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"Modern Love" provides solace for the heartsick

By Sophie Newman     2/2/16 6:40pm

February brings with it many gifts — TV series premieres, leap year celebrations, President’s Day — and one defining date more polarizing than American politics. For us struggling singletons, Valentine’s Day can be hard to stomach: the brunch dates, picnics, sappy movies, and Victoria’s Secret Specials for the special someone that you don’t have.

In times like these, I often find myself alone in my room at night, wallowing a little bit in self-pity and thinking about how my whole life might have been different if I just fixed some personal-life shortcomings. Like if I had said yes to going out with Landon Dunnings in the sixth grade, or if I had the foresight to Google my Tinder dates’ criminal records, I might be a more successful dater.

What soothes my aching emotional health during such crises, is a weekly column that is basically a Bible for anyone who wants to hear others’ weird, awkward experiences with love (which is everyone). It’s a little thing the New York Times likes to call “Modern Love.” In January, it became a podcast.

The podcast is a collaboration with WBUR, Boston’s NPR News Station, and it now has three inaugural episodes. “Modern Love: The Podcast” has been such a hit that, for perspective, it momentarily deposed “Serial” on the Apple charts.

In each episode, a guest actor or actress comes on to read the essay. Afterwards, the host, Meghna Chakrabarti, the essayist, and Daniel Jones, the column editor, talk about it. Expect to hear some famous voices this year: Judd Apatow, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon and January Jones.

Modern Love has been around since 2004 as a column in the Times’ Fashion & Style section, but in recent years, it experienced a surge in popularity. Now, in addition to the latest podcast, Modern Love has spawned an animated video channel and an annual “College Essay Contest” (which you can feel free to submit to).

Although many of the stories deal with the more traditional troubled lovers scenarios, not all are romantic — weekly tales range from your typical mother-daughter teenage battles, to telling your boyfriend you’re going blind, to sucking a coworkers’ toes in a taxi.

Reading each column is a small joy for me, and now I also have something new to distract me at the gym. I listened to all three episodes last week on the elliptical, and am happy to report that it did a lot to help stave off any threats of a February-related meltdown.

After all, there’s nothing like listening to other people’s problems to lend some perspective: In one episode, a woman describes her experience falling in (and out of) love with a married man whom she met on Craigslist. In another unexpectedly touching piece, a writer describes the death of his child’s pet goldfish in terms of the death of his own parents.

It’s “This American Life" meets your diary. It’s personal, it’s awkward and it might make you cry (in the best possible way). Welcome to a new way to save yourself from V-Day doldrums.

“Modern Love: The Podcast” is released every Thursday, and can be found at WBUR.org, NYTimes.com and on iTunes, Stitcher or the podcast app of your choice.

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