Falling In Love Is An Action

January 15, 2015

eye gazingThe phrase “falling in love” suggests that arriving at this excrutiatingly pleasurable state is akin to slipping on a banana peel. The stars align, right place, right time, and boom! Perhaps it’s because when we fall hard for someone we relinquish control. But it is not kismet. [bctt tweet=”Falling in love is a conscious, active choice.”] It may be that we can fall in love with just about anybody.

In the 90s psychologist Arthur Aron attempted to create a laboratory condition that would cause two subjects to fall in love. He began with this:

“One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personalistic self-disclosure.”

He reasoned that if he could facilitate mutual self-disclosure, even among strangers, a close relationship could be developed very quickly. The subjects’ willingness to become closer to one another was key. Incorporating considerable previous research, he set up the experiment:

  1. The core of the method we developed was to structure such self-disclosure between strangers.
  2. We matched individuals so they did not disagree about attitudinal issues of importance to them.
  3. We created the expectation that each subject’s partner would like him or her.
  4. We made becoming close an explicit task.

Conditions 2 and 3 had little effect, perhaps because the self-disclosure exercise was so powerful. The self-disclosure was structured as a set of 36 questions. The entire list may be found HERE, but a sampling includes:

  • If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
  • If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
  • If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
  • If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
  • If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
  • Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
  • Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share _______.”
  • When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  • Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

At the end of the Q&A period, the subjects looked into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The experiment actually produced a happy-ever-after story – one pair fell in love right then and there, and invited everyone at the lab to their wedding.

Recently, Mandy Len Catron tried the experiment herself with an acquaintance from her college days and wrote about it in the NYXs Modern Love column. They carried out the experiment in a bar, and spent hours talking before heading out to a bridge for the sustained eye contact.

“I liked learning about myself through my answers, but I liked learning things about him even more.

…We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative. Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.

…It’s astounding, really, to hear what someone admires in you. I don’t know why we don’t go around thoughtfully complimenting one another all the time.”

It was Catron who offered the insight about choosing to fall in love:

“Most of us think about love as something that happens to us. We fall. We get crushed.

But what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action…I wondered what would come of our interaction. It’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.

…I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.

You’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did…We spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night, waiting to see what it could become.

Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

I’ve often thought that the strongest human impulse we experience is to be known. And to reciprocate that knowing with the person we have chosen to fall in love with. Sex (or at least good sex) is what happens as an expression of that.

If there was ever an argument against playing hard-to-get this is it. Fakery, posturing, creating a false sense of scarcity – that won’t do it. To find and experience real love,  you have to make it. Vulnerability is love’s secret ingredient.

Vanderbilt anthropologist Ted Fischer notes that we evolved a propensity for romantic love to create families. “Because love is a very positive evolutionary force, the barriers to it are actually quite low.”

One caveat: As always, attachment style matters. From Aron’s original study:

“Avoidant/dismissive pairs reported less post-interaction closeness than any of the other pairings.”

You can’t get blood from a stone, so choose wisely before you decide to fall in love.