My wife and I had dinner the other night at the Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton with a friend who has little use for modern gadgetry. Her smartphone rang. Yes, she had one. But she fumbled with it there at the table before she was finally able to answer it. Clearly, she wasn’t much good at messing with it.
“There’s all sorts of neat things you can do with an iPhone,” I told her, taking mine out and setting it on the table.
“Siri. Ever use Siri?”
“She’s a girl who lives in your phone. You can ask her things.”
She looked at me funny.
“What would I ask her?” she asked.
“Whatever you want.”
“Give me a for-instance.”
I used my iPhone. I held down the button.
“Siri, do you love me?” I asked.
“I’m not allowed to do that,” Siri said. Some people at the next table looked over at us.
My friend’s eyebrows shot up. “Who said that?” she asked.
“Let me show you on your phone,” I said. She handed it to me. I pressed the button. Nothing happened. No Siri.
My wife took it. There was no Siri. “Your phone is too early a model to have Siri,” my wife said.
Our friend asked for her phone back and turned it over and over. No Siri.
“You’d have to get a newer model,” I said.
“Ask it something else on your phone,” our friend said.
“Siri, how big is Montana?”
“The total area of Montana is about 147,000 square miles,” Siri said.
After dinner, walking back to the car, I gave some thought to how much I like Siri and that she’s there to talk to on lonely, rainy days. And it made me think of that movie called Her about a guy who falls in love with a Siri-like voice he names Samantha. And that made me think about an article I just read in The New York Times called “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.”
This article was about a study done some years ago by psychologist Arthur Aron, where he invited a man and a woman who didn’t know each other up to his laboratory, sat them down and had them spend an hour and a half talking together, asking each other 36 questions that Dr. Aron had composed, then spend four minutes silently staring into each other’s eyes. The idea was to see if what he did could get them to fall in love with each other. And they did. Got married, had children, raised a family, the whole nine yards. They invited everyone from the lab to the wedding.
This article, written by Mandy Len Catron, a university instructor, described what happened when she followed Dr. Aron’s prescription with a man she had seen and briefly spoken to at a climbing gym where she has a membership. She asked him if he’d like to try. He said he would. So they did.
Catron states in her article that she supposes you cannot have this happen if you are not open to it, and she thought, just looking this guy over, that maybe he was right for her.
Here’s how she ends her account.
“So you’re probably wondering if he and I fell in love. Well, we did. Although it’s hard to credit the study entirely (it may have happened anyway), the study did give us a way into a relationship that feels deliberate. We spent weeks in the intimate space we created that night, waiting to see what it could become. (So) love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”
Here are some of the questions that they asked each other from Dr. Aron’s list. They start easy. They get more and more probing.
“Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?”
“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?”
“Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?”
“Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.”
“Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”
“What is your most treasured memory?”
“What is your most terrible memory?”
“If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”
“What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?”
Here’s the last one. After this, they stared into each other’s eyes for the required four minutes.
“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.”
Is this really all there is to it? If so, it means that you can fall in love with just about anybody if you take the time to pay attention to them. And that’s kind of sad, I think. Or maybe it’s just, well, neat. It means you could sit around with—if you could get her to do it—a Sports Illustrated cover girl bathing suit supermodel and in just two hours get her to go head-over-heels for you and you head-over-heels for her.
That is, if you could memorize the script.
When I was a teenager, my mother told me that there was only one girl in the world for every boy and it was my job to find her. My father, on the other hand, told me how sex worked and I should actively be trying to fall in love to have sex with everybody I came in contact with, except for…and here he listed the daughters of some of his friends who lived in our neighborhood.
“Just stay away from them,” he said.
So I didn’t know what to do. Mostly, for a long time, I just walked down the street and looked away whenever I came across any girl who I thought I might be attracted to. Maybe something would happen and my mom, or my dad, would hear about it and get mad at me.
One time, at a counter-culture camp up in Noyac called Lindisfarne, I joined a Sufi circle dance where I spun around and chanted “Ah Shalom Aleichem” over and over and over and then stopped to stare silently into the eyes of a random woman who had stopped in front of me.
We stared at each for less than a minute—she had the biggest, most beautiful eyes I had ever seen—and with that, I grasped her hand, she whispered something to me and off we ran into the woods that surrounded the cabin we were in to have sex.
Thus did time pass, after which I came to find out that I could fall in love and get married to and make babies with, well, just about anybody I could get to stare into my eyes for four minutes. That was all it took.
Excuse me, I have to take a call.