For love and science

Apr 26, 2017 at 10:03 am

A few months ago, I was lying next to a deliciously-attractive, naked man, sweaty and pleasantly fatigued, and I found myself actually thinking the words, “God, I am bored with all these mind-blowing orgasms.”

Oh, hi. My name is Casey, and I have intimacy issues.

So, a couple-few days after that, I reread Mandy Len Catron’s 2014 essay, “To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This.” If you didn’t read it when was first published in The New York Times, I’ll summarize: The author recruits an acquaintance to re-enact an experiment that made two strangers fall in love by having them ask each other a series of increasingly personal questions and then staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes. It amounts to months of dating boiled down to a few hours. The author concludes that, yes, this is a real thing that actually works.

Again the essay is on my mind as I wonder if it’s actually true that the only thing I need to do to fall in love is to make an effort with someone who doesn’t annoy the crap out of me for no real reason, or is secretly using me to cheat on his girlfriend. The problem is the original questionnaire. Sweet Jesus, have mercy and send me not into that hell. The questions start off trite and end up serious. It’s too much for me, and I know I would start to get irritable right around, “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” No. Dudes introduce themselves by telling me about their messed up relationships with their mothers. I’m not invoking that.

So I will not be repeating that exact experiment. I’ve been living a life devoid of much meaningful intimacy for a few years now, and, while I don’t particularly like it, super-intense, evidence-based speed dating sounds even worse. I’ve been taking a patchwork approach to intimacy that mostly involves oversharing with strangers and never speaking frankly with people who actually affect my life. It works all right.

But I do want more, and, as I’m intrigued by the idea that the biggest predictor of having an intimate relationship is wanting an intimate relationship, I’ve decided to suppress my hatred of all things date-like and test my own accelerated bonding protocol. The intention here is to get maybe six good months with a non-terrible person before he or she gets tired of my inability to express things like feelings, or commit to a succinct relationship label. Such is the courage love requires.

Which brings us to the real issue: how to calibrate and refine such an instrument. Is the question, “What animal, humping, best represents you?” likely to facilitate the type of bonding that will lead to a half a year of good times without sending me into a two-year depression when the relationship inevitably crashes and burns? Same with, “When did you first discover that miconazole cream also makes for a fantastic lube?” I don’t want to send the wrong signals. Moreover, at the end of the questionnaire — when we stare into each other’s eyes with our index fingers millimeters from our partner’s face while using our sultriest voices to whisper, “I’m not touching you” — can I expect to immediately receive an invitation to Thanksgiving, or will there remain unforeseen hoops to jump through in order to befriend a love interest’s grandpa just before getting dumped at Christmas? Science always generates more questions than it does answers.

Clearly, a large-scale longitudinal study is needed to fully understand the efficacy and implications of a protocol designed to make folks fall sort-of in love and eventually leave in bitter disappointment. Though my initial reasons for pursuing this project were selfish, the population at large would also benefit. This work has the potential to turn the scientific community itself upside down. Psychometrics, the field of study concerned with measuring social and psychological phenomena, has never been considered the sexiest of disciplines in social science. (That would be geo-ethnography. Rawr.) We could change all that, disrupting the social order of psychology departments across the country.

Sadly, funds for such groundbreaking research will likely be difficult to procure under the new federal budget. We can no longer rely on publicly-funded researchers to give us what we need, nor can we trust private investors to act in the interest of the greater good. It’s up to all of us to become citizen-scientists. For love and science, ask yourself and the closest semi-attractive stranger you see, “Would you trust a seafood recipe you got from a Ouija board?” Report back. The future of unsatisfying, superficially intimate relationships is in our collective hands.