“To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This” was the name of the New York Times article by Mandy Len Catron that got us talking about research and falling in love. (I know I’m not the only one that asked my partner to do the 36 questions with me.) We all want to know, right? How to fall in love, and perhaps more importantly, how to stay in love. The article is about Dr. Arthur Aron’s study which explored if strangers could fall in love in a research lab. After taking take turns answering set questions, they ended with a 5-minute intense gaze into each other’s eyes. You can learn more about it here, or if you are a science nerd like me, read the original study here.
What is this really all about? The questions-the eye gaze…it’s about increasing closeness, an experiment in creating intimacy. Part of you loves this more than you think. It’s every montage in a romcom, it’s that getting to know someone experience and feeling… this might just be love. These questions, the behaviors, they are a little uncomfortable, maybe even a little scary, a little exciting…because they make us vulnerable. Vulnerability, no one is ever happy when I say that word. Sharing your softer feelings, your dreams and fears, the parts of yourself you usually protect. It’s like showing your underbelly. But exposing yourself, and having someone do the same in kind, is the way to feel truly known, loved, and accepted.
The truth is, vulnerability is the key to making someone your soulmate, and once you’ve married them, keeping it that way. Maybe that doesn’t sound like falling in love-but that’s a big part of what is happening when you first find your person. You both open up, share more and more with each other, and that exposure-that intimacy—it bonds you. To know deeply and be deeply known is the crux of that in-love experience. When you are first falling for someone, you don’t need an exercise to share deeply or to gaze into each other’s eyes—that’s just happening, on a date, over dinner, before a kiss, after sex. Intimacy building comes naturally.
Dr. Aron talks about another aspect of closeness that’s powerful, something a bit deeper going on. He calls it self-expansion. I love this idea, the process of falling in love is many things and one of them is an actual expansion of ourselves. We grow, change, and adapt- we expand to integrate this new person into who we are. Maybe you try new things, or have new ideas, you certainly have new experiences and at some point, you are forever changed by your partner.
This kind of intimacy, this expanding of yourself, doesn’t occur as easily once you’re married or in a long-term partnership. You will need to intentionally keep bringing it into your relationship, just living side by side won’t cut it. We often mistake comfort, familiarity, and routine for intimacy. It’s that mistake that can rob us of the kind of connections we need to keep falling in love.
You want to stay in love, get vulnerable, again and again and again. Ironically, for most, the longer you are together, the harder it is to be vulnerable. The stakes feel higher as there is more to lose. As scary as vulnerability is, it’s your best bet for keeping your love strong, your bond real, and your relationship alive. It’s you and your partner constantly revealing and compassionately accepting new layers of one another that keeps you both in love. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s hard to do. But all we can do is keep at it, keep trying to put ourselves out there with the person you’ve chosen to love for the long haul. What can you share this week that’s a little bit more vulnerable?