A scientific guide to falling in love on command (or why Auntyji is right, after all)

Now we have to admit the old Indian auntie might have been right all along.

We thought her terribly old-fashioned when she talked about how you can marry first and fall in love later.

And now we are sharing around a story from The New York Times that basically says the same thing. Of course once it is blessed by the New York Times it becomes hip, cutting-edge and eminently shareworthy.

It's all about writer Mandy Len Catron’s reenactment of psychologist Arthur Aron’s experiment in making two strangers fall in love in a laboratory. A man and woman come from two different doors, answer 36 personal questions, and then stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes without talking.

 A scientific guide to falling in love on command (or why Auntyji is right, after all)

Dr. Aron is saying falling in love can be something we actively chose to do. AFP

Now if you held up a paan leaf in front of your face first that would pretty much be shubhdrishti at a Hindu wedding, give or take a couple of minutes. And in the arranged marriage the strangers were chosen by the family and it's the family that played a version of 36 questions, not the couple.

But we just thought Bollywood and Hollywood had all the answers. Falling in love meant he had to bump into her at college and her books would fall and he would pick up the books and she would get flustered and her dupatta would slip and bells would go off and stars would come out.

And now Dr. Aron is saying falling in love can be something we actively chose to do. That’s what our old auntie has been saying and we just rolled our eyes as if it’s the most medieval thing we could have heard of. As if Charles and Diana’s “fairy tale” wedding that had Britain and beyond starry-eyed was anything but “arranged”.

Your parents never met each other until their wedding day? If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that, I’d be a rich man today. I would always half-embarrassedly explain that arranged marriage came in many variants. My friend had an “arranged marriage” but it involved almost six months of unchaperoned dating. Another friend in America had an arranged marriage too but only after a year of Skype calling and WhatsApping with his fiancée in India.

But we remain rather sheepish about an arranged marriage. But now we don’t need to. We have a scientific experiment proving that falling in love can come with a sort of lesson plan thanks to the 36 questions helpfully provided which we can quickly convert into the Indian marriage syllabus.

The questions are actually quite interesting. And not the kind that would accompany a Match.com style quiz. I remember an Indian friend in the US who found a 95% match with someone on a dating site based on a series of questions he answered. The 5% mismatch? The chosen one only wanted to date white men.

These questions range from familiar Facebook territory (Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?) to the far more vulnerable (When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?) While we are tempted to look at the list as a sort of cheat sheet to marriage, it’s really systematizing an idea that falling-precipitously-in-love sidelines - that marriage is eventually about trust and vulnerability and that has to be nurtured and takes work.

The arranged marriage, at its most successful, is about that work where two strangers reveal themselves to each other, understand each other’s foibles, and build up respect and yes, even love. Unfortunately in popular culture we have turned arranged marriage into a story of Papa Knows Best and it becomes about parental whims and coercion.

But as Len Catron writes “what I like about this study is how it assumes that love is an action. It assumes that what matters to my partner matters to me because we have at least three things in common, because we have close relationships with our mothers, and because he let me look at him.”

It assumes that love can grow, even though we have been conditioned to hope it comes that it comes full formed like Venus rising from the sea.

My parents never saw each other till their wedding day. My mother had only seen a photograph of the man who would be my father and thought he seemed chubby with a mustache she didn’t care for. On the other hand, years before my parents were married, my mother’s aunt daringly eloped from home to marry the man she loved, jumping off a train to elude the family patriarch. My great aunt’s story is the stuff of family legend, my mother’s story is not.

But the postscript of the stories is almost the same. Both had to then put in the work of getting to actually know the person they had married one in haste and one in blind trust. I didn’t know his temper said my great aunt. I didn’t know how little he talked said my mother. They didn’t have the Aron questionnaire. That might have made things a little easier.

Question 8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

Question 24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

The 36 questions try to encapsulate and approximate what it sometimes takes a lifetime to figure out. And of course Aron does not say that the 36 questions that can make two strangers fall in love also ensure that they will stay in love.

The experiment, alas, does not come with a warranty. But the next Indian of marriageable age reluctant to go for an arranged marriage, beware. The Indian auntie now has a manual of how to convert an arrange marriage into a love marriage in 36 steps.

Updated Date: Jan 12, 2015 15:33:20 IST