modern love
Sometimes, the tribulations of modern love leave you floating in the breeze, waiting for the gust that will take you where you're meant to be. (Illustration by James O’Toole, Grand Valley State University)
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modern love

Because love is more than just romance.

Produced by WBUR and based on The New York Times’ weekly column, the podcast “Modern Love” invites well-known personalities to lend their narrating voice to essays, fleshing out words on paper into audible performances that transform readers’ perspectives on love.

If you’re a “Modern Love” novice, here are nine essays that span the wide spectrum of love, from romance to parental love to friendship and many more.

1. “Learning to Embrace Sexuality’s Gray Areas”

The realization that sexuality is more than just black and white is one that actor Nico Tortorella (from “Younger”) narrates in an essay that focuses on accepting one’s bisexuality. For anyone who’s ever doubted or struggled with their sexual identity, you’ll find relief when listening to college student Adam’s personal story about a sexual encounter with a male friend.

“In a matter of minutes, an Adam from suburban Texas and an Adam from California had intertwined and merged into a composite Adam,” he writes of the sexual experience that would contribute to his breakup with his girlfriend — and help him learn to accept his bisexual identity.

2. “When Your Greatest Romance is a Friendship”

Sometimes friendships prove that the best romances come from platonic love. Actor Ali Fazal warmly narrates the unusual friendship that grows between writer Victor and his elderly female neighbor, Austin.

“Friendship, like it’s flashier cousin, love, can be wildly chemical and, like love, can happen in an instant,” Victor writes, as he and Austin start to share weekly home dinners together. The time Victor spends with his new best friend, however, confuses both his friends and Austin’s, who at one point think that he’s simply helping her fix her computer.

You might not experience the age-defying friendship between Victor and Austin, but you’ll relate to the discovery that not all love stories are based on romance.

3. “Cropped Out of My Own Fantasy”

Most people have had that moment where they’ve tried to capture the perfect social media-worthy photo, but in “Cropped Out of My Own Fantasy,” the enviable black-and-white photo of Sage and her boyfriend doesn’t quite reflect the true nature of their relationship.

Actress Kirsten Vangsness (“Criminal Minds”) narrates the emotional unraveling of Sage as she and her boyfriend try to prove to the world and themselves that they belong together.

“I had fallen in love with the man I wanted him to be and the woman I wanted to be,” Sage writes of her relationship. If you’ve ever been guilty of staging that one glamorous Instagram photo, then you’ll relate to the episode’s deeper lesson on how social media displays merely a fantastical illusion of real life.

4. “A Heart of Gold”

They say dogs are man’s best friend, but what happens when your best friend is a male tortoise named Minnie? Actress Ruth Negga (“Loving”) brings Caroline’s devotion for her reptilian companion to life in “A Heart of Gold,” which follows a woman’s search for a man that can love both her and her tortoise.

“It’s easy to love the beautiful, the normal, but what about the gifts of loving the strange, the uncommon, the odd?” Caroline writes, recounting how past dates, friends and even her own mother have failed to understand the bond between Caroline and Minnie.

If you own a pet — unusual or not — you’ll empathize with the type of joy and acceptance that only a pet can bring, especially during moments of loneliness and heartbreak.

5. “Yes, We Do. Even at Our Age.”

When it comes to elderly couples, people tend to shy away from certain aspects of their relationships, especially when the uncomfortable discussion of the birds and the bees comes into play. Seasoned actress Lois Smith (“Lady Bird”) appropriately narrates Nancy’s personal essay about the disconnect between advanced age and physical love.

“We place too much emphasis on long-term physical passion,” Nancy writes, after feeling pressured to remain physically intimate with her husband of several decades.

“Yes, We Do. Even at Our Age.” isn’t about proving that the elderly can still get it on in the golden years. It’s about the way society disregards those of previous generations by ignoring their human need not for sex but physical touches like hand holding and cuddling.

6. “The Accidental Older Woman”

You’ve heard the saying, “Age is just a number,” but for Robin, one’s age does matter to an extent, especially when the person you’re with is half your age.

In “The Accidental Older Woman,” actress Rosie Perez channels effortlessly timed humor and energy into her narration about Robin, who signs up for a motorcycle course for her 40th birthday and meets 20-year-old Jesse.

“Yes, age is just a number, but it’s also a perspective,” Robin writes of her short-lived relationship with the younger man. Her essay doesn’t discourage dating between two individuals of a considerable age gap but does take stock of the difference in emotional maturity and life experiences that accompanies it.

7. “A Hiker’s Guide to Healing”

Stand-up comic Cameron Esposito (known for her podcast “Queery”) narrates “A Hiker’s Guide to Healing,” a moving essay about Aspen’s search for solitude and escape after surviving rape. The beauty of Aspen’s story, however, lies more in what she discovered along the Pacific Crest Trail than about what caused her to leave college.

“I kept walking, the volcanic rock like a husk of dead earth beneath my running shoes. I screamed to hear my echo, and with each footfall heard the crunch of gravel,” Aspen writes of the landscape that that would guide her from Mexico to Canada and on an emotional path to healing.

8. “Single Woman Seeking Manwich”

Entering the dating pool is never easy, especially after being rejected by a profile pic of a sandwich.

Rapper and actress Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians”) narrates Sarah’s willingness to endure awkward dead-end dates in the quest to find one person to spend her life with. Sarah’s search to find happiness with someone, despite the company of great friends and a life in bustling New York, is an empty feeling that many out there experience.

“But I am not going to say the loneliness isn’t palpable, that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a state of panic, wondering if I am going to be alone for the rest of my life,” Sarah writes.

For all you hopeful singles out there, “Single Woman Seeking Manwich” is a wistful yet humorous account of all the crazy — and sometimes just plain bad — aspects of dating that will have you cheering Sarah on.

9. “Ah, to be Old, Male, and Single”

You know you need to up your dating game when your own father has more dates than you. Using her trademark New York accent, Natasha Lyonne (“Russian Doll”) vitalizes Amy’s essay with strong vocal emphasis to capture the close relationship between Amy and her elderly widowed father.

“Little did she know that in her absence, my father and I would instead find each other,” Amy writes.

“Ah, to be Old, Male, and Single” will have you laughing over the too-eager women fawning over Amy’s father, but more importantly, it will have you enjoying the entertaining and well-intentioned back-and-forth between Amy and her father, whose relationship pumps heart into the essay.

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