The Elle & Esquire Love Experiment

In early February, Keziah Weir from Elle magazine contacted me with an unusual request. She was working on an assignment for the May issue that involved a series of blind dates between her and a writer from Esquire magazine. Over the course of three weeks, they wanted to see if the science of attraction could help them fall in love or at least spark a feeling of mutual attraction between them. Keziah wanted to know if I would serve as their compatibility expert, but she told me that she realized this was kind of a weird media request and she said that she would certainly understand if I did not feel up to it.

I told her that she had me at “weird” and asked her when we would start.

One week later I met Keziah and Nate (the writer at Esquire) at Hearst Tower where both magazines are headquartered in New York City. They planned to go on a series of dates over three weeks, but these were no ordinary dates. On their first date they answered a series of 36 Questions – New York Times that requires an unusual amount of self-disclosure, they would spit into beakers so that their saliva could be tested at a lab for immunological compatibility, going on thrill seeking dates, and a handful of other dates and experiences. My role was to serve as their “compatibility expert”, someone who could facilitate discussions about their prospects of being romantically compatible.

My general impression after our first meeting was “why not?” Keziah and Nate are what your parents would call “a catch”, attractive, bright, personable, well mannered, etc., and so they each possessed desirable characteristics. But I was most struck by their sincerity and this raw honesty as we discussed their relationship pasts and possible futures made me privately hope that this experiment just might work.

I won’t play spoiler, but you can see what happened in the May issues of Elle and Esquire magazines or find the links to the stories online at Elle and Esquire. But I will tell you that I found this project to be an incredibly thought provoking experience. Even though researchers have made great advances that help us understand some of the key elements necessary for romantic attraction, the process will probably always carry an element of unpredictability.

You might think that social scientists, who search for order and strive for accurate prediction, would fuss about this lack of perfect order. But I like it better this way. I’m happy that in our modern world of big data and algorithms that romantic love retains a bit of mystery. It also make me happy to know that you still need a dash of magic to catalyze that unusual chemical reaction in your brain, the one that makes your heart beat a little faster and that sets the butterflies in your stomach aflutter.

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