I love TED Talks – this is no secret. And when I got my (enormous and very droppable) new phone, the TED app went straight onto my home screen – engaging speakers and life-affirming topics all at my fingertips – I rejoiced! And with my new found ‘power’, did I want to learn about what lies beneath the Antarctic ice sheet or how protests are redefining democracy around the world? Nope. The first I head for, like any mislead millennial, is Mandy Len Catron’s ‘Falling in love is the easy part’. I almost eye-rolled at myself, disappointed that this was the first title to catch my attention when offered with so many other intelligent choices. But as I sit and listen to Mandy’s soft American voice talking about her experience of falling in love in an unusual way, I can’t help but be engrossed.
You might recognise her name from an article that went viral just over three years ago, ‘To fall in love with anyone, do this’, and to the untrained eye, this might have appeared to merely be effective clickbait (something we’ve all come to know and loathe). However, this was unusually not the case, which may explain why the article published on the New York Times website was viewed over eight million times. Eight million people want to know the exact formula for falling in love, and the fact the article created enough traction to warrant further articles and multiple TED talks from Mandy about her experience had me enthralled. Are we so desperate to find love that we would be inclined to resort to an experiment that was manufactured in a lab? Even the word ‘manufactured’ seems completely out of place when talking about something as naturally organic as love. But as Mandy explains, the thirty-six question experiment she took part in was never made with the intention of achieving that ever-unobtainable paradise/spiral of doom that is love.
The original study was shaped with the motivation to forge friendships in American college students. Two strangers take turns to answer questions that get increasingly more personal. They begin with ‘for what in your life do you feel most grateful?’ and ‘when did you last sing to yourself?’ before moving onto the more intense, ‘Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?’ It was only when two participants married one another that the study was hailed the thirty-six questions that ‘create’ love. Suddenly an exercise that set out to develop interpersonal relationships and forge closeness in students took on a different meaning. But the original meaning is not to be ignored; the rewards of close relationships in their various different forms are unrivalled and this is something we pass by too easily. There is an urgency to find love that has almost become an assumed path, and at a younger and younger age we are feeling the pressure to find it and walk it.
With dating apps in abundance, the internet and social media, we are almost given so many doors that by choosing not to open them we become unusual in some way – I mean, why would we [[[[not]]]] choose to search for love when the tools to ‘happiness’ are so accessible? If we can learn anything from the study, it is that taking the time to explore the lives of our peers, asking intelligent questions and taking the time to get to know one another leads to feelings of great closeness which can, and has previously, resulted in romantic love. For some this could be the aim, and if it is, go ahead! But pinning all hopes of a happily-ever-after on something created in a laboratory is naive. Get to know your friends more deeply and build working relationships with your colleagues – these are worthwhile ventures and something to strive for in the same way we do with romantic love. Like Mandy says: ‘falling in love is not the same as staying in love’. So the moral of the story is that all types of relationships including romantic love require work, and if you are willing to give it, the rewards can be great.