I have read The New York Times “Modern Love” column for at least a decade. The writing is consistently beautiful, and the stories, each unique, have a magical ability to take the reader to places she or he might not normally trek. It has been one of my writing goals to have an essay published in “Modern Love.”
A writing professor of mine called the column, “the toughest writing gig around.”
Writer K. Nicole Whitaker stated, “It seems the holy grail of essay writing about love is the New York Times ‘Modern Love’ column.”
The rejection rate of a “Modern Love” submission is 99.5%.
The “Modern Love” editor, Daniel Jones, has said, “It is easier to get into Harvard twenty times than into the ‘Modern Love’ column.”
I’ve submitted several essays over the last ten years. All were rejected.
I’m walking on air and can hardly believe I can now share with you:
Marie Havican says
What happened to your cat Emmitt? Did he stay in Russia?
I understand you have 2 dogs now.
And this essay is about what happened many years ago.
But I still can’t help wondering.
Mara Levine says
One of the most beautiful essays to grace the Modern Love column. Congratulations, Thank you and best of luck to you.
Thank you, Mara! It was an honor to have my essay in that beautiful column. I’m thrilled to hear you enjoyed the piece. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.
Thank you for thinking of Emmitt, Marie. He also adored Neal. Emmitt didn’t come to Russia with us. He was an older cat at that point and there were no decent veterinarians in Rostov-on-Don at that time. I didn’t want to risk his health. He stayed in the U.S. with Neal’s son. After Neal’s death, he was with me. He lived three more years but had kidney issues. I did everything to keep him alive and comfortable. He was very much loved. I like to think he’s following Neal around somewhere. Happy to be reunited again. They adored each other. I have a video of Neal brushing Emmitt. He brushed him every day. Neal was fastidious and he used to get annoyed at Emmitt’s indifference to grooming himself. Thank you for asking.
One more thing, Marie. I do have two dogs now. One of my dogs, Kate, was less than a year old and we took her to Russia with us. She has a starring role in the memoir. She’s now over 17 years old and she gave me great comfort when I was grieving Neal.
Victoria Veh says
What a delightful essay! In few words, it vividly conjures the harshness of life in an alien, cold, surveilled setting, alleviated only by the warmth of true love.
Thank you for sharing this unique personal experience.
Thank you, Victoria, for taking the time to comment. I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the essay. It was the truest of loves and we were lucky.
Hugh McLaurin says
Love this, Melani – so good to hear your voice again in print. Congrats on snagging a ML column!
Thank you, Hugh! It was a big get, indeed. I still can’t believe it. Thank you for commenting. Good to hear from you again too!
Kim Piotrowski says
I couldn’t be happier for you in reaching this goal!
It is such a perfect insider’s view for these times.
Kisses to Kate, the original Rostov-On-Doggie.
Oh my god I laughed at Rostov-on-Doggie! Kate sends her (when you least expect it) French kisses back to you.Thank you for always being supportive!
I believe today was the first time I cried while reading a Modern Love column. A beautifully written and heartbreaking story.
Aww, Susan, it made me cry too as I wrote it. Thank you for commenting. I was so lucky, it just didn’t last long enough.
Karen Egee says
Beautiful heart wrenching work! Congratulations!
Thank you, Karen! It was a labor of love, for sure. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
beautiful and touching story.
Thank you, CB!
Karen Hartman says
This is a beautiful essay! I laughed, I cried thru whole piece. Actually so profound at the end and a metaphor about life., being in the moment, living the day with your loved one with gratitude you have each other even in Russia. Congrats to you Mel. You gave millions of readers a great gift!
Thank you, Mama. You stated it so beautifully. Living in the moment with gratitude. I wouldn’t trade a second with Neal for a lifetime with someone else. Love you.
David Hake says
I rarely read ml columns but given the times, I read yours. It is emotionally engaging and succinctly descriptive of the physical and cultural challenges of living in Russia or other post-Soviet countries. Totalitarian social norms persist for generations… including but not limited to bugging your apartment. Few Americans have any idea of the great gulf between Western living conditions as well as moral and social values and those of post-Soviet countries.
Your experiences, though horribly tragic, can help more Americans understand the strengths and endurance typical Ukrainians have developed simply living their lives. “Freedom” and “democracy” have meaning to them quite different from many of our narrow “values obsessed”, self-absorbed citizens.
Hopefully your message can reach beyond the NYT typical readership. You have a unique power.
Eastern Europe, though a “shit show” in ways as your daughter expressed, also has many human strengths and beauties as I am sure you perceive. Use your power.
Thank you, David, for taking the time to post an incredible comment. You’re exactly right. Most Americans have no idea what life in Russia, for the average Russian, is like. Russians are survivors and although deep suffering has flooded that country forever, Russians trudge on with acceptance of their fate. The moral and social values were the most difficult adjustment for me in the beginning. I found most Russians (certainly not all), value power and strength above all else. Cruelty is acceptable and often admired. That’s why so many in Russia support Putin. It certainly was a shitshow (but my daughter was talking about my dating life, not Russia), and all one has to do is recall the Sochi Olympics and the photos and articles journalist posted on the condition of the accommodations. Nothing works in Russia. Corruption is rampant. The word “bribe” is used in normal conversation as if it were the same thing as a gratuity. Doctors must be bribed to treat patients, police can be bribed to avoid arrest, our housekeeper, who became my closest friend in Russia, made more money cleaning houses for expats than she did as the pastry chef of a major hotel and also made more than her nuclear physicist husband because he worked for the government. It’s a horribly corrupt system and the everyday Russians suffers the most. I hope to continue to shine a light on what we experienced. I’ve just finished the first draft of my memoir on Russia. I do not pull any punches. Sadly, I am also not surprised by the brutality and barbarism directed at Ukraine. Rostov-on-Don had a large Ukrainian population when I lived there because of the proximity to the border. To think their Russian neighbors are going into Ukraine to slaughter innocent Ukrainians must be excruciating. I had Georgian friends in Rostov-on-Don and after what they experienced, they did not trust Russians. I understand why. Thank you, again, for taking the time to write, David. The Modern Love column is consistently filled with beautiful essays from some of the finest writers in the world. (not sure how I squeaked by) My two favorites are oldies: Truly, Madly, Guiltily by the brilliant Ayelet Waldman, and Sleeping With the Guitar Player by the incredible Jean Hanff Korelitz.Check them out if you have time.Thank you, again.
It is probably because I hadn’t read carefully or completely your writings about your marriage, but I had not previously known about the circumstances of your marriage. This is such a sad story beautifully told. I’ve never lived in such conditions (Cleveland during the Kucinich mayoralty as close as I’ve come). I have no doubt that enduring it produced a closeness that mundane American existence would be difficult to duplicate. It is a shame that the suffering in Ukraine is the hook for your ML story, but I feel enriched by knowing it.
Thank you, Paul, for your comment. Thank you also for your kind words. I wrote the essay as a Modern Love submission long before the Russian invasion, but the proximity of Rostov-on-Don to Mariupol became something I felt could not ignored.(The original first sentence was far more hook-y.) Writers spend months, sometimes years working on pieces to submit to the column.There are writer’s groups formed just to work together with the common goal being a perfected Modern Love piece. I’m glad to hear you feel enriched by reading the essay. My experience in Russia was dreadful long before the world was horrified by Russia. The essay was a way to express my love for Neal and still allow the jagged edges of my remembrances to remain razor sharp. Thank you again for commenting.
Beautiful! Fantastic essay Melani.
You should be extremely proud of yourself. In Europe we are much closer to all what is happening and also impressed by the strength of the people who try to do the right thing.
Thank you, Jan. This was a big one for me. I’ve cried happy tears for two weeks. I know you must be as horrified as I am about what Russia has done and continues to do. It is heartbreaking and disgusting but from my experience, the brutality and barbarism does not surprise me. Thank you for commenting, Jan. I hope you’re well, happy and having lots of fun.
I just read your “Modern Love” piece in today’s International edition. To be honest, I don’t really know what to say other than to say that you touched me, and of course that you write both beautifully and emotively. Still, I am so so sorry that you had such a story to recount.
Howard, thank you for your kind and thoughtful words. I’m glad you enjoyed the essay. It was a difficult time and writing about it in great detail was sometimes challenging. The outcome has been most rewarding, though. It has been a goal for a decade and I can now check that box. I plan to roll around in the I-finally-did-it euphoria for a bit and then I’ll do my best to focus on the next writing goal on the list. This was #1 for sure. Thank you, again, for sharing your feelings.
Carolyne Cook says
I am so happy for you getting published in Modern Love. After following your online dating life for years, it was great to hear about some of your time with Neal. I look forward to your future book and sharing more of your time with him.
Thank you, Carolyne! I’ve cried and laughed and celebrated with champagne. I’ve held my breath until it went live on Friday, worried that the editor might change his mind. Completely irrational fear, but when one has a decade-long unmet goal, meeting it seems almost scary. I always love to hear from you, Carolyne. Thank you for taking the time to leave your beautiful comment.
You describe your hope that the time in Russia would be a moment to look back on together later in life. This resonated with me because I lost my wonderful husband last summer when a drunk driver crashed head-on into him on his way home from work. We were also looking happily forward to having lots of “us time.” We had my younger child packed up to go back to college the next day.
The future is a tough concept for me right now. I imagine that many in Ukraine are also feeling this way now, too.
Oh, Bonnie, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t imagine how upside-down your world feels right now. Such a tragedy and with no warning just when you were looking forward to that time for just the two of you. I understand why the future is hard to imagine. I do know that feeling. When the life you pictured is snatched from you, it’s devastating. Please keep in touch with me and feel free to reach out anytime you need a place to vent or a compassionate ear to hear what you’re going through. Thank you for taking the time to send a message.