There is a recent article in the NYT in which Mandy Len Catron discusses following a simple procedure for intentionally falling in love. The gist of the process, created in a lab 20 years ago by psychologist Arthur Aron, goes like this: two people take turns asking each other a series of gradually more intimate questions (there are 36), then they stare into each others eyes nonstop for four minutes. Presto. She says she tried it, and it worked.
I’ve been able to replicate this feeling in four minutes without the uncomfortable questions and my eyes closed. Does this make me advanced?
The idea of intentional love fascinates me. Ms. Catron qualifies her results, writing, “… I see now that one neither suggests nor agrees to try an experiment designed to create romantic love if one isn’t open to this happening.” Mmmm-hmmm. Still, it is a remarkable notion. Lord knows I’ve been open to romantic love a ton of times and just ended up driving back to the townhouse.
I’m of two minds. One part of me wants to believe in magic. There is something gently depressing about the idea of love being something one can just create, like rubbing two sticks together on a camping trip. On the other hand, believing love will just happen without some sort of personal involvement seems like expecting lightning to hit the kindling right when you’re ready for a weenie roast.
Of course, families have been trying to manage love for centuries. To the sufficiently un-jaded, the idea of grownups saying who’s gonna be with whom is unthinkable; hence Romeo and Juliet and half the rest of romantic English lit. On a lesser sliding scale, there’s your Mom saying things like, “He’s beneath you,” (Williamson County dates Goodletsville) all the way over to “I heard her daddy is poor as a churchmouse, bless his heart” (Belle Meade dates Williamson County). Every kind of reason has been invoked to easy-bake an instant couple: sex, politics, wealth, fame, the pleas of good old fashioned parental wisdom. None ever works. Score one for magic. Romeo just drank the cocktail.
Then there are the types who seem a little bit too methodical about finding a mate, if less so about how to ignite the spark. I always suspect these people are lousy in bed. One glance at a dating website yields plenty of examples: “I’m hoping to meet a man capable of emotional presence, in the $100,000+ income bracket, likes to travel. My faves are Venice, Thailand and Costa Rica. Oh, and Paris.” I once worked with a girl who flatly told me, “I have every intention of marrying up,” and she intended to see the financial statements beforehand, along with his health papers. She married a guy who hung a portrait of Ronald Reagan on the wall of their house next to paintings of his dogs. Not photographs. Paintings. Evidently his health card was better than his political inclinations and sense of decor. Can you imagine having to walk past that thing in your nightie week after week? “Honey, he’s creepy. It’s like his eyes are following me. I’m going to walk the dogs.”
Go to any concert or grocery and you can see plenty of couples who obviously eschewed deliberate qualifications. I’m not talking about the really tall chick with the short guy or the great big girl with Mr. Svelte. I’m talking about the couples who never talk, never dress to be together, and who stare at anything but each other. I shouldn’t take their inventories, but I fancy them as once-upon-a-time crazy, screw-in-the-back seat young lovers who who now know they have nothing more in common than offspring and a like for Italian food. He was once such a cool guy, but now he complains about welfare entitlements and farts while barking affirmations at Hannity on the TV.
That’s why I cringe a little when I hear anyone under 40 is about to get married. I mean, how do you know what you want? I want to shout, “Wait! Therapy FIRST!” One thing you can say about getting older is that you’re either going to obtain the gift of discernment or develop mad skills of self-denial. Grow up a wee bit, and you learn to spot the warning signs, like constantly being out of TP, massive credit card debt, or a compulsive closet organization. You realize there’s a reason why he won’t let you use the guest bath (it’s been clogged for a week) or look in the spare bedroom (I see dead people.) Plus, that whole weird thing with the bear suit.
But back to the m-e-t-h-o-d-o-f-l-o-v-e (bonus points if you get the 80’s musical reference, Daryl): I think that Mr. Aron’s procedure for inducing vulnerability and falling in love are actually as good as any. Most of the questions sound like the good kind of pillow talk: Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? Except most of us have already let the horse out of the barn by the time we get around to asking. Either way, whether one attempts the 36 questions or trusts to God, Allah, Fate, the Universe, Sex, or the Prime Cactus, when it comes to love, we all end up putting our trust into a clumpy mix of self-will, hope, fear, and faith.
What could possibly go wrong?