Caitlin Dewey

On “Modern Love” and collected characters

I screamed when I got the email. I literally sat in bed, stared at the computer, and screamed.

That’s sort of funny, isn’t it? Only two months ago, I sat in the same bed with the same computer, talking to someone important to me; now I sat there shrieking like a lunatic because the essay I wrote about our failed relationship won the New York TimesModern Love essay contest. The essay, “Even in Real Life, There Were Screens Between Us,” appeared on today and will run in print this Sunday.

I know some people will like my essay; I know others will hate it. Regardless of your opinion of my work, however, I think it testifies to the transformative power of storytelling – and that is a very powerful idea.

I remember my friend Tuan once telling me that he didn’t feel sad after a break-up because the experience informed his work. “I’m collecting characters for films,” he said.

I don’t know where it will get me, exactly, but I would like to see my life, and this experience, in that same framework.

(Update 5/1/11: I am profoundly humbled and overwhelmed by the positive response to this essay. Thank you to everyone who has written — I will eventually respond to all the messages. Please keep sharing your stories with me.)

14 comments on “On “Modern Love” and collected characters

  1. laurastanfill
    April 28, 2011

    Beautiful, thought-provoking essay. Congratulations! I used to spend a lot of time thinking about the distance between the photographer and the subject in print journalism, and you’ve really captured the modern romantic version of that–how people get to know each other with the screen as the intermediary (instead of the lens).

  2. Allison Werner
    April 29, 2011

    I just read your essay online and loved it. Very impressive–I sincerely wished it were even longer because I was so engaged =) Congratulations!

  3. Pearl
    April 29, 2011

    I just read your essay! It’s beautiful and a fantastic story. Congratulations!

  4. JLT
    April 30, 2011

    Dear Caitlin, thanks for sharing such an intimate experience with us. you captured the heartbreak of internet– and even RL– love perfectly.

  5. John Cartan
    April 30, 2011

    Congratulations on a very nice piece of writing.

    I made a journey like yours almost exactly twenty years ago, when online dating first began – except it took me three days to drive from Montana to LA. I was a proto-blogger at the time (via a disk-based bulletin board contraption) and so have a transcript of our first onlne date. Our time IRL went better than yours: we were engaged five days later and are still happily married, raising a beautiful daughter.

    Keep writing and loving and taking chances. Your life is just beginning to unfold!


  6. Barbara Schaffer
    April 30, 2011

    Caitlin, I am 64 years old and just read your wonderful piece in the NY Times. My thought is that what’s new is also old. When I was growing up the issue was pen pals – people you wrote and received long letters to and from. Often leading to photos being exchanged and then finally a meeting in person, which often led to disappointment. That never happened to me, but I remember a story from some teenage magazine where the boy and girl clicked in every way except no photos were sent. They agreed to meet somewhere finally. The girl sees the boy and runs away. He is black. This was around 1960.

    On another level, technology – whether it’s the U.S. mail, which in my childhood was delivered twice a day – or the Internet (Skype, etc) has always helped people connect intimately without physical intimacy. Nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. Real time lovers sometimes share their journals with each other to have it both ways.

  7. Cliodhna
    April 30, 2011

    I’ve just read your essay and loved it.I was held captive the whole way through.I also thought how courageous you were to start a skype relationship with someone ou hardly knew, as I would never be able to put myself out there like that.I am curious to to know if he has read your essay?

  8. Karan
    April 30, 2011

    I just read your submission. I love reading short stories, and yours was a refreshing read. Well written!

  9. Dhananjay
    April 30, 2011

    Brilliant; moving. I particularly enjoyed getting to the end and not seeing a “names changed for privacy” disclaimer.

  10. Candace Dempsey
    May 1, 2011

    Just ready your essay in the NYT. Delightful. You are compassionate and curious. You will make a great journalist. Enough material there for a novel

  11. Awkward Engineer
    May 3, 2011

    I loved the essay. Also, it’s true what your friend says about collecting characters. I while ago, I thought to myself, “my inner monologue is hilarious (to me)”. So I started writing things down so I could share it with people. Everything and everyone is my inspiration. Good luck.

  12. Christian
    May 9, 2011

    Absolutely loved your essay. Congratulations.

  13. Kevin Mark
    May 23, 2011

    Just a crazy guess, but as someone ‘on the spectrum’ (ASD), where a lot of (un-dx’d) geeks are, this person might have also been. Check out J E Robison’s new book ‘be different’. ASD folks deal with intimacy in ways NTs dont expect or immediately understand and can deal better with computer-mediated modes.

  14. Pingback: Kiplinger’s Caitlin Dewey Gives Financial Advice to College Students | #WealthyRadio | Deborah Owens, Wealth Coach

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This entry was posted on April 28, 2011 by in My work and tagged , , , , , .


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