If that sounds terrifyingly unlike first date territory, that’s the point – encouraging the vulnerability that fosters closeness, but in just 45 minutes rather than months.
It was reading that two of Aron’s participants were married shortly after the original study – and invited everyone in the lab to the wedding – that prompted Catron to suggest it on her first date with Mark, 42, a crush from her climbing group. And her own article’s happy ending, in turn, that turned their fledgling love story into “a subject of international interest” – which wrested its narrative from her control.
“People saw what they wanted to see in the article,” she explains. “I remember reading about my own relationship and hearing people get the details wrong – they’d be like, ‘Oh my god, this woman met her husband doing this study,’ or ‘They were falling in love by the end of the evening!’.
In real life, things unfolded rather more slowly: “We did the study in late July and sort of had this ambiguous relationship for a few months,” she thinks back. “We celebrate our anniversary on November 1. That was when we had the conversation, ‘Oh, we’re doing this’.”
Which meant her relationship with Mark was barely three months old when the world’s media came knocking for proof: “People really wanted evidence that we were together and we were not going to break up.”
Musing on the startling response, she writes: “Watching my piece go viral confirmed something I’d suspected for years: when it comes to love, we prefer the short version of the story.”
The long version is “not that you can fall in love with anyone” – circumstances, character and biology still matter – “but that you can create trust and intimacy with almost anyone. And that is the condition necessary for romantic love, right? That is the starting point.”
To which end, our obsession with finding The One is mistaken; you could probably fall in love and be relatively happy with a fairly significant number of people.
The irony that Catron had spent years researching a book critiquing love stories only to watch her own become the kind of myth she doesn’t believe in was not lost on her.
She has two theories as to why it proved so irresistible. “I think one is that everybody wants to be known – to feel that deep intimate connection with another person, where it’s like they understand the smallest facets of who we are.”
The other, she believes, is timing. “in the era of online dating, where we have access to so many more potential partners than we did, even 10 years ago, we now have this huge breadth of possible connections. But we have made a trade-off between breadth and depth. So I feel like this was a way to get that depth of intimacy that probably lots of people really want.”
If the study provides a mechanism for making that happen, her book is a clear-eyed look at the power – and danger – of the love stories we tell ourselves; and how we might rewrite them to better fit our own lives.