36 Questions to Fall in Love: A New Age Love Potion No. 8

A few weeks ago I posted a story on Facebook from the New York Times about a scientific study that analyzed the power of knowing, specifically intentional knowing and its consequences which is love. The study, conducted by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron 20 years ago, involved a man and a woman answering a series of increasingly personal questions and concluded with them staring, silently, into each others eyes for four minutes. Through this process Dr. Aron discovered that the likelihood of the two people falling in love was high because of the intensity and intention behind their getting to know one another. Mandy Len Catron, the young woman who wrote the NY Times article, tried Dr. Aron’s experiment with a university colleague changing the setting from a laboratory to a bar and she found love. As she puts it, “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we chose to be.” From that the title of the article arose, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” It was a click-bait headline tailored not only to a trigger-happy audience but people who are looking and longing for love. I wondered what the outcome of this would be. Would people just read it for the scientific study or would they ignore the original study and use it to accelerate the possibility of love like a new-age Love Potion No. 8. Much to my dismay, the latter is happening.

Good Morning America featured Dr. Aron’s study, specifically the 36 questions, and brought two strangers together to answer the questions and stare into each others eyes. It was lights, camera, action for two strangers and in the end, though it wasn’t certain the two found love, it seemed as though they found something. The two said they would “see what happens” and the GMA segment directed viewers to their website where the 36 questions for falling in love were listed. But GMA is not the only outlet to publicize the questions. Over the last few weeks many media outlets from Vogue to Nigerian website Naij.com picked up on Dr. Aron’s experiment, sharing the background but emphasizing the 36 questions and their ability to make people, even perfect strangers, fall in love. I find this somewhat problematic.

Don’t get me wrong, as a 34-year-old single woman with no immediate prospects this sounds tempting. I’d (almost) love nothing more than to be in love and on my way to marrying the love of my life. I say “almost” because I have a vision of love that is more about the slow and steady over the fast and furious. Being not too far removed from my last relationship, which I liked to call a “growmance,” I prefer the slow-cooked process of falling in love. In my previous relationship, we spent three years in a friendship that though, early on, we both confessed feelings for each other, we didn’t immediately advance on them by choice and circumstance. Throughout the three years we grew to know and love one another as more than friends and we fell into a relationship–we quite literally looked up one day and realized we were in one. Though I would change the way we fell into the relationship, I wouldn’t change our love primarily because there was nothing manipulated about it. It happened to us as much as it happened through us and we then made a decision to see where it took us. We were two people who grew into love but, unfortunately, weren’t two people who could sustain one another in a relationship. Were we “in love”? I’ll be honest in that I don’t understand what that means and I think the concept is often muddied by romantic tropes and fatalism that aren’t altogether realistic for two rational people. But I can say we loved one another–although I believe we did so differently and in a way that couldn’t carry us any further than we went. And so this is why I’m concerned about what it means to set the world on fire with the idea that falling in love by asking a series of questions is advisable. Because, in my experience, loving someone doesn’t always mean you should be in a relationship with them. Love has no guarantees and surely love manipulated may have less guarantees.

In her run with Dr. Aron’s experiment, Len Catron points out that the love that manifested between her and her university colleague happened because they chose it not because it happened to them. Indeed that’s a primary difference between her situation and mine because, as I articulated above, love happened to me and my friend and we fell into a relationship. The absence of making explicit choices about the relationship–save for when he chose to breakup with me and when I chose to take a break from a friendship thereafter–is what weakens the argument for the slow and steady love I prefer and that’d I’d suggest to more people than not. I take issue with the masses using Dr. Aron’s experiment as a love accelerator because it could, at worst, result in people objectifying and manipulating one another and, at best–well someone might actually fall in love and create a sustainable relationship but that is yet to be seen (Seriously, have we heard from the original couple in Dr. Aron’s experiment?). Anyways back to this issue of objectification and manipulation of love. I surmise that people might first look for someone who they could love, then ask the questions and stare into their hopeful beloved eyes, and make the experiment do more work than they actually have to do themselves. That is the over-manipulation of love that is unfolding before our eyes. As a single person on the market I’d be afraid that my dates would be made of men asking the 36 questions they found on the internet instead of asking their own questions and taking the time it takes to truly know someone.

Are we a generation so longing for love that we are more willing to put love in someone else’s hands rather than trust ourselves to manifest it? I understand that given our own efforts love will evade us for longer than we want, but I wonder if having love evade us until just the right time is more worthwhile and sustaining than manipulating love. Indeed we take risks when we decide that we don’t want 36-question love because then love in not a guarantee. But we may also take risks with 36-question love in that the love manifested from that experiment may not be sustainable, or, authentic.

I may have overstated my case against Dr. Aron’s experiment as an over-manipulation of love but I’ve done so because I find it problematic. I don’t find his original experiment problematic, I can’t because he was a scientist doing what scientist do, testing out a theory. I doubt he thought that 20 years later people would take his experiment, make it into click-bait stories, television segments, and get-love quick schemes. But, it seems, that’s where we are now and it probably won’t be long until it is made into a book about how to sustain the love birthed out of 36-questions. So I’ll leave you with this…

Tate Donovan and Sandra Bullock in “Love Potion No.9.” (Photo Credit: Gawker Media)

Earlier I compared Dr. Aron’s experiment and what is happening with it now to a new age Love Potion No. 8 which is a reference to the 90s film “Love Potion No. 9.” In the film, Tate Donovan (Paul) and Sandra Bullock (Diane) play two scientists who are unlucky in love until they discover Love Potion No. 8. Under the effects of LPN8, both Paul and Diane attract whoever they want and, at one point, they attract one another until the potion fades. What breaks the cycle of LPN8 is Love Potion No. 9 a serum that doesn’t create love but destroys any obstacles to it. The caveat to LPN9 though is that the person it is used on must already be in love or else they will eternally hate the hopeful beloved. The potion repeatedly falls into the wrong hands and then, at the conclusion of the film when just a little of it is left, Paul drinks it and kisses Diane and waits the requisite five minutes. Unfortunately it’s too late for the formula, but it ends up not being too late for love because Diane always loved Paul.

I use that illustration to demonstrate the efficacy, not of the potion or of the 36-questions, but of love. Call it alchemy if you must. Love Potion No. 8 didn’t work for Paul and Diane, neither did Love Potion No. 9. What worked for them the pre-existing condition of love, nurtured through work and determination. I suggest that love, unaided by scientific chemistry or experimentation, but love aided by authentic, sometimes awkward, risky, intentional knowing over time is the more worthwhile, sustainable love. And that’s what we ought to be after.

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