Stories With No Instagram Filter: Modern Love


The New York Times

Modern Love is a New York Times and wbur podcast that brings to life essays of love, loss, and redemption from every day New Yorkers.

Camila Ceballos, Design Editor

“But it’s always there, lying in wait for a ray of sun, pushing through thawing soil, insisting upon its rightful existence in our hearts and on earth.” – Modern Love. It’s simply inescapable. From friends, to partners, to parents, it’s innate human nature to be surrounded by relationships. The essence of said relationships lie in love, loss and redemption, and this is captured by wbur and The New York Times podcast: Modern Love. In 2015, this podcast brought to life the 16 year-old New York Times column, Modern Love. The podcast sheds new light on the popular column of weekly submitted essays by New Yorkers, with interviews from the original authors that elongate the narrative. Although love has been wildly saturated in the media, the 20-minute podcast focuses on stories of love in the “real” world with social media and stereotypes. Absent mothers, long distance love, young love, marriage, death, sickness, and mental health, are part of the multiple topics encapsulated in these essays. With celebrities as narrators, and the subsequent interviews, Modern Love’s essays have a unique style that allows listeners to contemplate the complicated beauty of breaking, creating, and building relationships with others and even with ourselves. 

The allure of the content itself perhaps lies in the vast variety of essays presented every week. Each essay contains new and intriguing content that ranges from divorce to love at first sight, and the stories become even more compelling after the essay reading ends, as the authors provide an update on their story. Similar to this essay-reading storytelling strategy is The Essay by BBC Radio, which broadcasts personal essays with original topics every week. However, Modern Love is written by unrecognized people, who simply have an intriguing story to tell, whilst in The Essay, they are written by presenters and accomplished writers. The fact that ordinary people dominate the narrative makes Modern Love an original and exciting podcast to listen to. Accomplished writers and radio hosts already have a secured place in the media to express their opinions, while people with everyday problems do not usually have a platform to share their stories. The podcast becomes more relatable with the use of unscripted stories from people with everyday problems, which make them more relatable to the common audience. 

On another note, Modern Love steps out of the box by constantly incorporating its audience into the podcast itself. In special holidays or events, they call for people to submit short anecdotes/stories to the podcast. Some of these are read on Valentines Day, and there is even an episode regarding coping alone during a pandemic. This audience engagement can be comparable to Emma Chamberlain’s Anything Goes podcast or Remi Ashten’s and Alisha Marie’s Pretty Basic, where they tell users to ask questions beforehand, so they can answer them in an episode. Even though this dynamic is similar, the approach in Modern Love gives the spotlight to the people, even if it’s for 30 seconds, hence creating episodes that are both active and inclusive with multiple stories and opinions. Additionally, the audience feels listened to and important, which is why I’m not surprised by Modern Love’s positive outcome with the media and its rising popularity.

Ultimately, it’s perhaps the impact that each episode has that makes Modern Love more than just an essay reading podcast. Like any other podcast, it has irritating ads and some crappy episodes, yet it always manages to be a podcast with an impact. Not necessarily an obvious impact like a TED Talks Daily podcast inviting you to sleep more because of its scientific benefits, but one that is personal and constantly changing. For one person, hearing another’s story about finding peace with love and race may become a source of confidence that they identify with. For others, this same story can become a way to reflect upon a topic they might have never considered being aware about. Everyone takes away something from each episode of Modern Love because love and the loss of love is all around us. Tip: Begin by listening to “When Cupid is a Prying Journalist”, and listen to the power writing can have. That’s my impact from the episode, and the beauty is, yours will be completely different.