A couple of days ago I read an article in a newspaper about two people who decided to recreate a 1997 experiment devised by psychologist Arthur Aron. The experiment consisted of two strangers asking each other 36 set questions within the space of an hour, after which they had to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Apparently the authors of the experiment suggest that “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” leads to a “key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship.” In other words, the 36 questions could very well lead to two people falling in love.
This article came at a relevant time for me. I’m just at that stage in my wip where the hero and heroine realise they have fallen in love with one another. I’m very anxious to make this credible for my readers. How often have you read a book where the heroine suddenly has a lightbulb moment, realising she’s actually in love with the hero? And you, as a reader, go WHAT? You’ve never shown any inclination of being in love before this. All you do is argue, and the hero is an arse. And now you say you’re in love?? At this point, you toss the book aside.
Because I’m at this stage in my manuscript, I’ve been asking myself what is it that makes people fall in love? I’ve been going over novels I’ve read – or films I’ve watched – where the process of two characters falling in love is handled well, and in a believable fashion, and asking myself what makes a credible situation for two fictional characters to fall in love in the first place. Why do they do so? What has happened in the build-up to the realisation that they’re in love, to make it credible?
In a romance novel, the part where the hero and heroine realise they’re in love is THE major turning point. I’m thinking of two stories where this is handled in a great way. One of them is Pride and Prejudice, of course, the single most perfect romance story. I remember reading the scene where Darcy confesses to Lizzie that, despite himself, he has fallen in love with her and wants her to marry him. I was a teenager at the time and – lucky, lucky me! – had no idea this was going to happen. I remember clearly my shock at the scene. “What? He’s actually in love with her?? No WAY!” It’s a masterly scene because, despite the surprise value, the reader feels no sense of disbelief that Darcy could be in love with Lizzie. Of course he could. We’re all in love with Lizzie by this stage. It’s just that he’s hidden his emotions so well, and we feel Lizzie’s enormous surprise and anger at his arrogant proposal. After this, and after Darcy writes Lizzie an eloquent letter, we see her gradually falling in love in her own turn. It’s a gradual process, and the actual point where Lizzie realises she’s in love isn’t clear (although she does tell her sister Jane, tongue-in-cheek, that she knew for sure when she saw Darcy’s estate at Pemberley :) ).
Another story I’m thinking of where there’s an excellent scene in which the two protagonists realise they’re in love is the brilliant The Sound of Music. It’s the scene of the ball, and Baron von Trapp asks Maria to dance. Afterwards they stare into each other’s eyes (not for four minutes, as in the psychologists’ experiment, but to the viewer it feels like an age :) ) Of course shortly after that, Maria runs away, and it’s such a pivotal scene that in the days when there was an interval in cinemas, this is where everyone drew in a big breath and went to get an ice-cream to try and cool down.
And so this is why I’ve been fascinated with this recent experiment. I come back again to the findings that “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” is the key to forming a close relationship. Isn’t this exactly what a good romance novel is all about? If there has been this level of growing intimacy throughout the course of a novel, then the reader will have no difficulty accepting that the hero and heroine have fallen in love, no matter what the situation is between them. In fact, the reader will be willing them to get together!
If you’re interested in reading the article I saw this week, you can find it here.
And if you’d like to know what the 36 questions that could make you fall in love are, I’ve pasted them here:
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling _______.”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share _______.”
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
How about you? Why do you think two people fall in love? If you have a partner, can you remember the moment you realised you were in love? And what’s your favourite moment in a novel or film where the protagonists realise they’re in love?
If you have any questions or comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!