This week, I had the privilege to interview the man responsible for one of our favorite sources of grace in practice, the Editor of the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Daniel Jones. In a ninety-minute conversation we talked about some of the favorite Modern Love columns, about the reasons couples fall in love and the reasons couples cheat, as well as some of his thoughts on online dating and the new delusions of control offered us in the tech-savvy and convenience-seeking age. (We will be publishing the interview in the next issue of The Mockingbird, which is well on its way for printing in the next month. To pre-order a copy, go ahead and subscribe to the magazine.)

In the meantime, I was struck by this excerpt from his book Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers), where Jones describes the modern (human) (delusional) impulse for the improvement of all things, including the four-letter word in question, the secret of which continues to elude our grasp.

In talking about love, Jones opts to describe it as an alien creature who, come to earth, is found to be an unsettlingly mysterious gift to us. Like E.T., we love this alien, but we also want to kill him. Sound familiar? I’ll let Dan tell the rest.


We humans, in fact, hardly see anything in our lives that can’t be improved with a little elbow grease and ingenuity. We push to make progress on all fronts. Even love, we think, can surely be done better. Just tell us what we need to do to whip this love beast into shape once and for all, and we’ll get to work and make it happen.

Yet despite all the money, research, electronic innovation, mathematical wizardry, and decades of experimentation, we seem to be stuck in neutral when it comes to improving love, still plagued by the same doubts and dilemmas that Shakespeare wrestled with nearly five hundred years ago. What do we know about love that he didn’t? What have we learned? What significant breakthroughs make love easier and better now than before? Any?

…Which brings me to my final quiz question: If you had to imagine love as a living, breathing creature, what would you pick? A babyish-looking cupid? A furry animal with a heart-shaped face and pink ears? The Dalai Lama? Or something else altogether?

When I imagine love in creature form, I actually picture it being more like E.T. the extra-terrestrial, Steven Spielberg’s adorable space alien from thirty years ago who healed bleeding wounds with his glowing finger and exhorted his youthful guardians to “be good.” After all, isn’t that what love, at its best is about—healing wounds and being good? In the movie, however, E.T. is pursued so relentlessly by the scientists and government agents charged with figuring out what the hell this magical creature is, how he works, and where he comes from, that by the end E.T. winds up near death on a makeshift operating table, his red life-light dimming, electrodes taped all over his dehydrated body.

When I consider our increasingly aggressive and well-funded efforts to “decode” and demystify love—and where such efforts might ultimately lead—I can already imagine the scene: those same scientists in their goggles and jumpsuits looking grimly down upon love’s cold carcass and muttering, “Well, not much we can do at this point. Too bad we had to kill love to understand it. That’s the last thing anyone wanted. But at least now we can perform an autopsy and discover what makes this sucker tick.”

Poignant words from the man whose job is to display this alien creature to millions of readers each week. It seems to be in good hands! From his description I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Pharisees of the New Testament, their fearful, linguistic circuit-testing around the heart of Jesus’ ministry. And it is this fearful game of logic (that we know so well still) which tends to inoculate us from the real healing power of love. More than figuring it out, we’d do well to befriend this alien force who has made us his own.