Season 1, Episode 2: Love Stories

Find Out More

About Mandy Len Catron:

About Mandy's work on love stories:


If you have comments, ideas, or suggestions for future episodes, you can contact Carrie Jenkins here.

If you like Labels of Love, please rate and review the podcast on iTunes to help more listeners find it.


Labels of Love logo designed by Jen Sung.

Show notes photography by Jonathan Ichikawa.

Labels of Love is a research creation outcome of the Metaphysics of Love Project, supported by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional financial support for the project comes from the Canada Research Chairs program and the University of British Columbia.

I am grateful for help, guidance, feedback, and support from:
Drusilla, Mandy Len Catron, Ray Hsu, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Mezzo.


[Speaking in this episode you can hear: Carrie Jenkins, Jonathan Ichikawa, and Mandy Len Catron.]

Mandy: "You two must be engineers, or maybe robots."

Jonathan: You’re listening to Labels Of Love.

Carrie: Hi, and welcome to the podcast. I’m Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, and the author of What Love Is and What It Could Be. Today, I'm talking about love stories with Mandy Len Catron. Mandy is a writer and English teacher. She wrote a very famous essay in the New York Times Modern Love column, about using 36 questions to fall in love, and more recently she wrote again for the Times about her experience of using a relationship contract. Her new book is called How To Fall In Love With Anyone. I spoke with Mandy about what love stories are, how they can work to discourage us from taking control of love, from exercising our own agency, and what she is doing to reclaim that.

Mandy: For us, a relationship contract is an actual document. The first one we printed out and signed; the revisions we just did in a Word document. It's in a Dropbox, in a shared folder we have. And the content itself includes a variety of things that range from intentions for the relationship down to finer points like who does what chores around the house, and our expectations for planning and social life and domestic life and expenses and all of those things. A lot of people wrote to me and said, "Well what do you do if someone doesn't keep up their end of the contract?" and it's like, nothing, you know, like we just talk about it, but it makes space for that conversation. To be like, I wanted you to do this thing and you didn't do it, and I've never had space for that kind of conversation in a relationship before. Predictably, a lot of people were like, "Oh my god this is so controlling." I think one woman on the New York Times said something like, "You two must be engineers, or maybe robots." I think it really is connected to this fear that if you try to control love or manage it in any way that you will ruin it. Younger people are way more into it than older people are.

Carrie: Fascinating!

Mandy: I know!

Carrie: Do you get a sense of why, from what people say?

Mandy: I think the thing about online dating is that people have had to reckon with their ideas about fate. Once you start thinking I don't have to wait for this very serendipitous thing to happen to me, where there is a soulmate and this person is brought to me through some sort of machinations of the universe, then it's easier to reckon with all these other things like a relationship contract. Ask me again in ten years.

Mandy: I'm aware that my relationship exists as a love story in the public consciousness. As I understand it as an English teacher, a love story has four basic parts. And you can identify these parts in almost any love story, even, like, the way we tell our own stories to one another. And it's ... Meeting: so, two people (typically) meet. In most really popular or classic love stories there are larger forces at work behind the scenes that have brought these two people together and that will continue to influence their lives. The second part is Awareness Of Love. I always think of this moment as being like the moment you see in these teen movies from the 80s and 90s, which I was obsessed with. Usually it's like, the cool guy is looking at, like, the nerdy girl and all of a sudden, like, there's this close up on his face and you see his expression change and you're like "Oh my God, he's in love with her!" The third phase is Obstacles: so there has to be something that is keeping the lovers apart. Often larger social forces; often it's divisions to do with, like, one person's parents dislikes the other. And then the last part is Union, and that is when they finally come together. If it's a tragedy then the union still happens but then something horrible happens at the end. You know, only Rose can fit on the door of the Titanic. Although there was a Mythbusters episode that actually found that Jack could have fit on the door, but that would be a horrible ending. Yeah.

Carrie: Because it's a bad story.

Mandy: It's a bad story.

Mandy: We are inherently narrative creatures, and the thing that I wanted to talk about in the book that I just felt like a I wasn't seeing anywhere else was the ways that love stories are so powerful. We have these mirror neurons in our brains so that when we watch pornography, or we watch a romantic comedy, our brains are acting as if we're having sex, or we're falling in love, and we subconsciously--or maybe even very intentionally--structure our own experiences of love to match these very compelling narratives. That's really dangerous. So many of our stories suggest that these powerful forces are acting on us, and that is tied to this larger zeitgeist: our desire that love be unknowable and out of our control. So I'm really interested in stories where love brings something to bear on our lives that I haven't necessarily heard about before. I've been asked this question several times, which is basically, like: "Doesn't studying love ruin it? And doesn't picking apart love stories ruin love stories for you?" And the answer is no. Like, I was on the plane on my book tour watching Dirty Dancing, and I was like, God, this move is so good. Like, it is so compelling that the reward circuit in my brain is still just like zapping.

Carrie: Many thanks to today's guest, Mandy Len Catron. You can find out more about Mandy at her website,, or on Twitter where she's @lenmandy. Her blog is And you can learn more about my work at, or you can follow me on Twitter where I’m @carriejenkins. This episode feature music by Those Of Willow, Lee Rosevere, Podington Bear and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. You can find more details and lots of information and links in the show notes for this episode. Thank you so much for listening.

Mandy: It was like a real point of pride to me not to read the comments. The sort of mansplainy, "Here's how to get married ..."

Carrie: I can't get over this, that the problem would be that you don't know how!

Mandy: Yeah.


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