Paging Dr Love

Monday, 23 March, 2015

Words by Rachel O’Reilly

When I was just eleven years old, I had my first crush. Unfortunately, he was in the year above me and so naturally, he had no clue I existed. With my new hormones overriding my brain, I tried everything to get his attention. Whether it was attempting to play soccer or complementing him on his blonde tips, nothing seemed to work and alas, I was left unnoticed.

Perhaps I should have played it a little more cool back in the day but what can I say, Justin Timberlake had brought in blonde tips and the guy’s style was on point. But I knew it was never going to work out, because, to be honest, we shared little in common. I don’t like exercise and after weeks of tortured lusting, I detested soccer. And whilst I was too busy trying to share his interests, he never saw a glimpse of mine. I had been told from an early age by pop fiction that relationships are built on common interests, so Blonde Tips and I were never going to happen, right?

Well, that’s what I thought too, until many years later I learned that science disputed this idea, with Dr Arthur Aron offering his guide on how to synthesise love.

According to Aron’s study, I could have won over my tween crush with a simple Q and A. Aron proposed that intimacy could be created in an experimental setting. However, unlike previous alchemists gathering jasmine and vanilla to create potions of love, Aron took a more modern and psychological approach. In his experiment, he observed many pairs carrying out “self-disclosure and relationship building tasks that gradually escalate[d] in intensity” and had them record whether they felt closer to their partners after the task. Essentially, Dr Aron asked several students to have a DnM.

But does this sharing of information necessarily generate the “interpersonal closeness” Dr Aron refers to?

Considering how keen I was for this new relationship, all I had to do was have a little deep and meaningful with JT Junior. Yet did this also mean I was open to it? Many of us may crave love and lust for certain individuals, but are we necessarily willing to lower our guard and let another person in? I knew I wasn’t, and even if I was ready, was it really as simple as asking a strategic list of personal questions?

Looking back, I’ve had my fair share of deep and meaningful conversations, but very few were with people I had romantic feelings for. Was I simply asking the wrong questions or the wrong people? For me, it had always been rare to disclose my deepest, darkest secrets to a new friend or flame. According to Dr Aron’s study, this classifies me as the avoidant or detached type, doomed to have poorer quality relationships. Yet, I wouldn’t say I am limited in my ability to become close to another human. I’m just more of a slow mover, a trust-earner so to speak.

And surely a physical connection is just as important in generating love as a psychological one. It is often our physical attraction to another person that first encourages us to talk to them and thus promotes this emotional intimacy. The two, unlike what Dr Aron suggests, cannot be mutually exclusive. Why else would you want to talk to that cutie in your tute?

More recently, I found myself attracted to one particular person in my chemistry lecture for the most bizarre reason. It wasn’t his green eyes or great ass that first caught my attention. It was that he smelt really good.

Naturally, I told no one at first. It’s not something normally discussed. You don’t normally hear anyone say “he just had an amazing, manly musk”. Yet I found myself sitting next to him every lecture and walking together to tutes. It wasn’t until much later that I realised I had become intoxicated by his smell, seeking it every chemistry lecture like an addict accidently exposed to a potent drug.

But it turns out I’m not that weird. Science has proven that we are attracted to people by smell, almost like a pheromone. But rather than attracting a hot bird of our conscious choosing, our smells are attractive to people with different MHC molecules. These molecules are important in our immune system for recognising parasites and other nasties. By being attracted to someone genetically dissimilar to ourselves, we promote more diversity in our offspring, increasing their chance of survival – a fact I wouldn’t recommend mentioning on a first date. Trust me.

So, have we truly been given enough evidence on how to find or even create love? Or are these scientists searching for the same answers we are and attempting to rationalise the dizzy feeling you get when you see your significant other? Is love simply a chemical equation or something well beyond the realms of explanation. According to these studies the best way to find love is to literally sniff around and ask serious questions. But who knows, you may generate some interpersonal closeness. Or get called weird. One or the other.