Is There Science Behind Intimacy?

I saw an article posted on Facebook by several people I knew, and had to give it a look (it’s amazing how often I get ideas from Facebook posts). What I found gave me more insight into my dating habits than I was prepared for, but those are the risks we take to find out about love.

The article claims to hold the key to how to fall in love with anyone, then proceeds to tell an anecdote about how the author fell in love with her current partner (no explanation as to how long her personal love story has lasted thus far). The more logical of you are probably about to argue with me that anecdotes are not logical, scientific proof, and I agree, but her experience had been based on an actual scientific study.

Even she admits that her experience didn’t fit the parameters of the original experiment, though, so the findings may not be particularly valid.

Enter my data. I think I can definitively say that, if done correctly, the process of the experiment does work. Or at least it betters your odds.

So what is the process?

The original experiment, as explained in this article (I have not looked into the original experiment myself), is fairly simple. The experiment places 2 single, heterosexual strangers of the opposite sex into a room and has them answer a series of 36 questions of increasing levels of intimacy. The idea being that the “shared vulnerability” breeds an instant closeness and trust that in return breeds romantic feelings…under the right conditions.

Then the participants stare into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes.

4 minute timer

I would think that 4 minutes was an uncomfortably long amount of time to stare into the eyes of anyone, let alone a stranger, but the experiment worked for at least one couple, and the author of the article said it worked for her as well, albeit for different reasons. I do love how she describes the 4 minute staring session…

It’s not like we don’t do this whole stranger to love experiment pretty regularly. Shows like The Bachelor thrive on this exact premise. And does anyone remember the whole kissing experiment from a year or two ago? It was really an advertisement, but the video went viral (and I love the song).

But does it work?

I haven’t done any fancy experiments with specific questions or timed staring contests, but I do use both of these tools when I date, and thus far, they have seemed to work in certain cases. Remember my conversation test? I need someone to keep my attention for at least an hour while talking, just talking, before they get an opportunity for anything more. A good part of that is playing “The Question Game.”

“The Question Game,” as I play it, has 3 rules: you must be willing to answer your own questions, you must answer truthfully, and the only question off limits is “What’s your favorite color?” because it is much too personal. Ok, maybe it’s just a boring question, but I’ve been saying it was too personal a question for going on 15 years now; I’m going to continue to use that as my excuse.

questionGameIf you think about it, these questions are the basis for all these dating sites that are cluttering up the internet these days. They ask the questions, giving you an insight into your potential mate so that you have that shared experience of vulnerability. But, there is one place where they fail: It’s not truly a shared vulnerability. You answer questions in the safety of your own space, separately from your date/mate/potential partner who also answers the questions in the safety of his/her own space.

From what I’ve seen of Speed Dating (which is basically just from TV), it’s also lacking. You have a very short amount of time to get to know a person, so you ask relatively intimate questions in order to find out about a person. It has the shared vulnerability,but lacks the depth and time (the initial experiment apparently ran about 90 minutes) to make it something real. You don’t have 4 minutes to ask questions, let alone stare into each other’s eyes.

In my personal dating experiences, when I think back to the ones who made the cut, it was because we played the question game and really got to know each other in a relatively short amount of time:

The Boy? Was always out of town for work, so we played the question game via chat, and it was the persona of who he was when he played the game that I fell for. The Artist? We played the game face to face after movies and on the occasional date together; he just didn’t have the emotional stamina or follow through (or the romantic interest in me) for it to become something real. If I go further back, the guy who proposed on Valentine’s Day caught my attention through eye contact while I was talking with someone else in a busy restaurant. He happened to have creepy white contacts in, but it was an intense gaze that got my initial interest, and we continued to get to know each other through the question game…albeit, usually in a group setting.

beneathmeIf I look at the ones who didn’t make the cut, they generally balked at the question game. They thought it was a silly thing, beneath them. Or they tried to play and didn’t have any depth to their answers. Like the guy the summer before the Boy. I tried to ask him a few of the question game questions, my standard ones, not even the truly intimate questions, and he gave me kind of boring answers. Then again, he was mostly just eye candy anyway.

Same with the guy who was talking marriage on the first date. I gave him a chance because he was into asking questions as much as I was, but he had no flow, no rhythm to his questions. They didn’t feel intimate, they felt like interview questions. I gave  him a second chance because he seemed genuine in his interest; I thought perhaps it was just a difference of communication styles. His second chance almost became a horror story, so that was the end of him!

In the end, they didn’t make the cut because they couldn’t hold my attention, and I knew it in a relatively short amount of time.

See, I tend to run in fast forward all the time. I don’t like wasting my time on something that has no staying power. My biggest mistake in the past has been that sometimes I believe my own assessment over that of the other party, and I become convinced a thing is fixable when it isn’t. Both parties have to want to work on a thing for it to be fixable. Hence, many of my relationships last longer than they should, though very very few have lasted more than a few months, usually with huge stretches of emptiness in between, with the longest being a 4 year period of alone-ness. And the Artist thinks I don’t know how to be alone. Ha!

Aren’t you forgetting someone?

I’ve been very careful not to lump Superman in with the rest of the people above. We’ve been playing the question game, and we’ve quickly moved to a place that scares us both a little. In fact we were in the middle of discussing that very thing when he went to sleep and I decided to look at that article… Hence today’s post.

Quick timeline: First meeting was way back in August (totally had to look it up on Meetup.com to find when it was), but that was when I thought there was a possibility with the Artist, and like I said before, he was cute, but didn’t really catch my attention. The night of the Superman shirt (one of the deciding factors in his nickname) was about a week before Halloween. We lost contact sometime towards the beginning of November because I was convinced he wasn’t interested. And now, we’ve been talking really intensely and seeing a lot of each other since just a few days before New Year’s.

So… about 2 weeks.

too fast

Yeah, it’s fast, really fast. Scary fast. But the discussions have been of that increasing level of intimacy, not just online (although there has been a good deal of that), but also in person. We agreed up front that no questions were off limits, and we’ve both answered the questions, no matter what. One of the things that made me even more interested was the fact that he suggested those terms. I knew it was a rule of the game, but he came up with almost the same rules without any discussion from me.

It was just a nice surprise.

Plus, he is very keen on eye contact, something that usually makes me quite nervous, but I’ve been trying to maintain eye contact with him. It’s hard. His eyes are really gorgeous, which makes my brain turn to mush a bit. Just don’t ask me what color they are. Every time I look at them, they seem a different color. There seems to always be brown in them, but a light brown, unlike my own super dark eyes, but there’s also green. And the first time I really noticed the green in them, I was  totally twitterpated.

The point being, between the very intimate discussions we’ve had in a very short time, plus the intense eye contact, there’s a connection there. A very strong connection.

And while I’ve discussed in the past that I thought I felt connections before, it was always with me just getting my side of the conversation. Superman is forthcoming with his opinions and his feelings, and it’s nice to know that we didn’t even have to have the “total honesty” conversation in order for it to happen. It just happened. The first miscommunication we had, we discussed, at length, and it fixed itself. The whole situation, well, it just feels right!

He’s smart, and funny, and makes me feel beautiful. I lose control of my words sometimes, which is very frustrating, but I like that he has that power over me. I admire his work ethic, and yet, he has on more than one occasion gone out of his way to make time for me when I needed him, or when I just happened to be alone. He’s caring, and sincere, and handsome. *Sigh*

Yeah, totally twitterpated.

twitterpated

Is it because of the questions and the eye contact? I don’t really know, but I like to think that they helped speed up the process. Truth be told, it’s because of the question game that I am probably always in fast forward. It allows me to get close to someone quickly, and also to determine what their limitations or faults are equally as quickly.

For example, with the Artist, by this point, while I was interested in him, I had already started to notice some major flaws in his character (inability to follow through, and dishonesty). The Boy took longer, but that’s because I didn’t see as much of him. But I haven’t found any faults with Superman yet. He has thus far met and exceeded my expectations. For me that is the biggest source of fear: that he will get a really good look at me and see all my faults and change his mind.

Only time will tell, I suppose. We’re set to have what seems like a serious discussion this evening, so wish me luck!

As for the science question, I’m going to say that yes, I think there is a science behind achieving intimacy. The study and my experiences combined have shown me that successfully achieving intimacy requires both shared vulnerability (including that whole intense eye contact thing), and time. Don’t forget honesty! One of the reasons  the experiment works is because the questions are answered honestly, and thus you get to truly see the person with whom you are becoming close.

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