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How to fall in love (for the first time or again) this Valentine’s Day

fallingHave you noticed that love is in the air this month? It’s that time of year when grocery stores and shopping malls are full of chocolate hearts, red roses and unconditional love seems to be on everyone’s mind. Why is love something that we seem to practice only when Hallmark tells us to? How do we make time for relationships when we are so busy trying to get through work, homework, housework, parenting, elder care, and errands? For many women, it seems like all work and no play. Where did the fun and intimacy go when we fell in love and couldn’t wait to see our partners?

Someone asked me recently what I thought was the secret to great relationships and maintaining the “in love” magic. I said that I thought “it was three hours a week of intimate time where there is sensuous touch, eye contact and conversation that isn’t about work and kids”. I’ve been pushing sensuous date nights for a while with my marriage-counseling clients. It turns out that conversation, touch, and eye gazing really are the secrets to falling (and staying in love) according to the study by Arthur Aron that is getting loads of airplay this Valentine’s season. Aron did a study in 1997 that paired 33 students (who were open to the possibility of falling love with a stranger) and had the couples ask each other 37 personal questions followed by four minutes of eye gazing. The couples in questions felt a tremendous amount of intimacy towards their previously unknown partner. One couple who met during the study actually got married.

So is it that simple? For women, conversation is huge. I used to use random questions from If… the Book of Questions as an ice breaker during my singles and couples workshops. Things like “if you were a carnival ride, which one would you be and why?” Or “What dessert would best describe your personality?” Asking personal questions of someone quickly creates intimacy between individuals and is one of the best ways to rapidly get people talking. And it turns out the type of question you ask helps find the type of relationship you are looking for.
A study by OkCupid.com found more casual questions such as ‘Do you like the taste of beer?’ were more likely to lead to a one-night stand than a long-term relationship. Questions about kids, pets, and favourite books are far more likely to help you find a partner that sticks. So if you are single, make your first dating contact letter full of interest and questions about the other person. That and lots of eye gazing by the third date and you will no doubt stand out from the crowd of many possible suitors.

So what are the elements of great relationships and how do you sustain them? While people have been trying to define love for millennia, as a sex and relationship therapist, in my opinion love is a mix of the pragmatic and the nebulous. I think that in order for love to sustain itself beyond the first year of honeymoon “in love hormones” and to endure, there needs to be a connection in four areas. First there needs to be chemistry. It’s an elusive quality, poorly defined, but critical for great love. Scientists would argue that it is a mixture of pheromones relating to a good genetic match and something else that makes your heart flutter. Secondly, love has a physical component. You need to find that person physically attractive. They don’t need to be body perfect, but there must be some features that really appeal when you see them. There also needs to be a lifestyle and intellectual match. The guy next door or someone most like yourself who becomes your best friend consistently offers the best chance for happiness and longevity in a relationship. Look for someone you have tons in common with even if they don’t seem like “your type” at first glance. Finally the emotional connection of same values leads into bonds that stick even when the going gets tough.

So meet people with commonalties of values, intellect, and lifestyle. You meet a number of them and with one of them the chemistry will hit you between the eyes. For couples who have been together awhile, work on or re-introduce those things that brought you together. Then stir up those cooling embers with intimate conversation and absolutely make time to look into each other’s eyes.

Forget asking for chocolate and flowers. Uninterrupted time, proximity, personal conversation, and face to face touch will pay the biggest dividends this Valentine’s Day.
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