How to Fall in Love with Anyone
By Mandy Len Catron
Simon & Schuster, 2017
256 pages, Hardcover, $35
Reviewed by NANCY
I was eager to read about how to fall in love with anyone. Imagine, a way to guarantee success when attempting something as nebulous as finding love. As I read Mandy Len Catron’s book, I felt like I’d been lured into a store with the promise of getting something of value only to discover I was a victim of a slick bait-and-switch ad campaign.
After slogging through chapter after chapter, waiting for an answer and instructions, I came to the conclusion that I was reading a memoir liberally sprinkled with references to research.
Catron’s intellectual approach to love is thought-provoking. In trying to understand love, she researches extensively, starts a blog, writes an essay for the New York Times and then writes a book.
During her research, Catron came across Dr. Arthur Aron’s study published in 1997. The study on developing interpersonal relationships included a list of 36 questions intended to generate interpersonal closeness. The theory was that two strangers could form a bond quickly by answering progressively more revealing questions. Answering the questions forced people to move beyond the usual narrative they offered to strangers, creating a pathway to exploring the deeper aspects of themselves and their partner.
By using the 36 questions that Dr. Aron developed as the basis for her book, Catron implies that the questions used during the study could induce love. But this was not the conclusion of Dr. Aron’s team. And it wasn’t Catron’s personal experience, either. When she and her date found the questions on the Internet and decided to try them out over drinks one evening, they didn’t even know if they had the original questions.
Falling in love is not an exact science. Two people who really like each other and are equally committed to and capable of answering Dr. Aron’s questions honestly have a higher likelihood of bonding faster. Catron concedes that the questions won’t result in a love match without the attraction factor. If the chemistry isn’t there, no questionnaire is going to make you fall in love.
The book is an interesting read. It took me on a long ramble through the Appalachian hills with the author giving the details of her research, her revelations regarding herself and her family, and why she was so determined to understand true love. The book appeals because most people are interested in love and most have struggled with finding the perfect partner. It is a “brave and scary act” to form an attraction for another, not knowing if your feelings will be reciprocated.
Catron checks out science as well as romantic literature. She reads Keats and other classics. She looks at studies by psychologists, scientists and sociologists. She references Netflix, audiobooks, essays, novels, podcasts and stories from her grandparents, parents, strangers and friends. The stories we are exposed to and those we tell ourselves about love really influence our expectations and assumptions about relationships and affect how we approach them.
“The problem with most conventional love stories,” writes Caron, “is that they fail to expand what we know about love. They limit. They prescribe. And it is very easy to consume the same story over and over as you go about your life without even noticing it.” The familiar is attractive, even if it doesn’t work. We gravitate to what we know. “Stories give us models for how a life can look,” Caron observes. But stories often leave out important details. They gloss over the speed bumps a relationship can hit and can lead to a dead-end. Taking a new approach to love can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it could make for a better journey in the long run.
Behind Caron’s front as a cerebral love researcher, her poetic and personal passages suggest she is a romantic. Consider this passage: “I thought I loved him a year ago, and I did. But now that love has a different tenor. It is deeper and rounder. It has accounted for the smell of his running shoes and the sharp edges of my impatience and the dog’s shifting loyalties, and all the demands of another body occupying a space that used to be mine.”
“Love is a choice we make again and again,” reads the blurb in bold letters on the back cover. It accurately sums up what is in this book. But, alas, if it had appeared on the front cover, who would have bought this book?
The premise the book is based on – a list of questions designed to make you fall in love with anyone – is false. What is true is that a close relationship is established between people through knowledge of one another. Dr. Aron’s questions were designed to speed up the getting to know you process, which can increase the likelihood of love developing.
I liked that in studying love, Catron’s awareness expanded to an appreciation of the diversity of loving relationships. Besides the stories we are bombarded with culturally, there are nonconventional expressions of love, such as relationships that fall outside the cis-gender stereotype.
Catron models how one can challenge their perceptions and assumptions about love. I found myself reflecting on my own experience. Had my expectations affected what kind of relationship I ended up in? What examples of love had I seen growing up and how did this influence my approach to love? This book had me thinking about love in a different way. Reading her examples, I realized how strongly my upbringing shaped my relationships and my life. Perhaps that is the true purpose of the book.
This is more of a tell-all than a how-to book. Catron shares her illusions, discontent and confusion about love and what is going on inside her. She takes the reader on her personal journey of discovery. She shares her thoughts about love, the myths she believed in, the misconceptions she arrived at, and how and why they came to be. It was interesting to see how her psyche worked.
Catron has written a modern day love story. “Eventually I figured it out: Trying to enact the script of love isn’t enough to generate love. And to force love into the narrow parameters conventional love stories have long prescribed doesn’t serve us.” I think her writing style and her revelations will resonate with many in generations X and Y.
Can you use a list of questions to guarantee you fall in love with anyone? No. There are few guarantees in love or life. But the questions will facilitate relationship building as they can help people establish “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Answer Dr. Aron’s questions, which are included in the book, alone or with another person and you’ll learn a lot about your partner and probably a lot about yourself as well.
Nancy, Night Sky Woman, has been doing psychic card readings professionally for over 20 years. She is also an astrologer and has studied a variety of spiritualities and philosophies. She has been writing Taroscopes for over six years and teaches the tarot through lifelong learning. She reads out of the Bella Vista Restaurant and at events around Winnipeg, MB. To book an appointment or for information about classes, you can reach Nancy at 204-775-8368 or by email at email@example.com.