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Can Any Two People Really Fall in Love?

 

A few years ago, I read an article quoting former Psychology Today Editor Robert Epstein, where he spoke of the differences between the love shared in arranged marriages and conventional ones.
"The love in 'love marriages' starts out high and decreases very substantially after a year and a half or two years. But in the arranged marriages, it starts at zero and gradually increases. It surpasses the love in love marriages at around the five-year mark."

Psychologist John Gottman, found from his own research that "romantic love doesn't seem to be necessary for a stable relationship, and there is some evidence that it clouds judgement". Over a longer period of time, this got me to thinking: Can we really make someone fall in love with us, or vice versa? Is falling in love a measurable skill that we can choose to partake in?

Epstein tried (unsuccessfully, to my knowledge) to host a reality show where ten people created a love contract and then proceeded to fall in love with one another.

He's also written numerous articles about the science of falling in love, and last I checked, still teaches classes about relationship science at several American universities. Some of his work inspired me, scared me, and even had me up for days at a time, seeking out the original data he shares so willingly in many of his written pieces. 

From these brave researchers, I hatched an idea: what if I took speed dating, where you meet a series of strangers in the space of a few minutes to determine romantic compatibility, and instead of leaving people to bumble along on their own, provided them with one of these "fall in love" techniques? What if I measured their interest prior to and after their brief experiences to determine which exercises worked the best and charted them? What if I could come up with a series of exercises that, provided two people were available, open and willing, would enable them to potentially fall in love?

Excited, and armed with as much data as I could find, I took a few ideas and about with me. I started going on first dates and asking these random folks if they were willing to try out these theories, these concepts, these actions. Every single one agreed to, with their reactions varying from mild curiosity to intrigue. A few asked that I kept our interaction to myself, but most were happy to have me write about it at some point. 

What happened, surprised me. I learned quickly that I had to, no matter what, have both of us write down how we felt prior to doing anything. After just meeting, if at all possible. I borrowed the rating mechanism from Epstein's work and altered it slightly for my own needs. I'd write both our names at the top of the page, the date, and then, four questions in two rows. There was a "Before" and "After" side, with the numbers 1 through 10 underneath each question for circling. The questions were repeated, along with the numbering, on each side: 
  1. How much do I like this person?  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  2. How much am I friends with this person? 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  3. How attracted am I to this person? 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
  4. How much do I love this person? 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I got the whole process down a quick step-by-step. "Hi! I'm Bonny, we met on a dating site. Let's sit down. Can you fill this out for me?" We'd take thirty seconds and both rate how we felt about the other, and then I'd go into my schpiel. "We're going to do something potentially uncomfortable for the next three minutes, and then we'll rate each other again. If at any point in time you feel unsafe, we can stop. Otherwise, let's do this. Sound good?"

I chose a variety of activities that we could do in public, easily, and within three minutes. The one that got the most attention was a mirroring technique, where we'd put our palms face up towards one another, as close as we could without touching. We'd then eye gaze for three minutes. Invariably, someone would stop us and ask what we were doing, and quite often people would ask to try it as well, join us, or want to do it just with me. 

What did the data say? It depended on the activity I chose, as well as the willingness of both of us to fully participate. Once, I decided after meeting the person that I didn't feel safe enough to perform the exercises and we parted ways within a few minutes. More than a few times, I could tell I felt the same closeness to the other person as we got to know each other, yet the person's feelings of closeness increased exponentially. With a few of the exercises, it was hard not to kiss. One of them, where you eye gaze, and slowly walk towards each other until you're as close as you can be without touching, still eye gazing, for three minutes, had such a high percentage of physical intimacy happening at some point, I decided I had to remove it from my list of possibilities. People I'd never, ever kiss normally, or vice versa, were suddenly planting one on me. It felt manipulative, and while nice to have that kind of connection, I decided to reserve for people already in relationships or who had decided they wanted to be romantically involved.

After a few months, I was ready. I organized an event on Valentine's Day, 2012 and took over a local comedy club in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Although I'd specified an age range of 25-35 (with some exceptions) who were single and willing to try something new with their love lives, I had an 18-year-old woman and a 74-year-old man in attendance. A tuxedo-dressed male volunteer ended up participating as well, because we were short one gent at the last minute.

Nervously I started, and after more than a few hiccups with people struggling to move from one person to the next, we had a few visible hits. I could see it. Sparks were flying. Couples were connecting. Guards were coming down, and folks were really enjoying connecting with each other. I was curious to see what numbers were coming up on everyone's forms, however, they were so many collected, all I could do was put them in bags to sift through later. 

Interestingly, some of the 30-something women chose not to participate fully, and rated every single man they met that night as a zero on both sides, save my tuxedo-clad assistant. One 20-something Spanish gentleman rated every woman as a ten, both before and after. One 50-something man came on aggressively to any woman under 30, including myself. Most of the people however, were shy, single, and really wanting to connect - and it showed. It was beautiful to watch a room full of people expand, unfold, and expose their vulnerabilities. A few times, I thought I spotted a brief kiss. I'm almost positive one couple made out during one of the exercises.

The event was cut short due to some programming miscommunication with the venue, so not everyone got to meet everyone of the opposite gender. Few wanted to leave (other than the zero-rating women and the aggressive man), so many stayed to enjoy the comedy show, with more than a handful leaving in pairs. I heard within a few hours that seven couples immediately exchanged contact information that night, while 36 pairs connected at some point in time after the fact.

When I was able to look at the data however, I was shocked. Other than the zero-rating women, every single person's measured intimacy went up, at least a little bit, after having performed an exercise with someone new. There were more than a few duplicates, and I could tell that if I did the event again, I'd have to do a better job at policing folks to make sure they met everyone. Of the 46 people in attendance and the 17 "dates" everyone went on, three had mutually circled 10 at the end for the last question: How much do I love this person? 

They had fallen in love.
How could this be? All three couples were of no surprise to me; I could see it happening, and made a note of it as I witnessed it. But, 10? Both of them? For love? In three minutes? If I hadn't organized it myself and been there, as well as to confirm with all five people (one person matched with two different people), I'd think it a mistake.

I kicked myself for not adding another entry to my sheets of paper: which exercise they'd used for this "date". Of course, I asked, and found out that it differed for most of the 10s, so I asked some more, "Which exercise made you feel the most attraction, or the closest? Which one made you feel the most love?" After the fact, I didn't get any sort of reliable data, but I was still curious. Consistently, I heard that the eye gazing was the most challenging, yet connecting. One exercise where people had to immediately speak for 60 seconds about what they appreciated and liked about the other person was also a huge hit. A lot commented on one exercise that demonstrated body language and flirting as being really fun yet scary, but it didn't make them feel at all connected to the other person.

It's been two years since that Valentine's Day, and suddenly, I'm reminded again of that wonderful, humbling, beautiful night. Mandy Catron wrote a beautiful essay in About.com's former parent company, The New York Times, about 36 questions and an eye gazing exercise she used to fall in love. The article was such a hit, people made movies about it, started trying it on first dates themselves, and even created a handful of apps using the questions as a guide. Catron used different research than the ones I'd borrowed from, but the concepts and outcomes were identical: be open, willing and able to fall in love with a stranger, get vulnerable together, and let go. 

When I think back to that night with those brave souls at my Valentine's Day event, I want to say yes. Definitely. You can make two people fall in love. Now, not everyone found love the night of my event, and three of the people in attendance didn't meet anyone they matched up with mutually to exchange information. Yet the almost universal refrain I heard over and over was that the attendees felt like they had some more tools to connect. To fall in love. Or, at the very least, learned they had the courage to share and unfurl like a flower seeking the sun. 

Would I do this kind of event again? Most definitely. If you'd like to connect with me to have me organize one in your community, please message me. I'd do some things very differently, I'm sure, while the nucleus of the event would be the same: to help people fall in love.
So, did I? Did I really, truly help people fall in love over the long-haul? 
Two months ago and 33 months after the Valentine's Day event, I received a simple, straightforward Facebook message: "Attending your singles night was truly a life-changing decision for me. Thank you so much!"

Attached, was a picture of her two-week old son.
References:
  1. Skenazy, L. (2008). 'Making Love' (out of nothing at all) may be good reality TV. Advertising Age79(28), 13.
  2. Gottman, J. (2006). Will you still be sending me a Valentine?. New Scientist190(2549), 38.
  3. Epstein, R. (2010). How Science Can Help You Fall in Love. Scientific American Mind20(7), 26.
  4. Catron, M. (2015, February 9). To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. New York Times



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