In January of 2015, Mandy Len Catron of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver told millions of Americans through The New York Times, “to fall in love with anyone do this.”
The technique did not involve a Harry Potter- esque love potion. Instead, it employs a psychological study from almost twenty years ago, raising the question: can love really be distilled into 36 questions?
The Internet fell in love with the idea of a test, and in under a month the App Store could say, “Yes there’s an app for that.”
Speaking of apps, the cyber fairy tale “Her” reveals the modern unease of love in a technological society.
Theodore answers three questions from which the techno gods derive the perfect companion for him. This mirrors the compatibility tests common on online dating, but to a new extreme: not only do the answers match up partners, they create a perfect lover. In the face of our growing capacity to tailor the world, are humans with differing expectations, varied proclivities and omnipresent insecurities doomed to go obsolete?
Enter the magical study that promises to control the variables of meeting someone.
Now, even in person interactions can be structured with rigorous protocols and limits that assuage any remaining hope of disappointment.
The study does not claim to create love, nor does it guarantee a second conversation (only a 57% chance of that).
Instead, Dr. Aron and company use “experimental manipulation” to create closeness that can be “accessible to laboratory study.”
The laboratory represents an environment where risky things, such as explosions, chemical reactions and even skin eating bacteria, are rendered harmless through meticulous control and observation.
Likewise, the setting longed for in love is one where the risks and dangers (explosions, chemical reactions and skin eating bacteria) are mitigated.
Like late night TV commercials full of products doomed for Walmart, love now comes with a risk free, money back guarantee.
Therein lies the entire crux of the modern condition.
Tinder embodies the modern fear of risk, of rejection.
On Tinder you can literally never be rejected and, on the flip side, rejecting holds no risk of hurting their feelings because rejection sends no notifications.
But perhaps the cautionary tale we need comes from “The Twilight Zone.” In “The Chaser,” a man buys a potion that guarantees to make someone fall in love with him.
It works, but he soon tires of the artificial and absolute affection, demonstrating that induced attraction through interventionist and scientific or magical means creates unsustainable forms of desire.
As French Philosopher Alain Badiou put it, “love cannot be a gift given on the basis of a complete lack of risk.”
But to answer the question of whether love can be distilled, I turn to Dr. Aron, who writes, “Yes and no” because while similar, “it seems unlikely that the procedure produces loyalty, dependence, commitment or other relationship elements that take longer to develop.”
The same things that the Chaser lacks. The same thing that can only be found in risk, such as suggesting a psych experiment on the first date.