unbalanced sexual needs into a couple’s struggles with Parkinson’s (A wife’s libido, once low, skyrockets as a result of her medication). The beauty of the piece lies in the author’s description of the pain he feels watching a loved one suffer. Similarly, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” catches reader attention with a wacky premise (Can scientists make people fall in love?) but stayed with me due to its intimate personal story about the moment when two people begin to realize their feelings for one another.
“Modern Love” corresponds with a campus trend of using the written and spoken word to express deep emotions. This past March, a group of students put together “The Speak Up Project,” a documentary-theater performance in which students submitted personal narratives about sexual harassment and assault that were read aloud by actors. Anonymous confessionals “Rice Confess” and Yik Yak similarly include various posts detailing the emotional lives and personal concerns of students. The fact that these forums exist and are utilized, seen and discussed demonstrates a dual need: the desire for catharsis and the yearning for authentic connection in an exceedingly inauthentic world.
I would suspect that this trend speaks to a disturbing sense of isolation among the population — particularly those who have been through trauma or have certain emotional needs. Sharing pain and confusion with new acquaintances is taboo, yet emotional release and the need for understanding is critical. Anonymity allows release without judgment. Viewing others’ stories makes one feel connected by providing reassurance that feelings and struggles are universal and legitimate.
In our celebration of these mediums, however, we must be careful not to use them as total replacements for sharing with other humans. As much as they can comfort us, there is nothing comparable to intimate sharing with real people, in the flesh. Thus, I encourage students: Use anonymous outlets and read confessionals, especially if they help. At the same time, however, be open to removing the veil over your identity and pursuing authentic connection with another human being.