Dater X: Conducting A Love Experiment


After returning from a much-needed vacation, I got back into my daily groove of hitting the snooze button, rushing out the door at 8am in a haphazard, almost Kramer-like fashion and finally settling in on my commute into work. Usually I skim through Instagram and Twitter during my ride, a thoughtless way to ease into the day, but occasionally I check out the New York Times, depending on how prepared I am to be depressed about the world before I’ve even had my first cup of coffee. This week, I opted to be educational, and stumbled across the Times’ latest Modern Love column called “To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This.”

Say no more.

Writer Mandy Len Catron explains that over 20 years ago, a psychologist by the name of Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. After reading about Aron’s experiment, Mandy decided she wanted to apply his technique to her own life to see just how legitimate his findings were. Now, a year later, Mandy is happily in love with the man who was once the subject of her test.

Here’s how Aron did it over two decades ago: “A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married.” Mandy asked her partner those same questions, skeptical, but hoping for the same outcome.

At first, I thought I was reading a bunch of bologna. If love were as easy as asking someone 36 questions and having them answer honestly, wouldn’t everybody be happily in love? Wouldn’t divorce be obsolete? Wouldn’t we all be living on cloud nine with our soul mates, making breakfast fritattas together and fucking the weekend away? SHOW ME THESE QUESTIONS, THEN BRING ME A UNICORN. But when I continued to read on, I realized that it wasn’t the questions that made the two strangers fall in love — it was their willingness to be honest, open and vulnerable off the bat that allowed the questions to really do their jobs. It’s about letting someone in.

The questions start out easy, like “When did you last sing to yourself? and “If you could have one famous person over for dinner, who would it be?” before becoming increasingly intimate, asking the subject to name things they have in common with their partner, to describe which family member’s death would be most devastating, etc. So what did Mandy take away from the exchange? She says that asking and answering those questions not only helped her to learn things about her partner, but made her realize how important it is to bother to know someone— like, really know someone— and to be known in return. “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. The moments I found most uncomfortable were not when I had to make confessions about myself, but had to venture opinions about my partner. For example: ‘Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner, a total of five items.’” Ultimately, that vulnerability allowed them to connect on a deeper level than if they would have talking about, say, their job.

To me, this kind of questioning sounds nerve-wracking, scary, intimidating and like a recipe for disaster. But isn’t that exactly what love is? Opening up like this to anyone, let alone to someone new, takes a ton of trust, which is something I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve become pretty self-aware of my own issues, and I know how important it is that I end up with someone who will give me the honesty, reassurance and attention that I need – and I’m absolutely willing to give the same in return. I’ve been hurt, and those wounds have shaped me into the person I am today. When I try to pretend I’m not as jealous, untrustworthy, or self-conscious as I am, I’m only hurting myself for pretending to be someone I’m not, and ultimately I’m not being truthful to whomever I’m with. It’s not that I’m unhappy with myself or that I don’t “know” myself or that I need “time to myself.” This is me. I am who I am, and I know that my own insecurities will never go away completely until I find someone who can recognize them, understand them and nurture them until they just…fade with time, and with trust. So why not just lay it all out on the line— the good, the bad, and the ugly— from the get-go? Why not find out right away if the person you’re with is willing and WANTING to show you a side of themselves that they wouldn’t normally show? What’s the worst that could happen? A really awkward date? Finding out you’re incompatible? Been there, done that.

So the next time the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to conduct my own little love experiment. Because maybe my first step toward trusting someone and falling in love again is simply giving them the opportunity to explain themselves in the first place. There are 36 scientifically-proven questions to help me fall in love with someone, but, in my opinion, anyone who wants to play along is already a pretty good bet.

What do you think about this experiment? Is it something you’d ever try?

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