“Not knowing what will happen next also means anything could.” Journalist and creator of the Conversations on Love newsletter Natasha Lunn joins Zibby to talk about her anthology of the same name. Natasha shares the major lessons she’s learned from talking with others about love, why she finds romantic love less overwhelming than maternal love, and what originally inspired her to begin this project. The two also discuss the role anxiety plays in loves of all kinds and Natasha turns the interview around to ask Zibby a question.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Natasha. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Conversations on Love: Lovers, Strangers, Parents, Friends, Endings, Beginnings.

Natasha Lunn: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: You had such an interesting model for this book and how it started and your whole newsletter and everything. Why don’t you explain how this turned into a book just to give everybody a little background about it? Then we’ll dig in.

Natasha: I started an email newsletter. It must be four and a half, nearly five years ago now. It was really born out of my own embarrassments in love and my understanding that, really, I had just completely misunderstood what love was for a very long time. I spent, like many of us do, most of my life trying to find somebody to love me and not really thinking about what that word meant to me. Doing lots of interviews as a journalist, you have to speak to people about their career, their history, their bio, all this stuff. You’d get maybe a little paragraph about love. I would always find I wanted to spend the whole hour interview talking about love because the more I asked about it, the more the answers gave me more questions. I just realized that, actually, this is what we should be devoting more time to. I started doing that really thinking that it would never take the shape of a book. I never thought that that would happen.

Then as I was doing the interviews, it became really clear to me that people who were writing in to me were really coming with three questions, which was either, how do I find love? whether that was somebody looking for love for the first time or looking for love after divorce or even not wanting a relationship and looking for where they could find love in other areas of their life; how to sustain love, people who were fraught with kids and parents and relationships just trying to figure out how to sustain those relationships through life’s many storms; and then thirdly, how do we survive and find meaning after losing love? and people losing love in all these different ways. It was a weird process. It almost came to life through the questions that people were asking me. I started to think, hang on, this isn’t how love moves through the course of a life because we’re all going to be asking those questions at different points. I find myself now moving between the sections of the book — sadly, there will be years when I lose love and then years when friendships are changing and I need to find it again in different places. I just realized that those are the three questions we’re hopefully all going to be asking throughout our life. I hadn’t found a book yet that gave them the attention I thought that they deserved.

Zibby: Interesting. It has certainly become a very interesting book. I couldn’t believe how many guests on my podcast you had as interviews in the book. There’s so much overlap. Here, I tried to dogear all the ones that we had overlap. Of course, now I can’t even find them. Anyway, so many overlaps. In fact, I interviewed Candice Carty-Williams yesterday. I forgot to ask her about what you wrote in your book about losing her friends. Now I feel terrible about that. Just a lot of overlap. Lisa Taddeo, Heather Havrilesky, Alain de Botton, Mira Jacob, so many more, great authors. You include your own life story in here taking you from single days and wanting to combat the loneliness and the endless questions before you’re in a relationship of how to meet and where and what’s going to happen and all that stuff all the way through to becoming a mother and the tenuous, deeply emotional journey and the twists and turns involved in that. I don’t know how much you want to share here or would like to divulge in the book. I would love to hear about even the later stage of becoming a mom and what you had to go through for that if you don’t mind.

Natasha: Of course. Just thinking about that, the reason that I wanted to go back and share bits of my own life in all of those vulnerable moments is because I had a lot of books by experts. Some of the people I interview are amazing experts who are writing from a real position of knowledge and authority. I wanted to come to this and say, I’m making these mistakes every day. I don’t know anything. I’m really learning, hopefully, with the reader as you go and probably making worse mistakes than everybody else. I realized that however many lessons you can learn about love — in the beginning, as you say, I was writing about just feeling like I would never meet a romantic partner and seeing that as the only thing that could make me happy and then, of course, when I was in a romantic relationship, feeling a similar way about trying to conceive. Suddenly, this became the thing that I had to achieve to be happy, completely overlooking this wonderful romantic relationship that I spent the last decade before — I really wanted to show how easily, for anybody else who’s longing for romantic love, how easily, if we let that be the model, that we can kind of slip into it again and again. No matter what form of love we have, we can overlook it. The book ends with me becoming a mother. I wrote a little bit about the early stages of motherhood in that because I didn’t want it to be this happy ending. Of course, with every love story, it’s just another beginning which is full of deep joy and also more deep challenges. I have found it to be so interesting, thinking about how to sustain romantic love and friendship and all the other forms of love that I was able to devote a lot of time to in the space of motherhood. That’s where I’m at now, really having to fight, almost, to retain space for the other forms of love that I spent that whole book learning are so important. I’m sure with four children, you probably are a lot more of an expert on this.

Zibby: I am not at all. I was hoping for your advice. What have you figured out that has worked to sustain romantic love in the face of constant stress and interruption and all the rest?

Natasha: What I would say — it’s so hard to talk about this because I feel that I’m always kind of talking down maternal love, and that’s not the case at all. I think because we put it on this huge pedestal and people say, I hadn’t felt love like this until I’d become a parent, some people fetishize it in that way. In an interesting way, it’s made me so grateful for the freedom of romantic love. I’m always amazed by — parental love feels so intense and so loaded with guilt. It almost sometimes feels like it’s not a choice. It’s so overwhelming and intense. With romantic love, I feel it’s much more of a choice and something that we have freedom within and we keep choosing. Whereas I feel, almost, with motherhood, I don’t have room for a choice because it’s in me somehow. I don’t know if you feel the same.

Zibby: Yeah, I totally know what you mean.

Natasha: There’s a level of — I don’t have fear for my — obviously, whenever you’re in a romantic relationship and you build a life with someone, it’s terrifying when you think about losing them. What I love about romantic love is we’re each responsible for each other. That’s a very different dynamic in love than in parental love where you are responsible for them, and the crushing responsibility that comes with that. Whilst it has given me challenges in romantic love, it also just made me appreciate the ease of that relationship in some ways and the lack of responsibility and fear you have for that person and how you’re supported by them, in a way, as two individuals. It’s made me really appreciate that.

Zibby: It’s funny. My kids went to this place called iFLY. There’s this huge gush of wind. They have to wear all this skydiving gear even though they’re in one place. It pushes them up. The trainer has to hold onto their arms. You have to hold on. They are basically interlocked as they go up and up and up in this very pretty circle. I feel like that’s exactly what you’re saying about romantic love. You two, you’re going through this big blast, but you have to hold onto each other to keep this dance going and up in the air and all of that.

Natasha: Exactly that. Actually, another writer I’m into described it to me as being in this current. The love is what holds you steady to each other whilst all the shit in the current — everything is flying past you. What I would say is, from doing this project — I’m no expert at managing to sustain all these forms of love, but I know how important they are. I know that I don’t just want to lose myself in motherhood. I feel, not a desire, but almost, that could be inevitable if you didn’t push back against it in some way. You could just lose yourself in the intensity of it. I’m so glad that I’ve done this project because I know how important it is to sustain those other forms of love. I feel like, all the time, I’m trying to ring-fence parts of myself. I’m sure the work you do, maybe, for you is the same. For me, Conversations on Love is actually a way of doing that. It’s a little piece of me that’s protected from motherhood somehow.

Zibby: Yep, got to stake out that identity, put it off to the side.

Natasha: Also, having something to come back to your friendships and relationships to talk about and having — actually, my husband bought me a piano for my birthday. Even just having that sense of newness, in a way, using your brain in a different way, that’s almost like, for me, the sustaining of the self-love through trying something or through giving yourself space to do something that’s not worrying about your kid’s temperature at the moment it’s going red. You’re like, oh, no.

Zibby: Which of course, is out of our control, basically, at all times, all those things.

Natasha: Do you know what? In romantic love, for me, it’s to keep sharing the uncomfortable truths all the time. Even if I resent my partner for something I know is not even really his fault or anyone’s fault, I just have to say it. Then suddenly, it’s on the table. We talk about it, and it’s nothing. I think those little resentments, if you just keep them quiet, have weight. It’s like a weed in the garden that just grows into everything. Then it’s difficult to pull out.

Zibby: It’s very true. Although, if you do that too much, it’s not good either.

Natasha: Yes, .

Zibby: I just wanted to read this one passage that you wrote. For people listening, if you hear background noise, my two sons happen to be in the room while I’m recording this. Do with that what you will. It’s summer. Let me read this one passage. “Have you ever felt the unbearable weight of not knowing? Have you ever thought, if only I could get a guarantee that I would one day get what I long for, then I would be able to relax? Or, even if I knew that I would never get it, then at least I could design a different sort of life, instead of wasting energy on waiting for what could be just around the corner: a longed-for relationship, a pregnancy, a job in a certain industry? Unless you believe in psychics, all of us will face some measure of this uncertainty. It’s part and parcel of existence. Maybe there is comfort in knowing that, whatever we have or don’t have compared to each other, we share this same vulnerability to randomness. Every day, we wake up with no clue of when we might die or what might happen when we do. How easily we forget this big question, woven through everything. How small, by comparison, the other questions are. Not any less important, but perhaps more manageable in the context of it.” Tell me more about this passage.

Natasha: Gosh, isn’t this the eternal challenge for us all? When I was writing thinking specifically about really when I was trying to get pregnant after a miscarriage thinking, okay, this is never going to happen, I would rather know so I can say, right, let’s not waste our years. Let’s go traveling. Let’s make a different plan. If it was going to happen in five years, I would be okay with that. I’d be like, okay, we’ll just shelve everything. It’s that wrestling with — I think being in a state of wanting something is such a vulnerable place to be. You watch Succession, probably, like everybody else?

Zibby: Yes, yes, yes.

Natasha: There’s a line when Shiv says, when she’s talking about — just before that awkward dinner party where her dad kind of humiliates her, she says to Tom, she’s like, “I really want this.” She says it in a slightly softer, really different voice to any we’ve heard her use before. In that moment, she seems so vulnerable because she’s being honest about how much she wants something. I think that that being honest, even with yourself, about really craving something, you’re so exposed. You’ve got such a loss of control. That could be so difficult to live with every day. I just find it unbearable, as so many of us do. That is also never going to change for any of us. I think understanding that, just reminding yourself of that all the time is probably the biggest part of living a meaningful life. I’m terrible at this. Even now, I was saying to my husband last night, “I think we should both get . I think we should use our savings and just get scanned for cancer, get scanned for — just so we know.” Of course, you can never know or protect yourself from all those things. In love, more than anything else, living with that sense of mystery and seeing that, yes, for some people, when you are in something like trying to get pregnant, it’s so difficult, but there are also many instances of that uncertainty in life which will lead to beautiful things.

By the end of the book — because my parents met as teenagers, as crazy as it sounds now, that was what I wanted at the time. I was like, I’ll meet a teenage sweetheart at school. We’ll be together forever. We’ll have this depth of time and this long relationship. It’ll be this beautiful love story. I’ll get pregnant when I’m in my late twenties. Everything will follow this ridiculous, perfect, pristine model. Of course, I’m only now late thirties, and none of those things happened. I just think all the time, thank god they didn’t, and how this messy, higgledy-piggledy life with a few bruises along the way is so much more beautiful than any perfect love story that I have written if I didn’t have all those moments of uncertainty. That’s what came out of so many of my conversations with people living through those moments. There is a sort of beauty to uncertainty. The line that people share on Instagram at the end of it — I’d always thought of that as a negative thing. I wrote in that, not knowing what will happen next also means anything could. A big part of the journey for me was saying, yes, it is impossible to live with that in many situations, but it doesn’t have to always be negative. There is a positive to uncertainty too.

Zibby: That’s true. It’s all about reframing, right?

Natasha: And also looking at the evidence of your life, looking back and thinking of those moments that you really wrestled with that uncertainty. There’s a great moment where Sarah Hepola, who I don’t know if you might have interviewed as well, an American writer —

Zibby: — I did not.

Natasha: She said she realizes she looks back at relationships that ended now, and she was so devasted at the time. It’s so arrogant that she thought she knew what was best for her in those moments. Looking back, she didn’t. Of course, when you’re in those moments, you can’t see that. You don’t always know what’s best for you.

Zibby: I also feel like this applies to writing itself. When you were talking about how much Shiv wanted to run the company or whatever, I feel like in the past — we had started by talking about how I have a book coming out too. I was afraid to tell people, I really, really want this. I kept getting rejected. It’s embarrassing to put yourself out there and yet so important. Once you do, then you can, A, find other people who feel the same way and, B, realize that it’s okay to have goals and to want things, whether it’s personal, professional, or whatever. That’s really the crux of the message here in your story. We don’t know. We can have goals. We can pursue goals. Ultimately, it’s all out of our hands. It’s almost like the quote, we make plans, and God laughs, and if we had just known, which I so relate to. If I had just known all my kids and the order in which they came and the years in which they came and how out of control — even though I thought I was in control, I ultimately wasn’t. This is what happened. I think it might be something more that you understand even in your thirties and forties and probably way after that. Prior to that, I think it’s really hard to believe in it because you don’t know if it’s going to work out or not.

Natasha: Maybe you’re much better than I am, then. I wrestle with this just as much now as I ever have. That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned in the book. I approached it all thinking, right, I’m going to learn this magical set of lessons, so I’ll be a great partner and a great daughter and a great friend and a great mother. Now I just realize we’re all going to keep making these mistakes all the time. The trick is having these reminders that I hope these conversations will be for other people so that you pull yourself back from making them more quickly. Even now, I will still sit there thinking, I don’t know that my daughter’s going to be safe in this experience. I will still escalate and be full of fear and all those things. Now I think, can I walk myself down from it a little bit more than running off the cliff?

Zibby: I think it’s just about how you handle anxiety. It’s essentially that. It’s anxiety based on fully understanding that life is unpredictable. I don’t mean anxiety as in anxiety disorder. I mean the well-founded anxiety where life is uncertain, and we can worry about that because as much as we reassure ourselves, anything really can happen. We can say the likelihood is low, but there is that possibility. We were just talking in the car this morning. It’s the end of the schoolyear here. My two older kids are big and going on to high school. My little guys, I have so many years left. I was just thinking, oh, my gosh, I’m going to be doing this car ride for so many years. Then I said to everybody, I was like, “You know what? If I do, how lucky that I would get to live for those ten years.” They were like, “What? That’s so depressing.” I’m like, “Yeah, but you don’t know. It’s not guaranteed.”

Natasha: I do think there is a way that being aware of that helps you to love better. Speaking to so many different people with so many different experiences of loss and love has given me this sense. Ann Patchett put it well. She said we’re all walking, almost, on this glass bridge. Every now and again, you look down and you realize. You have these little moments in life. Maybe you find a lump and you’re waiting for the result. Then it’s fine, but in that waiting room, you’re suddenly aware of how close loss could be. I write in the end about a moment when our daughter, they thought she wasn’t breathing. She was being resuscitated in an ambulance.

Zibby: That was, oh, my gosh, so terrifying.

Natasha: Then you just go back home. The next day, everything’s fine. Those moments where you almost skate so close to loss, I do think they change you. Of the many things I am bad at, I have got better at, when I’m feeling irritated with my husband or when my daughter’s driving me crazy, I have this sense of living in this kind of golden moment where I have these people. Yeah, I can be pissed off because I’m human, but I’m not going to be pissed off for too long because I don’t want to waste the time I have.

Zibby: Yes, that’s so right. That scene that you wrote, I was holding my breath. You said something in the book — I don’t have the line in front of me. I have the book, but now of course, I don’t know where the line is. You said something to the effect of, but this is how it happens, in these moments from one moment to the next, these ambulance rides, these calls. That is how life changes. Other people’s lives, they didn’t get better news and find out that she is breathing. This is just how it happens, in the moment from one to the next.

Natasha: I think that all the time when I walk a street and I see an ambulance. It gives me this chill where I think, I’m just meeting a friend for a drink. Then what’s happening there? The situation that I wrote about, then the next day, I was on Instagram. I saw a father who posted about — he’d lost his child. He had the same sleepy suit from John Lewis, which is a store here, as our daughter had. People say, I can’t imagine that. I think we have to get better at imagining that so we can not be so separate from the people who are experiencing it and they won’t feel as lonely because we don’t want to go there mentally, almost.

Zibby: Yes, I totally agree. Anyone who’s waited for a mammogram or a biopsy, that waiting, anyone who’s gone through the waiting of anything knows that there is another outcome. That’s, again, what I’m saying. When you get older, I feel like there’s so many more opportunities for this. When I said earlier — I don’t feel like I am any better off than you. I feel like we’re in very much the same emotional spot. I just think now I have the perspective that I’m still going to try my hardest for whatever it is I’m working towards or longing for or whatever, but if it doesn’t happen, I do have this sense, well, then maybe it wasn’t supposed to be right now. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen ever. Maybe there’s something bigger than me at work. Maybe there’s not, but maybe there is. I just have to wait and see.

Natasha: This is the trickiest thing I found writing about love. It’s so full of contradictions. As you’re saying that, that’s such a big piece of it, but then there’s also this big piece of it where I feel like I was sort of embarrassed to try at love for a long time because I did expect it to just happen to me. I was like, what will be will be. I’ll bump into somebody in a dusty bookshop in the sunlight on a Sunday or I’ll sit next down to them in a train, and we’ll fall in love. All these things will just happen. I have found that is not the case. Actually, all the hard-won love in my life, none of it has come easy. All those things, I had to really take a moment and say, I’m going to really try at this. I’m going to be vulnerable enough to try at it. It’s this really tricky balance between accepting randomness, as you say, but also knowing where to pour effort into. Actually, love, like anything else, if you try at it every day, then so easily — you were saying you interviewed Mira Jacob. I love what she said to me about friends who’d divorced. They’d say, we had a really bad year. She’d say, they’ve been together for twenty years. Shouldn’t it be like you have to have ten bad years to undo the marriage? That’s not how it works. It can slip so easily. I would say that’s where I’ve got to now, is constantly assessing when to peacefully submit to the mystery and when to think, hang on. No, back up. I need to do something here. I need to put more effort in. I need to have a conversation. I need to change something.

Zibby: Love it. We could clearly talk all day about this.

Natasha: Can I just ask you one question?

Zibby: Of course. Sure.

Natasha: You have got four children. You have got such an incredible career. What do you think you’ve learned about sustaining romantic love amidst all that? I’m interested to hear your take on it.

Zibby: I’m divorced and I’m remarried, so take that how you will. I’ve been married now for five years to my second husband. I guess I will say it’s a challenge, but I think you have to really — this is going to sound hokey. In one of those action movies where there’s this gem in a protective, clear case glimmering and everybody’s trying to get there and it’s at the center of everything, I think you have to view it like that, this very precious, very delicate thing in the middle. That middle is what’s holding the rest together. On a tactical level, time spent, attention. A girlfriend of mine once told me even if you spend two minutes a day of intense eye contact, it can sustain you for a long time. If you just really listen and have a moment of connection for two minutes in the morning and then maybe another one in the middle of the day and then another one at night, you only need five minutes a day to make sure, but you have to connect daily and look in their eyes and make sure. I don’t know. I’m not always the best. I get very busy and distracted and probably don’t do the best job myself.

Natasha: I like that. I think kissing as well. It’s kind of a similar thing. It’s really easy to stop kissing. When I’m more conscious of that, I think that makes a big difference. Anyway, yeah, we could talk for hours about this.

Zibby: To be continued, hopefully, at some point, these philosophical issues of love and life and how things unfold and all of that. At the end of it, being someone who thinks about it a lot and is very sensitive I also think helps, even though it can be frustrating having the awareness. Seeing it as a full picture the way you do in your book I think is very helpful, and also all the perspectives. This was very little about the book, which I read all of and really enjoyed and found very thought-provoking. People listening, Conversations on Love, Natasha Lunn, you can hear more of these conversations. Hopefully, we’ll continue ours one day.

Natasha: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thank you.

Zibby: Take care. Thank you. Buh-bye.

Natasha: Bye.

Zibby: Sorry about my kids.

Natasha: No. Thank you. Bye.



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