You might be confused, since we just covered this topic in a recent post. But let’s face it, if that’s the easy way of falling in love, it’s easier to just wait for it to happen randomly.
So, I’m going to make this as easy as I can, mostly so that I can remember it. If I can remember it, we all can remember it. Let’s start with the basics…
What do you mean by falling in love?
These days we have lots of ways of connecting with people - networking events, online dating, volunteering, Cross-Fit, just to start the list. Connecting with people is easy, you find out a little about where they work and where they live with the goal of figuring out how you can most easily leverage the relationship for your agenda.
It makes me a little sick to write that last sentence, but be honest, when was the last time you got to know someone just for the sake of knowing them?
Falling in love means two things - being excited about the long term potential of a budding relationship, and being open to the slow, subtle, inevitable shift in identity that comes from the realization of that potential. Put another way, falling in love means looking forward to becoming someone else with someone else.
Just to be clear, I do not mean some sort of exclusive, soul-mate, squishy, lust-till-the-poetry-ends Hollywood version of falling in love. This isn’t about the movie ending. This is about life long relationships with people you can, and more importantly, want to grow old with.
Who can I fall in love with?
This particular exercise is intended for two people who may perhaps know each other, but not particularly well. That’s not to say that people who know each other can’t use this exercise to fall in love, or that people who are already in love can’t use this exercise to connect even more deeply. But the research I’ve been doing lately is geared around turning acquaintances into relationships, so your millage may vary.
In particular, there are a few things that happen in the first “real” conversation you have with someone. Generally in such a conversation, your expectations are set very low, but your critical thinking is at its peak.
Think about it, if you’re talking with an old friend with whom you’re very comfortable, they can get away with saying anything and you’ll laugh. You’re likely to glaze over if the conversation lags or steers too far from what you normally talk about. However with a potential new relationship about to bloom, there are all kinds of physiological responses kicking into high gear. Is this person safe? Was that joke really funny? Why do they keep looking at my left shoulder? Are they going to stab me with a salad fork?
A serious talk with a casual acquaintance is an exercise in threat assessment, it’s a natural response to the unexpectedness of the situation. But can we really use that to fall in love?
Turns out, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The discomfort places us right on the edge of “excited” and it takes substantially less to push us over. It’s the reason the “friend zone” myth isn’t so mythical.
So I can fall in love with pretty much anyone?
Probably, at the very least you can certainly grow closer to anyone with this exercise. This isn’t a magic ritual, or a verbal equivalent to Love Potion #9. This won’t make people fall in love with you - let’s face it, you’re a complete mess. But it will give you and your conversation partner every opportunity to search for the connection you both long for.
Just remember, the ideal result is for you to become someone else, and to be excited about it. Volunteering for a lobotomy is not for the faint of heart.
Let’s talk about identity for just a moment, since that’s ultimately what we are trying to change here. I don’t think you’ll find anyone else that’s suggesting this, but I’m of the opinion that our identity is like a cube. And it’s not just because I love the Cube, because I do, but that’s not part of this discussion.
Your identity has four sides - Physical, Rational, Emotional, and Spiritual. Because I say so; yes, I totally just made that up. It also has three dimensions - Past, Present, and Future. To make things easy, we are only going to talk about the four sides in the Present dimension. So we have six aspects to our identity - Past, Physical, Rational, Emotional, Spiritual, and Future.
While the words may seem obvious, it may be worth taking a closer look at each of them. Because, again, I totally just made all this up.
Physical is the easiest to understand, even if our physical identity rarely matches up with reality. Your physical identity is how you experience the world, how you sense it and interact with it. It tends to communicate through sensation and time language. Watch the hands during physical responses, it’s hard to keep them still when discussing your physical identity.
Emotional is pretty easy too - How do you feel? How do you feel about the world? How do you feel about yourself? It’s typically what we associate with the right hemisphere of our brains. It tends to communicate with relative and emotive language. Facial expression around the eyes is the primary means of body language here as is holding things close or pushing them away.
Rational is surprisingly difficult in this context, simply because we have to use language to communicate during most of this exercise, which is a decidedly rational activity. But you’re looking for how your conversation partner thinks about the world and themselves. Logical and process language usually expresses the perspective of the rational identity as well as equivalencies. Strong physical contact, such as grabbing your arm or the table or clasping your hands is often a good nonverbal indicator of rational expression.
Spiritual may not be what you first expect. It’s not about whether you have faith; for some folks faith is entirely rational or emotional. Spiritual identity is about legacy, perfection, eternity, humanity. It is the overarching connectedness that ties the self to the selfless. This almost always talks in absolutes, hyperboles, abstracts and of relationships. Lip-centric expressions (smiling / frowning) and broad sweeping motion are the visible signs that people are focused on their spiritual identity.
Your future identity isn’t just your five year plan. That’s often a very rational concept. Your future identity is your hopes, fears, and dreams. It’s the anticipated destination absent the plan. As a child you may have had a future identity of becoming an astronaut, but not have the first clue how to become one. Future identities have many of the same sides as present identities, but there’s always an assumption of change, of different, of better or sometimes of worse. It is this delta that most defines our future identities.
Everyone has an image of their past selves that bears only passing resemblance to the person they truly once were. Our past identity almost always becomes romanticized or marginalized. They are often the center of achievement or regret. Our past identities are what we most often compare to others present selves, and most drives our sense of entitlement and discrimination. If we carry with us the baggage of our past decisions, our past selves are the cargo jet.
So can you fall in love with anyone? Sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s painless. You have to connect your identity bits to their identity bits, and in the course of doing so, open yourself up to changing and rearranging all the bits you once held dear. Falling in love is not without its cost, but therein also lies its reward.
Let’s get this party started - Step 0: Know thyself.
In the next few exercises you’re going to get to know someone. Really get to know them? No, don’t be silly. People are wildly complicated and deep and the most magical thing you’ve ever encountered. You aren’t ever even going to really get to know yourself. But in the next few exercises you’re going to try to uncover bits of identity in someone else. That means you’re going to have to share bits of yourself in the process. Do you even know yourself?
So, let’s start with you. Ask yourself, what is something that I identify as physically. Be nice to yourself. I know you find all the things wrong with yourself and your house and your job and your car and your big toe. But what is something you enjoy about your physical interaction with the world? Can you blow the perfect bubble gum bubble? Can you read a moderately sized work of fiction in under an hour. Can you tie your shoes with your tongue? Do you like the way your bald head feels when pressed against a freshly textured wall? Hold out your hand. Shut your eyes. Look towards your hand and open your eyes. What is the first thing you imagined sitting on your palm?
What about your emotional self… When was the last time you laughed so hard that you did something awkward? How do you feel when you sing in public? If you were standing in a phone booth as people slowly entered the booth one by one, how would your feelings change as more people packed in? How would you describe your emotional state the last time you were at a sporting event and your team lost?
Don’t forget your rational side… If you knew today was going to be perfect, how would you get ready in the morning? What makes your best friend your best friend? If you could never again cook your favorite meal, what would you cook in its place? What is your ideal road trip? If you were stranded on a desert island for years, what would you take with you when you were rescued?
Explore your spiritual side. If the world does remember you, what will they remember you for? What is the perfect desert? Who is the person you most see in yourself? Who do you see yourself most in? If you and one other person could live forever, how would you pick the other person? Whose laugh still rings in your ears? If there was one person you could meet, who would it be and what would be the perfect place to meet them? If you could see inside any one building, who would you tell?
Your past self is a web of complicated half-truths, partial stories, and twisty paradoxes. Who was the first person who made you feel like you were special, and what happened when you realized you weren’t? If you could live any day over again, but before you did you got to tell one person to change their behavior for that day, what would you say to them? What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and how did it change you? If there was one sensory experience you could relieve, how would you try to capture it? What is the most influential thing a teacher ever did for you?
Finally future you is on the block. If you could conquer one fear, what would you do afterwards? If you knew the exact day you were going to leave your current job, what would you do the day before? On your 87th birthday, who’s singing while you blow out the candles? When is the next time you are almost completely certain you will do nothing while watching the sun come up? If you and three other people were standing somewhere no other person had ever stood before, what would be the occasion?
Perhaps you’re thinking I’m not being fair. I’m putting a question under rational, but your answer is decidedly emotional. Maybe I’m asking a question that I think is physical, but for you it’s spiritual. Maybe it’s a future question that you did last week. People are complicated. You are complicated. You are beautiful. Don’t be surprised that you’re surprising. Don’t be surprised that I can’t package you up in a little box. You don’t belong in a little box. Neither do the people you’re going to meet tomorrow.
I’ve put these questions under categories because in a sense the question belongs there. But you don’t belong there. You are rich and wonderful and your identity blurs lines and swirls and flows and defies logic, reason and most physical laws. Isn’t that just lovely?
The point isn’t to force you into a particular way of looking at yourself in the world. Or to force you into a particular way of looking at other people or forcing them to look at themselves. The point is to start to listen to how you share your identity so that you can hear how you share it with others, and how other folks share theirs with you.
Step 1 - Anything is better than nothing
You’re ready to fall in love. I hope you’re excited. I’m excited. I really want you to fall in love. I fell in love with 3.5 people yesterday. It was a good day. Not a great day, but a really good day. I love good days. I hope you fall in love today way more than 3.5 times. At least 4. Everyone thinks that half is hard. It’s not. It’s the other 3 that take effort. I can half fall in love with a rock just as it’s hitting its third bounce on a 14 skip toss across a lake, because you can just tell around the third bounce that it’s going to go the distance. Half love is dumb. Don’t do that. I’m not proud of the half part of the 3.5. I’m not proud of the 3 either. It was just a really good day.
So, here we go. Find out anything, literally anything about as many of the 6 aspects about someone else as you can. Gabriel is the parking garage attendant at an office building I visited yesterday. He’s a very spiritual man. Faith is important to him, and it makes him truly happy to find it in other people, regardless of the specifics. He wants to have a wonderful day just because he woke up that morning. He wants to have a wonderful day with you. He touches parking tickets and money all day, but a handshake can make him almost leap out of his booth. Gabriel was, for lack of a better word, tickled that we both have angel names. Faith is really important to him, and he was truly happy to find it in me.
I love Gabriel. You’d love him too if you met him. Maybe you have met him. Maybe you just didn’t know his name was Gabriel. He really wants you to have a wonderful day. Sincerely. Not just a have-a-great-day-smiley kind of day. We’re talking a leap-out-of-his-booth-left-handed-handshake kind of day.
Yesterday was a really good day.
So, here’s the exercise. You get to ask 6 questions, your partner gets to ask 6 questions. You can ask follow ons and whys and wherefores until you get a respectable answer, but don’t be an ass about it. Don’t ever forget that the whole point here is to fall in love with someone you really really should connect with. Right this second you’re talking to the kind of person that can have a meaningful impact on your life. I’m so envious I can barely contain myself. I would do anything to meet the person you’re about to fall in love with and you get to do it for free. You are so lucky.
The point of these 6 questions is to learn one thing about each of the 6 identity aspects of the other person. You want to learn these things in their words. You might not learn something about all 6. Most folks are pretty private. Don’t try to find the “most” or the “best” or the “worst”, you’re literally looking for anything.
Isn’t that shooting a little low? Absolutely. You’re not trying to dissect them. This isn’t a demolition exercise. You don’t even want to scratch the surface. It’s more like a high school lunch line. You’re going to pass in front of each station and take what’s given. It might be Salisbury steak. It might be lobster bisque. It might be that light green sludge that passed for veggie casserole. Or maybe it didn’t pass. But it doesn’t matter. You take what you’re given graciously and move on.
Falling in love is about connecting. It is a human necessity to connect on the light things first before entrusting the heavy things. I fell in love with Addison once. A truly amazing woman, we hit it off spectacularly the first night she was my waitress. We talked about ridiculously deep things, things that even close friends might not share with me or I with them. But we had shared no shallow things and we couldn’t talk well after that. We had nowhere to start but all in, and you just don’t always have the time or energy to go all in when you’re trying to cover two sections.
That makes me sad; Addison is a truly amazing woman I won’t ever see again. If you ever meet her, fall in love with her as quickly as you can, just don’t forget the small stuff. And tell her I love her. Also, hi.
Before we move on, I should point out - be creative. Don’t say, “what is your physical identity?” because no one talks like that. Say something more like, “If a Greek sculptor had met you before finishing their masterpiece, what part of you would they be most likely to include in the final form?” because that’s fun. Be fun. Ask questions that subtly betray the kind of things you’re into. I guess you can be not-so-subtle too. It disappoints me, but I know that someone will ask “So, I’m a leg guy. Do you think your legs are more Christina Applegate in the early years of Married with Children, or Jane Fonda in Newsroom?” I suppose I have to respect that at least you’re trying to fall in love.
Step 2: Rinse and Repeat, with change
This step is my favorite. It’s the most positive part of the whole exercise. There are two parts. The first is to find out what your conversation partner wants to change about each of their 6 aspects. Most people only have one or two things they want to change, so you don’t have to use that “most” language here either. Just find something that they want to change about themselves or their world - preferably the sooner the better.
The second is tricky and just a tiny bit scary. You don’t get 6 questions this time, you only get 5. Instead of one of the questions you have to propose a topic that you both will have to answer, and the topic needs to be about the other person. The traditional example is “What are three things we both have in common?” It goes back and forth between the two of you, so 6 things in total in this example. And you have to start.
The traditional example uses “we”, but “we” is something I would suggest avoiding until there’s really going to be a “we”. Or until step 3. I’m afraid I’m going to make you say “we” in step 3. But in step 2, I’d recommend sticking to things like, “Let’s come up with 2 things that might be the first things someone notices about you or me when they walk in the room.”
I’m going to be honest, I’m really bad with this one. I’m struggling to come up with decent examples. I find it exceedingly difficult to ask someone else what they think of me. I find it relatively difficult to tell someone else what I think of them. These are things I generally don’t feel qualified to comment on. Might explain a lot right there.
But, this is the exercise. Did you think I was writing all this for your benefit? How silly of you. If I write it, then I have to do it. That’s how writing works. It’s very similar to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Wait, no, it’s nothing like that at all. It’s much closer to jumping out of a parachute without a plane. Yep, nailed it. I’m a metaphorian genius. And humble. If I write it, I have to do it.
Step 3: Brace yourself for the immutable
We all have things that we can’t, or aren’t about to change. When it comes to spirituality, I will simply not back down when it comes to love. It’s what I do. It’s why I do the other things I do. Even when I’m not doing it, I’m still doing it. If only I were actually good at it. Which is why there is a step 3.
We tend to not have many things that are unchangeable about ourselves. At least, that’s what we think. You’d be shocked how much of yourself is hallowed ground as far as you’re concerned. And when you’ve reached this point of the exercise, there’s a good chance you both have an idea of what that might be in the other.
Find some of those things, as much as you’re both willing to share. Ask the scary questions. Who is the one person you can’t let go of? Have they let go of you? What’s the deepest you’ve ever been hurt? Did you forgive the person who hurt you? If everyone you loved was trapped in a burning building, who would you save? How could you live with yourself afterwards? If you lost one of your senses tomorrow, who would you ask for help? What is the fear you will live your whole life with?
Step 3 isn’t very positive, but it can be if you try very hard. Either way, it needs to be the kind of questions that evoke a response not just from answering but from hearing. At this point, there is enough trust in the budding relationship that literally every interaction is forming and strengthening connections. Hold hands if you’re comfortable; hold eye contact even if you’re not. Be free and open with your body language and expressions.
At this point, you’re literally remapping part of your brain. Seriously, I’m not kidding. It’s Vulcan level mind melding. Don’t hold back. Give part of yourself and take part of them in return. Take the beautiful bits from each other and leave them sitting on the table. Take the ugly bits and discard them. Mash all the beautiful bits around into a paste, until you can’t see where you end and they begin. Finger paint with your beautiful bit paste all over the ceilings and the walls. Cry. Laugh. Hug. Finger paint some more. Find more bits. Keep mashing and painting until everything looks like “we”.
Oops, left that part out. This time, instead of 6 questions you only get 4. And instead of proposing a topic that you both have to answer about the other, this time you have to trade in 2 questions for two topics that you have to answer about yourselves together. I told you the “we” was in step 3. It’s not just on the floors and ceilings, you have to talk about it too.
If we were stranded in a city neither of us have ever been to, what are 3 things we could do that we would both enjoy? If we went out right now and spent $20 in 3 different places, where would we go or what would we buy? If we could have 2 people walk into this room right now and join our conversation, who would we both enjoy? If in 5 years we had dinner, what would we be excited to talk to each other about?
“We” is a beautiful place. Don’t rush to get there, but when you do, make it count. “We” is one of those few times in life where you don’t even have to fight against the urge to make it all about “I”. Fight for “we” and fight to keep it once you find it.
Step 4: Shut the door, open the window
I used this in the last post about falling in love to describe step 4. It’s just so great even though I hate it - the phrase, not step 4. I love step 4. Shut the door - stop talking. Open the window - make eye contact. Look in their eyes and don’t look anywhere else. Look for 4 minutes. 4 full minutes. Set an alarm if you have to. Better yet, cheat and set it for 4 hours “accidentally.” Don’t talk.
The last time I did this, I walked away with nicknames for her eyes. Dot and Dagger. Do you know what it can do to you when you have nicknames for someone’s eyes? Do you know what it does to them? Do you want to find out?
Eyes, people. Eyes. In 4 minutes I watched time stretch from the birth of the universe straight through to the collapse of everything. I was in there somewhere, for just the tiniest moment. I was a brief flicker, but I was definitely there. I really liked seeing me in someone else’s eternity eyes even if I couldn’t find myself again. You aren’t even human if you can look in Dot and Dagger, see yourself flash by in an infinite instant, and not fall completely in love.
Honestly I question if you’re human if you drive past Gabriel without wishing him a wonderful day. Not because you’re not worthy of being a human, but because you’re missing out on one of the best parts about being one. He’s got an angel’s name, for crying out loud.
Please fall in love. Lots. Find the divine in someone as soon as you possibly can. Find the divine in someone as often as you possibly can. Show off the divine in you. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would love to fall in love with you. Maybe that’s not fair, since I’ve clearly fallen in love with falling in love with love, but let’s not mince words. The next person you meet wants to connect with you just as much as I do, they just might not know it yet. Believe me, you’re in for a treat. Especially if it’s Gabriel or Addison, they’re wonderful.
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