Dating is so mired in game-playing and pickup moves these days that it’s amazing anyone ever ends up finding lasting love. So we’re huge fans of any approach that manages to cut through all that B.S.
For example, many years ago — before we each found lasting love, against those game-playing odds — Lo conducted a sort of social-romantic experiment: When a friend introduced her to a guy who seemed very nice and whom she was instantly attracted to, she asked him if he’d like to be her boyfriend. Standard protocol would have had her flirt with him and wait for him to buy her a drink and then pretend to be just a little bit interested and he would do the same and so on until maybe they’d manage to “hang out” a few times and perhaps, eventually, stumble into a real relationship. Instead, she asked him if he’d like to cut through all the crap and immediately go steady, kind of like kids do in grade school, before they learn how to save face. He astonishingly agreed. The hand-holding in public was immediate, as was the soul bearing. The relationship lasted only a month or two, but it was healthy and full of honest communication, and when they parted ways, it was as friends.
Em accidentally conducted a similar experiment a decade ago: After Em had two great dates with a guy, the two of us (Em and Lo) had to fly to England for nearly a month, on a book tour for the U.K. edition of our first book, The Big Bang. Em and the guy weren’t in touch during that time — the relationship seemed too new to support long-distance communication — but when she returned, they had a third date. Except it didn’t feel like a third date… it felt more like they’d already been dating a month. So they naturally, mutually, without really discussing anything, just skipped all the are-we-really-into-each-other nonsense of those first unsteady weeks. She was able to leap-frog her bad habit of being attracted to guys who just weren’t into her, and he was able to leap-frog the male version of this. And, reader, she married him.
We found a third example of this kind of “speed mating” in the Modern Love column of the Times this past week: “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This.” The gist of the piece: During a first date with a guy she’d kind of known for a while, the author had one of those flirty-theoretical conversations about whether it was possible to fall in love with anyone. (It’s the kind of conversation that’s possible to have on a first date, because you’re basically strangers, but then you can’t really talk about that stuff again until you’re in a very serious relationship.)
The author, Mandy Len Catron, recalled a scientific study she’d once read about, wherein a researcher put two complete strangers in a lab, had them ask each other a series of increasingly intimate questions — thirty-six, in all — and then had them stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes. One of the couples in the study ended up marrying (yes, the researcher scored an invite!).
Mandy and her date decided to replicate the experiment, except in a bar. They found the list of questions online and passed an iPhone back and forth between them (who said smart phones are killing romance?!), starting with questions like, “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” And “When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?” Then they progressed to more intimate questions, such as “Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common,” and, of course, “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” Finally, they relocated to a nearby bridge and held eye contact for four excruciating minutes. Reader, they fell in love.
Of course, this experiment isn’t going to work with any random stranger you pluck out of your morning commute. But on a first date, where chemistry and at least a little mutual interest has already been established, we like it a lot more than all of that crappy, heartbreaking game-playing. Plus, it’s a great way to weed out selfish, one-track-minded pickup artists before you get in too deep. As the author says:
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. … The study [gave] us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate.
If you want to try it yourself, here are all 36 of Dr. Arthur Aron’s questions. You should take it in turns, each answering all 36 questions.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. 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?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … ”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … ”
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
Finally, don’t forget to stare into each other’s eyes for four full, SILENT minutes — no cheating! — to seal the deal. (Set a timer on your iPhone, as the author of the piece did.) After that, feel free to seal the deal with a kiss.