To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This

Marnia's picture
Submitted by Marnia on
Printer-friendly version

Couple gazing at each otherNew York Times, January 11, 2015 - More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. Last summer, I applied his technique in my own life, which is how I found myself standing on a bridge at midnight, staring into a man’s eyes for exactly four minutes.

Let me explain. Earlier in the evening, that man had said: “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone. If so, how do you choose someone?”

He was a university acquaintance I occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?” I had gotten a glimpse into his days on Instagram. But this was the first time we had hung out one-on-one.

“Actually, psychologists have tried making people fall in love,” I said, remembering Dr. Aron’s study. “It’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. 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. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

“Let’s try it,” he said.

Let me acknowledge the ways our experiment already fails to line up with the study. First, we were in a bar, not a lab. Second, we weren’t strangers. Not only that, but 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.

I Googled Dr. Aron’s questions; there are 36. We spent the next two hours passing my iPhone across the table, alternately posing each question.

They began innocuously: “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” And “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”

But they quickly became probing.

In response to the prompt, “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common,” he looked at me and said, “I think we’re both interested in each other.”

I grinned and gulped my beer as he listed two more commonalities I then promptly forgot. We exchanged stories about the last time we each cried, and confessed the one thing we’d like to ask a fortuneteller. We explained our relationships with our mothers.

The questions reminded me of the infamous boiling frog experiment in which the frog doesn’t feel the water getting hotter until it’s too late. With us, because the level of vulnerability increased gradually, I didn’t notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months.

I liked learning about myself through my answers, but I liked learning things about him even more. The bar, which was empty when we arrived, had filled up by the time we paused for a bathroom break.

I sat alone at our table, aware of my surroundings for the first time in an hour, and wondered if anyone had been listening to our conversation. If they had, I hadn’t noticed. And I didn’t notice as the crowd thinned and the night got late.

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.

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” (Question 22), and “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time saying things you might not say to someone you’ve just met” (Question 28).

Much of Dr. Aron’s research focuses on creating interpersonal closeness. In particular, several studies investigate the ways we incorporate others into our sense of self. It’s easy to see how the questions encourage what they call “self-expansion.” Saying things like, “I like your voice, your taste in beer, the way all your friends seem to admire you,” makes certain positive qualities belonging to one person explicitly valuable to the other.

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.

We finished at midnight, taking far longer than the 90 minutes for the original study. Looking around the bar, I felt as if I had just woken up. “That wasn’t so bad,” I said. “Definitely less uncomfortable than the staring into each other’s eyes part would be.”

He hesitated and asked. “Do you think we should do that, too?”

“Here?” I looked around the bar. It seemed too weird, too public.

“We could stand on the bridge,” he said, turning toward the window.

The night was warm and I was wide-awake. We walked to the highest point, then turned to face each other. I fumbled with my phone as I set the timer.

“O.K.,” I said, inhaling sharply.

“O.K.,” he said, smiling.

I’ve skied steep slopes and hung from a rock face by a short length of rope, but staring into someone’s eyes for four silent minutes was one of the more thrilling and terrifying experiences of my life. I spent the first couple of minutes just trying to breathe properly. There was a lot of nervous smiling until, eventually, we settled in.

I know the eyes are the windows to the soul or whatever, but the real crux of the moment was not just that I was really seeing someone, but that I was seeing someone really seeing me. Once I embraced the terror of this realization and gave it time to subside, I arrived somewhere unexpected.

I felt brave, and in a state of wonder. Part of that wonder was at my own vulnerability and part was the weird kind of wonder you get from saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning and becomes what it actually is: an assemblage of sounds.

So it was with the eye, which is not a window to anything but a rather clump of very useful cells. The sentiment associated with the eye fell away and I was struck by its astounding biological reality: the spherical nature of the eyeball, the visible musculature of the iris and the smooth wet glass of the cornea. It was strange and exquisite.

When the timer buzzed, I was surprised — and a little relieved. But I also felt a sense of loss. Already I was beginning to see our evening through the surreal and unreliable lens of retrospect.

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. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.

I wondered what would come of our interaction. If nothing else, I thought it would make a good story. But I see now that the story isn’t about us; it’s about what it means to bother to know someone, which is really a story about what it means to be known.

It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.

But despite all this, 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. Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely (it may have happened anyway), the study did give us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate. 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.

View underlying paper by Aron and his team

Mandy Len Catron teaches writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and is working on a book about the dangers of love stories.


More on the power of bonding behaviors

 

Topic:

Comments

I look forward to working

I look forward to working through the 36 questions with my wife; I presume it will be a bonding -- and not a 'bombing' -- experience! That, and the four minutes of staring into each others' eyes. Thanks for the lead to the fascinating article, Marnia!

This sounds like a very interesting experiment

This sounds like a very interesting experiment. would like to try this with my partner but for now the Karezza bonding cues are real good and are bringing some miracless into our lives that only a couple of weeks ago i thought were a lost cause. I hold my breath (well. I rather not) to se what develops from here on...when ready though id love to try this tool.

I actually think

this experiment worked because it unknowingly relied on two key bonding cues: listening intently and eye contact (at least the article mentioned that). So the the bonding behaviors are probably just as effective, and give you a lot more options...including skin-to-skin contact. Kiss 3

How are things going with your partner?

Beautiful!!

Beautiful!!!
Its going quite beautiful
Even though we only manage to meet at weekends because of different work locations he has been free from the effects of the Passion cycle for the last two weeks. More caring, He has held me a few times while i was in the kitchen and vice versa and it felt like heaven. Lots of gentle touch without being in 'his face', listening and being present does happen a lot even on the phone. Some moments of deep loving eye contact too!!!He has been forthcoming sharing fears, hopes, and contacting me... taking the initiative lot more. I had the chance to care for him as he had the flue ( ohhh dear man's flue! Wink and i was glad to do this as i felt appreciated. Our dogs and cat are great oxitocin builders...He has finished reading Cupid's Poisoned Arrow. He said that this book is the best thing that happen to him in the last 25 years where he looked for therapist's support without success.. He always wondered why he had felt the way he did...i have a theory as his relationship with P started quite early...but I don't insist on my theories, Just as you suggested allow the bonding cues to work and both our systems to rest and reset...it is really good Marnia...just keep at it and hope the goodness continues to grow. I was feeling quite hopeless when i first made contact before the Xmas period...now I can see some light...some days quite lot of it. It was the best Xmas holiday we have ever had. This information is precious. I use it quite a bit and it helps me clarify situations even with clients as i work as a community support worker.Wish i had known as a teen...it would have spared some serious pain! But then, the surprise of this gift in my fifties is delightful. And we are only at the beginning!!! Thank You.!!!Hope it'l continue to grow more stable and healthier.... Would be lovely to be able to teach this stuff!! For me it makes so much sense regardless of the final outcome in my relationship and whether or not it gets from awful to happy...(which seems to be happening) its something the world needs to know.

Glad to hear it

Attachment is powerful medicine, but it needs time in older lovers. There's a lot of "junk" to melt.

Yes, it would be good to teach, but right now, much of the education profession is in the grip of sexologists who are teaching the very opposite: sex is just orgasm and all you need are a condom (maybe) and consent.

Sad really.

I hope so

Just be sure to give him time to get educated. It's not "logical" that you both need to be consistent, and yet you both need to be consistent. No one can tell someone else what to do with their sexuality, but if someone takes time to get informed, the resistance melts a bit.

I wonder about that, Marnia

I don't want to train any more men. I want one who is already up to speed, and has the same goals as I do. Sexual style could easily become an issue, and resistance springs up. I have chatted with a few guys online, and had dates with 3, all of whom said at first they were "interested" in tantra (karezza with the last), if a woman would "show" them. Well, the first one I dated decided he didn't want to give up his orgasms, dug in his heels, and that was it. That relationship ended abruptly. I want to meet someone who is already on this path - already wants it for himself. Once I get emotionally invested in someone, then they have the leverage, as when the guy keeps on masturbating and having orgasms, I'm the one who is deprived of all the benefits of karezza, and as you know, breaking up is hard to do. Especially for me - I tend to be the "flexible" one and it's so much more the path of lease resistance to just do things their way. That has been my pattern all along.

So . . . . I still do have doubts about how high my standards can reasonably be. Of course, this is all theoretical for right now, based on past experiences, which were not satisfying.

They have to want to get informed. If someone were truly wanting something new, truly open to the next level, I could live with that. It's just these guys who say they are interested, but it's all just to say what they think I want to hear.

I've thought about starting a dating site

specifically for Karezza, but then I thought it's not worth it because there are so few people who are aware of it, and fewer still who think it's a good idea. I doubt it would get enough critical mass for users to have enough potential dates to be interesting. And it would have the same problem of "posers". I just can't picture lots of people (guys especially) lining up to find orgasm-free relationship partners. Also, I think dating is tightly related to mating. It's going to be hard to find a new relationship partner without the "mating program" fully engaged. What do you think?

As for your situation, I think it's great that you know what you want. Unfortunately, it might be [extremely] hard to find a guy who's already on this path. I've been in a men's group for almost 20 years; these are guys who work on themselves at a deep level, and I wasn't able to convince a single one of them to try it with their women. Some of them are aware of Taoist sexual practices (like Mantak Chia). Not even my testimonials regarding the amazing benefits in my own marriage was sufficient to persuade them. Not one of them is happy with their marriage, and yet they aren't willing to change this one simple thing for a few weeks just to see if it might in fact be the missing "secret sauce". Without exception, they all say, "no, it's not that, it's all these other things that are her fault...". Fascinating. That can only mean one thing: orgasm-attachment is strong.

I must admit, when I first read about Karezza (in the context of rebooting from porn addiction), I thought the whole idea was crazy. I only tried it because I wanted to recover from porn addiction and my ED symptoms caused by it without giving up sex with my wife. Karezza was the way to do that; otherwise, I might never have tried it. It's a significant paradigm shift, which means it can't be understood intellectually - you have to see it for yourself from experience. But it's really hard to persuade someone to try it without already having had the experience...so it's a chicken and egg problem.

Maybe instead of focusing so much on the man's orgasmic behavior, you could try to focus instead on the downstream effects you're looking to cultivate (e.g. feeling connected, loving, sustainable sexual energy, etc.) and only after you are both invested in the relationship, then you begin to explain about the Coolidge Effect, CPA, etc.

Thanks for sharing this. Best of luck whatever path you choose!

Fascinating narrative about

Fascinating narrative about your men's group, s-, that no one was willing to try Karezza, even though none were happy with their marriages. That is kind of sobering, given that they were open to exploring other important elements of their lives.

From my own experience and observation, it seems that folks are loathe to change things as long as things are going well, or at least okay ('Why should I change? I'm doing fine!'). I have concluded that the vast majority of folks only change when they face sustained pain or sustained hardship.

I only awoke from 'societal programming' after being unemployed for one year. After that, I looked at the world much more critically, and began to see the range of lies that we were being told by media, teachers, priests, politicians, military folks, judges, doctors, etc.

Maybe your friends -- and mine -- will have to go through hardship before they open their eyes to Karezza and other 'truths.'

I am sympathetic with my family and friends who do not follow my lead or counsel on food, exercise, etc. I was in their shoes -- blindly obeying authority figures, largely -- up until 12 years ago. That year of unemployment -- with my wife and two kids financially dependent upon me -- was the greatest hardship that I ever had in my life. But, looking back, I think it was a wake-up call from my guardian angel/oversoul. I am thankful for the wake-up, and hope not to have to go through such a painful process again.

thanks, Sender and John G

for your responses. I was venting from frustration and wasn't sure I'd get a reply.

I agree that that programming of us all is thorough. I even start doubting when I'm out there in our *reality* and come here to find these lone voices of ours, crying out in the wilderness, where no one seems to hear us. You experiences and testimonials refresh my soul, and put me back on my feet to head back out there, in wait for "The One" who I do think will show up when the time is ripe.

I like the idea of inquiring whether a new interest has read Mantak Chia's book. Didn't we hear that M. Chia and his wife divorced? So much for having our gurus on pedestals.

Sender, I wish there were such a dating site. I'm on Spiritual Singles, and the last thing I posted on my page was my vehement commitment to only be in a relationship with a karezza man. I actually had one man from several states away thank me for posting the link to this site.

I think it's hard to talk about this at all with people, since they don't understand, don't want to, and nothing inspiring them to look for something like this.

Thanks for your honesty, and your suggestions, and your ongoing contributions to these blogs. You keep me going on this path. Otherwise I'd choose celibacy for the rest of this life.

Hugs to all!

Try recovering porn addicts

[quote=Shannon333]
I think it's hard to talk about this at all with people, since they don't understand, don't want to, and nothing inspiring them to look for something like this.
[/quote]

It occurred to me that while there may not be many Karezza men floating around out there ready for you to meet, there are a LOT of guys suffering from the affects of porn addiction, and they are seeking help in increasingly large numbers. Also, they are the ones most likely to be motivated to find solutions to the problems they are experiencing. As I said, for me, Karezza started out as a solution to a problem. Maybe start by looking to meet guys with that problem (and hopefully already in the process of recovery), and I guarantee that most of them are very motivated to solve it, and probably interested in at least learning about how Karezza can help.

Perhaps that sounds ridiculous, but I think it would increase your odds substantially...

Challenging to find them though

Imagine a dating site entry "Seeking guy with PIED." How many would respond? And how many would instantly be turned off by mention of a sexual practice that sounds demanding, even though it's not?

Still, guys from those forums are definitely trying karezza. Fascinating. I sometimes direct those with partners to this forum and this page: Karezza is for addicts (too)

What's interesting about this

What's interesting about this study to me is that verbal intimacy came first, then the eye contact. I've known many people who've gone to spiritual workshops (including me) where one of our tasks was to look someone else in the eye for an extended period.

In those workshops, no one falls in love. Interesting spiritual insights appear. But no chemistry or romance.

Yet, the intimate discussions, the sense of knowing someone well and being known, at least appear to have made a difference here.

Non Violent Communication

Having read Cupids Poisoned Arrow and with a history as long as ten bumpy years on and off i approached some of the methods expounded in Marnias book, cuddles, morning and evening connecting...thats as far as it goes....we tried also the 36 questions, still lots of avoidance, resistance, depression and difficulties mixed with great moments of love and closeness. Lately I went back to study a bit of the late Maxwell Rosenberg method, Non Violent Communication, Short NVC. Late this week i have been practicing a bit with my loved one with some surprising results. Not easy but with a story like ours it is worthy. NVC is the language of needs and compassion and it is based in listening deeply for the feelings and needs of the other person without losing track of our own followed by respectful requests if needed. It is complex and slow to learn and i have applied quite tentatively and not very skillfully i must say. When i managed to follow through, the connection was reestablished. Long and slow road for us as Marnia said but while the door is still open if even a molecule of love pass through us there is hope and there is healing. So for me the experiment is in combining touch, presence and the language of compassion...and for now i'm still learning this arts and like any art i guess its going to take time and practice.

I'm glad NVC is helping

Listening and repeating back is a "bonding behavior" (attachment cue). That's how caregivers teach their infants to speak. It's soothing and comforting to the primitive part of the brain. And then there's the bonus of more specific communication as well. Ok

Reading this response is very affirming

Thank You as always for your response.
Today we were watching the late Maxwell Rosenberg together on one of his old NVC workshops. My partner really liked it and it sent lovely warm feelings of love in me to see him enjoying it so much.We had some lovely hugs and cuddles in the proccess too!!! Knowing that it is a bonding behavior makes it even more encouraging to keep learning and experimenting. I really appreciate you being there and your feedback as it meets my need for validation. Blessings