Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

January 22, 2015

"To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This"

New York Times

I post this because, even though it's not about polyamory as such, it fits right into our community's ideas about the wide applicability of romantic love, its multi-possibilities, and our ability to shape and direct it.

Someone could make a powerful workshop exercise out of this.

Eye-gazing.  (Brian Rea / NY Times)
To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This

By Mandy Len Catron

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.

...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....

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.

...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.... 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.

...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 felt brave, and in a state of wonder....

...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. Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.

Read the whole article (Jan. 9, 2015). Thanks to Terry of Vermont Poly Woodchucks for the tip.

Here is Arthur Aron's study: The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings (15-page PDF). The procedure and the list of questions are near the end.

I've been a believer in eye-gazing ever since Sarah Taub of Network for a New Culture introduced me to it. Ditto with sharing appreciations as a deliberate exercise.


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Blogger tosii2 said...

Thanks, Alan. I think it is an important learning for all of us. I think I would include the tag 'communication' for this, also.

January 22, 2015 1:08 PM  
Blogger Bhramari Devi Dasi said...

I think the 36 questions (you need to go to the "see the whole article link to find them) are interesting for some sort of parlor game maybe, but most of them don't touch on things that would necessarily draw me closer or cause me to "fall in love" (or not) with someone. Most of the questions are pretty irrelevant to what would be important to me....in fact I find many of them uninteresting. Aside from how contrived this would feel to me, I don't see them as being particularly intimacy-building on a "romantic" relationship level. They might be fun ways to break the ice and get to know people better at something like a poly - or some other sort of - social gathering, where the ideal to to gather again every so often and feel like there is an unfolding in knowing of each other over time. On a dating/relationship level, I find that conversation either naturally flows or it doesn't. I consider that fact an actual indicator of potential compatibility.

January 22, 2015 1:57 PM  
Blogger tosii2 said...

To really get a perspective about this concept, you really need to read the research paper these articles are based upon.

January 22, 2015 10:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Dunn said...

After reading the original research, I discovered that the "eye-gazing" thing was not used in the original experiments at all. For me, this lowers the author's credibility, as if the eye-gazing thing was put in as clickbait or something. But a group of us had some fun trying to make a group exercise out of it informally. One problem is that couples didn't go through the questions at the same speed. But I enjoyed getting to know my (randomly chosen) partner, even though there was no particular chemistry between us.

January 30, 2015 5:08 PM  

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