Last Saturday night in Paris, after a long day of shows, Marina Khorosh and I ate a rushed dinner, caught a 25 minute zig-zagging taxi ride from the 11th to the 16th Arrondissement, and arrived at the Hermes show just as the last few models were exiting the catwalk. With nothing else to do that evening, I turned to her and said, “Shall we go fall in love?” She nodded, and off we went to find the nearest bar.
Marina made the initial suggestion, and we’d been talking about it for a few days. On January the 9th, The New York Times published a special edition of its weekly Modern Love series, titled To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. In it, the writer Mandy Len Catron talked about a psychologist named Arthur Aron who’d successfully made two strangers fall in love in a test he ran in the 1990s.
His lab-rats entered a room from separate doors, sat opposite each other, answered a series of 36 questions, then stared silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Six months later, two of the participants were married.
From The New York Times:
“The idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness. To quote the study’s authors, ‘One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.’ Allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult, so this exercise forces the issue.”
Mandy Len Catron had tried Aron’s test out with an acquaintance and it had worked, and for a few days it was all anyone could talk about. Every friend I knew shared it on Facebook, everywhere I went people were discussing its scientific possibility, but nobody seemed to do the most obvious thing — try it out for themselves.
Marina was dead-set on trying it, arguing that we both write relationship blogs, and this would make for a brilliant post. I agreed that it would make for an interesting post, but still, I tried to say no.
Here’s the thing: I consider myself to be a pretty confident, daring person in most respects. But when it comes to my heart, I tend to adopt a don’t try, can’t fail approach. Like most single 30 year olds, I’ve experienced some pretty devastating heartbreaks, and right now, the thought of putting myself in an emotionally vulnerable position doesn’t really appeal. I rarely go on dates, I barely attempt to even half-heartedly pursue anybody, and I’m quite happy with my life in New York: I’ve got my friends, my flight attendant roommate Daniel, my daily phone calls to my Mum and Dad, and my platonic life partner, Jenny Albright.
So with all that in mind, I was reluctant from the get-go. I mean, what if it worked!? And more importantly, four minutes’ eye contact!? Absolutely not.
Clearly Marina won.
Three things convinced me to give it a go:
1. Absolute cynicism — I didn’t believe for a second that I would fall in love using a Q&A formula, no matter how brilliant the psychologist who developed it might have been.
2. A wholehearted belief that I know within a single conversation with somebody whether or not I could potentially fall in love with them. I’d hung out with Marina about four times before, and had some pretty deep conversations with her — many of which revealed some significant discrepancies in our core value systems around family and gender roles (in my opinion she’s living in the 1950s) — and I was almost 100% certain that while a lifelong friendship was in our destiny, a romantic connection was absolutely not. She’d also told me about a billion times that there was no way in hell that she could ever fall in love with a lowly blogger.
3. I don’t like people who refuse to give things a go.
So I agreed to give it a go.
We found a bar, ordered our drinks (red wine for her, Coke for me), and for the next three hours, sat opposite each other asking and answering the 36 questions. 72 in total.
The questions are separated into three different groupings, each more intimate than the last, the idea being that the more you’re forced to reveal intimate information about yourself, the more vulnerable you become, and the more vulnerable you become, the more quickly you’re able to become close to someone.
It starts innocently enough: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Would you like to be famous? In what way? What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
But quickly forces you both to reveal things you probably usually wouldn’t: Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
After the initial few questions, which we answered somewhat tentatively, we loosened up and got real. Like really really real. Like honest to the point of no return. We told each other the sorts of stuff that you might wait a couple of sessions to share with your therapist. It was liberating and terrifying and incredibly entertaining all at the same time.
I won’t betray Marina’s confidence by sharing her answers (and I hope she affords me the same respect), but I will say that despite our enormously different upbringings — she grew up in a Jewish family in Russia, moved to New York as a teenager, then to Paris in her mid-20s; I grew up in a Baha’i family in New Zealand, moved to Paris for a moment, then to New York in my middish 20s — we had some striking similarities, namely our extremely close relationships with our mothers (who seem to share many a personality quirk themselves); our life ambitions; and the fact that we both write relationship blogs but don’t seem to be overly successful in our own relationships.
We tend to disagree on how a family should be run; what it means to be a man; money; and the importance of our future children going to the ‘right’ school and/or Ivy League College.
At three different points in the quiz, each participant is forced to name things they find attractive about the other person. I’ll now list some of the things I like about Marina:
1. Her mouth.
2. The way she speaks French fluently.
3. How she wasn’t afraid to tell the taxi driver off — in fluent French — when she felt like he was driving us around in circles.
4. Her writing — both her turn of phrase, which is excellent; her ability to combine style and substance, which is intimidating; and her fearless honesty, which is something I find particularly admirable and awe-inspiring.
5. The way in which she grasps complex theoretical ideas so quickly, which is something I’ve always envied in my sister, and which is not a particular strength of mine.
The 36th question required us both to share a problem and give the other advice about how to deal with theirs. Surprise surprise, we both talked about our frustrations with sex. From a complex theoretical perspective, of course.
We caught a taxi back to my apartment to do the four minute stare test, stopping, briefly, to check on one of Marina’s best friends who believed herself to be the victim of an apartment break-in (I believed her to be the victim of too much alcohol the night before). As we left, we told her what we were doing and she told us to use protection.
Back at my apartment, Marina was doing everything she could to avoid eye contact. After convincing me to attempt to fall in love, she was chickening out of the final piece of the puzzle. But I wasn’t going to let her off the hook that easily.
After a good 15 minutes’ worth of nervous prattle chat she relented, and we sat there staring deeply into each other’s eyes.
Sparks did not fly.
As a last ditch attempt at love, we attempted a late-night make-out session on the bed.
It ended as quickly as it started.
Happily-ever-after was not in our cards.
So. It is my belief that these 36 questions will not a love connection make, unless a love connection is there to be made from the get-go. The test does not create love, it encourages empathy and understanding and vulnerability (all of which are obviously monumentally important on the road to love), and forces the participants to open up and listen at the same time.
I would recommend the process to everybody from nervous 20-somethings on a first-date, to friends, family members, lovers and couples who’ve been together for 50 years. It’s the best resource for getting to know somebody quickly and deeply that I’ve ever encountered.
It might not make you fall in love, but it will open your eyes to a different version of the world than the one you experience every day.
One thing is certain: It sure beats sitting opposite someone you barely know and attempting to sell yourself for an awkward hour over dinner. #Dating
Special thanks to Marina for convincing me to do it. I imagine we’ll be close friends for a long time as a result of that one evening in Paris.
To read Marina’s version of events, click here!
I LIKE YOU!