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4 Epiphanies About Dating, From A Guy Who Reads Love Stories For A Living

The New York Times's Modern Love editor reveals what he's learned about relationships

The Notebook die-hards were instantly hooked on Allie and Noah's improbable, whirlwind summer romance when it came out in 2004. We swooned when they danced in the street. We sobbed with Allie when not one of Noah's 365 letters made it to her. We cheered when they made out in the rain years later. The unforgettable "if you're a bird, I'm a bird" line earned a permanent spot on our Myspace profiles.

But while impressionable tweens were dreaming about Allie And Noah's love story to end all love stories, editor Daniel Jones was paging through real-life love stories for a new New York Times column. Modern Love started in 2004 to "explore the joys and tribulations of love."

Eleven years later, Modern Love is going strong. Jones still reads hundreds of submissions from readers eager to share their experiences with romance and heartbreak. And after spending over a decade immersed in other people's stories, he has unique insight into the wild, unpredictable, and exciting world of twentysomething dating. I hopped on the phone with him to find out what he had to say about it.

  1. Dating apps are becoming more exclusive
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    When Modern Love began, texting wasn't a thing. You didn't check your cell phone every five minutes, desperately wishing for a little ding from your crush. You didn't swipe through a seemingly unlimited number of profiles, searching for a Friday night date. Over the years, the column has tracked the progression of technology and "what the benefits and costs of that kind of communication are," Jones told MTV News.

    "I think they [dating apps] just provide an incredible opportunity to meet people," he continued, "and they also provide a way to make the whole thing a video game and to hide behind a screen. It sort of depends how you use it."

    But Jones went on to explain that apps are evolving into "specialized versions of Tinder." He mentioned Bumble (where girls are required to message the guy first), Hinge (which only connects you with friends of friends), and Coffee Meets Bagel (you get exactly one match per day) as examples. Another one is The League, whose users all attended prestigious universities.

    "People are overwhelmed by choice," Jones continued. "It’s just that [there are] too many people out there for these broad apps [like Tinder] to be satisfying for a lot of people."

    Evolutionary science supports this, by the way. According to a previous MTV News interview with clinical psychologist Wendy Walsh, humans aren't biologically programmed for this much sexual opportunity. When there's an infinite number of people to chose from, making a decision becomes more difficult. Even once you're in a relationship, you end up perpetually wondering if there's someone out there who's better for you.

  2. People are messaging more and meeting up less
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    Every three or four years, Jones hosts a Modern Love college essay contest so young adults are encouraged to submit their writing. These stories help him understand what dating is really like for twentysomethings, and how the game -- is it all a game? -- transforms with each new class of students.

    “I was worried about doing a second [contest] because the first one was all about ambivalence about hooking up," Jones revealed, "and I thought the second one was going to be the same, and we just would be like a broken record three years later."

    It ended up being completely different: "The focus had shifted from these casual physical relationships to casual online relationships that had no physical component at all. It was almost the opposite, swung in the opposite direction."

    "The rules have changed," Jessica Alpert, senior producer of Modern Love's brand-spankin'-new podcast, added. She was specifically talking about "A Millennial’s Guide to Kissing," a contest winner originally published last August. (Actress Emmy Rossum even did a reading of this essay for the podcast.)

    "[Writer Emma Court] says it used to be that having the last word was the ultimate symbol of power in a relationship," Alpert continued, "and now it's like the ultimate fear -- no one wants to be the last one to send that email and not get a response to it."

    In other words, nobody wants to be ghosted, a concept explored in Rachel Fields's recent Modern Love essay, "The Five Stages of Ghosting Grief." Ghosting is loosely defined as "the act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating but no longer wishes to date." It's also a way harsh way to end a relationship, obviously.

  3. Transgender acceptance is the next step
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    The college submissions also give Jones insight into LGBT relationships and conversations. For instance, Jones explained that in the early years of Modern Love, coming out as gay was a compelling story about persistence and acceptance. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court's landmark ruling last June, "gay marriage is not a story anymore," Jones said.

    "That's just a remarkable change for the better. ... Society has accepted these things," Jones said, "and it's interesting to see how that then leads the way to new discussions of what’s next and what’s happening with transgender acceptance and relationships and how that’s become sort of a mainstream issue."

  4. Labels are so yesterday
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    Speaking of LGBT communities, Jones noticed the vocabulary is changing, too. It was a common theme in Modern Love's 2015 college essay contest.

    "People don’t want to put labels on relationships and they don’t want to put labels on sexuality," Jones said, "and that seems like the new frontier and the new story going forward." 🙌

For more Modern Love stories, read the column here and tune into the podcast here.