Feb. 15, 2022

Love, actually: The science behind love & everything we know about it

Love, actually: The science behind love & everything we know about it

L is for the way you listen to me

O is for the only pod you need

V is very, very honest commentary

E is even more episodes that’ll never bore



I’m aware that was mad cheesy, but I started and I couldn’t stop until it was finished. For better or more likely for worse. But what can I say? L-o-v-e is in the air.



This week on Thinking Is Cool, thanks to everyone’s favorite Hallmark holiday, is a week to think about love in all of its richness and its many forms.



But because I can’t help myself…we’re going to do it with a twist. Today, we’re not just talking about love. We’re learning about how it comes to exist. There are scientifically proven ways to create an environment for love, and it involves doing more than just recreating the final scene from the Parent Trap.



So hit play and settle in for a fun little jaunt through what makes love so unimaginably wonderful. You’ll hear from Dr. Arthur Aron, a research professor at SUNY Stony Brook who studies love and piloted a method for creating immediate intimacy and connection between strangers. You’ll also hear from some Thinking Is Cool listeners about their own diverse perspectives on love. And you’ll hear from me! Notorious lover of love and huge sap.



I hope you hit play, let the love wash over you, and enjoy. Sending you a big old hug or high five wherever you are. 



And if you’re so inclined: Flowers say I’m sorry, chocolate says I love you, and sharing Thinking Is Cool says “I’m an intellectual.” I’d love it if you sent the show to someone special in your life :)



Final note: Thank you to our friends at Massican for making this episode possible. I’ll be uncorking a bottle of Annia tonight to honor all the love in my life. Buy a bottle for yourself here or hit up Whole Foods or your local fine wine shop. You’re gonna love it.


Do you insist on ending every phone call and conversation with your friends and family and significant other by saying “I love you” so that’s the last thing you ever tell them just in case something bad happens to you…or are you normal?


My name is Kinsey Grant and I’m not normal. What I am though is both someone who loves love and the host of this show, Thinking Is Cool. Where we promise to make your next conversation better than your last.


If you’re new here, I’m so glad this is the episode you’ve come to first. What you’re about to hear is like sappy Kinsey level 100, which I think is me at the top of my game. If you’re not new here, welcome back and thank you for being brave enough to return to Thinking Is Cool after I said the words “post-coital” in last week’s episode. I’m going off-script again today so I can't promise that I won’t say post-coital again, but I don’t have any plans or ambitions to do so, so we should be safe.


So…this show is all about fostering good, thoughtful conversations that push us to think in new ways and reflect and become more curious. An unintended consequence of all of that happening in my own life has been this breathtaking influx of connection. I’ve found that having these deeper conversations with people, even with people with whom I disagree, makes me feel closer to them. To hear someone speak passionately and ask questions and listen with intent is so endearing.


And this week, thanks to everyone’s favorite Hallmark holiday, is a week to think about love. Also I have like some really intense episodes coming out over the next two months and I want to take this chance to talk about something happy and sappy and lovey dovey.


But because I can’t help myself…we’re going to do it with a twist. Today, we’re not just talking about love. We’re learning about how it comes to exist. There are scientifically proven ways to create an environment for love, and it involves doing more than just recreating the final scene from the Parent Trap.


Today on Thinking Is Cool: The science of love…and everything we know about it.


*Transition music*


Now, before we jump into today’s stuff—an interview, some audience commentary, some script-free pontificating, I want to hit briefly on something new. Every week, I hop in the feed here and introduce a concept that I hope will spark conversation for all of you. But I want to do better at following through on those conversation starters. 


Last week, I released an episode about onscreen sex and nudity and the portrayal of intimacy in media these days that I find somewhat troubling. My conclusion was two-fold: 1) writers should write good scripts that don’t rely on a young actor’s full frontal to get viewers and 2) people really love to talk about on screen sex. Imagine! 


I received far more feedback than I usually do for this episode, and I want to talk specifically about two pieces of feedback that ended up sparking really interesting conversations for me and the listeners who brought them to my attention.


First is the idea that Euphoria and the plot events taking place within the show are unrealistic. I said that some aspects of the show might feel totally out of bounds for viewers—mostly the heartbreaking addiction, but also the sex and partying and lack of general awareness of the future. A listener, in response to that specific aspect of the episode, asked me what my HS experience was like and I explained that it was as vanilla as you could possibly imagine. No real partying, no police chases, no opiate addicts that I knew of. 


And she pointed out that that was my experience, singular. She said her experience was actually not that far off from Euphoria and that my identification of what I considered to be plot holes was perhaps instead an instance of my own lived experience limiting me.


I think she was right, and all we have to go on is our lived experience. Mine was really plain, hers was not. But I’m grateful she was willing to share her stories so I could understand what I might not be capable of imagining. 


Next up, a listener came to me with an interesting social media inspired perspective. He noticed that a lot of people on TikTok and Instagram and Twitter were saying “Nate Jacobs can get it.” Nate Jacobs, of course, being the twisted jock character played by the actor Jacob Elordi. It’s interesting, this listener pointed out, that viewers aren’t saying “Jacob Elordi can get it.” They’re saying that his character, who is objectively torturous if not violent to the people in his life, can get it. 


It brings up a lot of interesting conversations about the ways that we comingle our interpretations of characters and the actors who play them based on how physical or sexual they are in a piece of film or TV…and what it says about the people of the internet that they’re thirsting after a sexualized but very bad character.


So…that’s what got me thinking post-episode last week. I hope you’ll reach out and share what this week’s episode stirs within in you, in your group chats, and at your dinner tables. With that…let’s get things started. 


As always, nothing is off limits. Everything is on the table. Take it anywhere. And remember, thinking is cool and so are you.


*Transition music*


This episode is happening partially because it’s Valentine’s Day. It’s also happening partially because I convinced my boyfriend to do the New York Time’s now famous exercise titled 36 Questions That Lead to Love.


You might have heard of it—it’s three sets of increasingly personal questions that are designed to create closeness between the people both answering them. The questions start off easy with things like:

  • 5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
  • 7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?


Then they level up in set 2 to bigger ideas that get closer to the core of who you are. Things like:

  • 15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
  • 18. What is your most terrible memory?
  • 24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?


By the third and final set, you’re in deep. And not just in terms of self-reflection…in terms of the person you’re sitting across from and the way you feel about them too. You’re dealing with questions like:

  • 25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling ... “
  • 30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
  • 33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?


These questions were designed by a team of researchers who study closeness and love. They’re typically used as a means of fostering a close interpersonal relationship and connection between two strangers in a condensed amount of time…so that said researchers can then get to the meat of their work by learning how two close people interact.


It’s a means of accelerating connection and intimacy for two people who are both committed to doing it.


And it works. I laughed and cried and blushed and then, upon completing the 36 questions with my boyfriend, felt closer to him than I had at any point in our, at that point, seven-month relationship. Intimacy and connection, these gigantic prerequisites for love, can be engineered in a non-synthetic way.


But, as the interview you’re about to hear will tell you, it’s no scientific method for falling in love. We know a lot about love…but do we know that just yet? How about I let the expert take over for a bit.


You’re about to hear an edited version of an interview I had recently with Dr. Arthur Aron, a research professor in psychology at State University of New York in Stony Brook. Professor Aron is one of the lead researchers who came up with the now-famous 36 questions, and he’s been studying passionate and romantic love for a very long time now. 


We talked about a lot—attachment styles, Dr. Aron’s own yearslong marriage and what makes it work, how I—someone who is very anxious in relationships—can rationalize my feelings to better understand my partner and his motivations, and even why you should go skydiving with your partner to keep things interesting. It was a fascinating conversation…more than half of which was lost due to a recording crisis.


So Dr. Aron, being the kind man he is, hopped back on the phone with me to re-answer some questions. Discrepancies in audio? That’s what’s to blame. Now, let’s get to it.


*Transition here*


KINSEY: Well, professor Erin, thank you so much for being here today. Um, I, I came across your work online, uh, in a way that I'm sure many people have probably come across your work over the last five or so years.


And it was through the New York times is now pretty famous, very viral at the time. Piece inspired by your work. That was 36 questions that lead to love. It went crazy on the internet. Everybody was talking about it. And I ended up doing this 36 questions that lead to love with my boyfriend  and it was. Illuminating to say the least  I think that having that close. That we sat down with the purpose of achieving has made a difference in our relationship and has informed the way that we communicate going forward.


Now, from what I understand, this is not necessarily a formula for falling in love with somebody or falling deeper in love with somebody it's not the full story. This exercise, there is no scientifically proven method for falling in love with someone, right?


ARTHUR: that's correct. There's um, we know. Um, my lab and others have done a fair amount of research on people. Who've recently fallen in love and ask what happened. And we have some ideas of what leads do it, but, uh, we haven't experimentally tested it. We know a lot about what leads to initial attraction, but that's not quite the same as falling in love.


KINSEY: yes. I have been attracted to a lot of people, but I have only loved a small handful of people. So what do we know about. The variables that might create an environment in which love can happen.  What are the, maybe the constants or, um, you know, the, the things that impact our ability or our openness or willingness to fall in love? What have you learned about this?


ARTHUR: Well, of course, when we're talking about love, we're telling you about romantic love, not love of children or love of God, or love of your love of money, whatever. Um, and, uh, what we know from my research and others is that the most likely circumstances, uh, for falling in love is when the other person is reasonably desirable and true.


They don't have to be extremely, but within the ballpark and they do something that indicates they like you, that's often the turning point. Um, it's, you know, we often think that playing hard to get is a good thing. Uh, what most of the research shows is it's good to play for others. Hard to get that as you're playing that others have a hard time getting me, but I like you, uh, that can help.


There's a number of other things that can matter thinking we have things in. It turns out it's not that important to have things in common, but to think you have things in common is, is pretty important.


KINSEY: And of course, this brings us to the idea that you can become closer with somebody by engaging in certain activities, not the least of which is participating in something like these 36 questions to try to get to know somebody, to share intimate, personal details about yourself, your belief systems, your values, et cetera, in the hopes of course, that somebody else will share in kind.


And I think this brings us to an interesting juncture in the conversation. Doing the 36 questions that lead to love exercise is only going to bring you closer to someone to bring you to a more intimate place with someone. If that someone is also willing to participate at the level that you expect them to, or that you would hope to participate yourself.


There's a difference between self-disclosure to create an artificial closeness, which I have certainly been guilty of doing before in my previous dating life. There's a difference between that and self-disclosure that is reciprocated by somebody. Sitting down with the intent to listen, to internalize what you're saying, to understand where you're coming from and to share about themselves as well.


ARTHUR: Well, when it comes to getting close to someone and using self-disclosure what we've found. That we use to create the 36 questions was from a number of studies that had been done, you know, uh, asking people how they develop their relationship surveys. And, uh, but we wanted to develop something that would be experimental.


But in any case, we looked, we looked at what was there and, um, it turns out that you need to reveal things, personal things, but not too much too fast. And it needs to be both with. And it needs to be both ways, um, so that you each hear each other. And what we've recently found out is that a crucial function in getting close to someone and having a good relationship is listening and responding and responding with showing that you understand.


You validate what they're saying? You don't have to agree, but you have to understand why they're feeling it and that you care for them. This responsiveness is really crucial. And what the 36 questions does is it provides an opportunity for that. You gradually reveal a little bit more and more, and it's both ways, which is crucial.


So it's, you're not just talking, you're also listening. And in fact, being heard. It's so central and this applies not to 36 questions or more importantly, it applies to our general daily life of interacting with people. We want to be close with either developing a new relationship or strengthening and maintaining a current one.


Um, share personal stuff. Yes. But also. And when you share, you encourage the other person to share, that's why it's good to do it both ways, but be sure you listen and be sure that you show that you understand what they're saying, you validated and you care for them.


KINSEY: I think in a lot of ways, the decision to show up and to care for someone and to reciprocate and to validate their feelings is very much a choice.


KINSEY: It is a choice to show up for somebody every single day. It is a choice to make decisions with two people or more. Their inputs instead of just your own, it's easier to be selfish, but it's so much more rewarding to feel love and to prioritize that love. But of course at the same time, making that choice is not easy. It's not easy to choose to prioritize something other than yourself. I'm curious about your optimism with that in mind, knowing that this choice is not the easiest choice to make. Are you still optimistic?  


KINSEY: Are you still optimistic about love despite the statistics that you hear about all the time about, you know, 50% of marriages ending in divorce? What do you think having studied this for as long as you have about the case for being optimistic about the possibility of. 


ARTHUR: Oh, I think, uh, fortunately we've found in our research more than we even expected that, uh, it really is possible.


Now it's true. We lose a lot of relationships, but in one us national representative survey we did with my collaborators. Um, we found that of those married 10 years or longer, 40%. Claim to be very intensely in love with their partner. Now, of course, as you were saying, only about half, the people were probably still together.


That means 20%, but still 20% claim to be very intensely and loved. Now we wondered, are they just saying that? So we also conducted some brain scan studies. I've done a lot of previous brain scan studies as have others. And we know what the brain looks like when you're looking at someone you've just fallen in Tennessee.


What we did is we recruited people who were buried around 20 years and asked, look for people who claim to be very intensely in love. And we put them in the scanner. And when they looked at pictures of their partner, they showed that same activation in the brain area. We call the dopamine reward area that we see with equally justified.


We're pretty confident it can happen. Um, you know, it doesn't happen to, you know, it's less than the majority, unfortunately. Um, but the fact is it's possible and it's not trivial the percentage that manage it. And we think if people took advantage of the things we know there could be a much higher person.


KINSEY: If you had one piece of advice for people who did want to take advantage of the things that we know, what would you say to do? What would be the most important in your given not only your experience working in this field, but also being somebody who's part of a lasting relationship, what would you say is the most important? Is there a way to pinpoint what's the most important aspect to keep in mind? If you do want to create that lasting relations? 


ARTHUR: Well, it's, there's a number of things. Unfortunately, there's a number of things you need to do to make it just adequate. And then there's things you need to do to make it really exciting.


Um, you know, the adequate ones are that, you know, you have to be able to communicate well and handle conflict. You have to, and there's tricks you can do for that. We know a lot about that and you have to be able to handle. And you have to be able to have good relationships with your in-laws and family.


Also, you need yourself. You need to be not, uh, you know, not insecure or anxious or depressed. If you're anxious, insecure, depressed, get therapy. We often blame the other person, but it can be us. But given those things are reasonably. There are things you can do to make it really passionate. And one of them is what I've done much of my research on is, uh, doing exciting, novel, challenging activities with your partner.


Not just same old, same old, but new interests. Uh, things, it shouldn't be more than you can handle, but something challenging that you can do that's new and it can be, you know, if he thinks, you know, we, we took, uh, a trip down the down the grand canyon that was sort of exciting, but also, you know, took a dance class together, you know, do things that are new and.


Um, and then there's several others, you know, express gratitude, let your partner know you, you, you, you know, appreciate the things they do and how much they mean to you. And another one, a huge one. Um, Harry recent Shelley Gabriel, then this great research showing, celebrate your partner's successes when they have something good that.


Let them know, it's not just say, oh, that's nice. You know, really, you know, try to get excited. But to the extent that's reasonable, it turns out that's more important than supporting them when things go badly, which is also important, but, uh, celebrating successes is a great thing to do. And, and then having close couple friendships, um, with other.


That's really valuable. That's one of the places where our 36 questions we've shown in two or three studies now with, uh, Keith Welker and Reed Slatcher that if you pair two pairs of couples and you have them do the 36 questions, each of the 4:00 AM, um, that shows that, that, that increases not only your closeness to them and to your partner, but increases the passionate love for your partner.


And it turns out that. You know, this doesn't just have to be done with the 36 questions, just having close friendships, close, intimate friendships with other couples, shared close information, you know, think, go deep with them, not just, you know, dull stuff that really is valuable for your relationship




And there you have it folks, the science behind love courtesy of the research professor known for it. I could leave it there, or we could run with this a bit. I bet you know what I want to do.


I want to go off-script, so I’m going to. In front of me I have some chicken scratch notes and a couple of listener submissions and using those things, I’m going to tell you what I know about love. I want you to think about what you know about love while you listen. 


But before we get to that, let’s take a quick break to hear from the very kind and lovable folks at Massican.




This week is all about love, no matter what shape it takes or what it looks like or sounds like or feels like. Love is rooted in connection.


And sometimes, love grows where just a liiiitle bit of liquid courage goes. In my personal experience, a good bottle of wine is as effective as 36 questions in getting someone to fall in love with you.


In fact, the very first time my boyfriend Coleman came over to my apartment for dinner, I had a bottle of wine chilling. I uncorked it. I poured us two glasses. We said cheers and obviously looked each other in the eyes. And then he was smitten. Here’s where I should probably tell you that the man is a bit of a wine enthusiast. He chose a wine bar for our first date. He orders wine from all over the country. He’s known by name at this wine shop near us in Nolita. 


He loved the wine I served that night last summer so much that he immediately pulled out his phone, opened his wine app, and rated the wine five stars out of five. My choice in wine was five stars. And I truly credit that bottle of wine with jumpstarting our very happy relationship.


Want to guess what kind of wine I served?


Massican Sauvignon Blanc. 


I’ve told you before that Massican is my wine of choice. And now, it’s the great love of my life’s wine of choice. It’s the kind of wine that brings people together. It’s the kind of wine that makes memories. It’s the kind of wine I serve the people I love.


And I want it to be all of that for you too. 


Massican is five stars out of five for my very particular boyfriend. But don’t just take his word. Dan Petroski, the genius behind Massican, was the San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year. Massican has been featured on top 100 lists at Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast for four years running.


But it’s also just $30 a bottle. No additives, no sugar. Just really good wine that makes for really good memories with the people you love.


Learn more about Massican or purchase your own bottle or bottles today on the Massican website (m-a-s-s-i-c-a-n dot com). Or check out the local selection at your favorite fine wine shops and at select Whole Foods nationwide.




Thank you as always to Massican, and trust me…it’s that good. Now, before the break I told you I was going off script and I am in 3, 2, 1…


  1. OFF SCRIPT - What does it mean to be in love and to feel love? What do I know about love? 
    1. How many times have I been in love? 
    2. Why is love so important to me?
    3. How has my life changed this year after falling in love?
  2. Moving in with Coleman. Screwdriver thing
    1. How much thinking is uncool? Something about control - control only makes sense if you’re trying to control something that can be controlled - you can control your thoughts but not things outside of you
    2. Major life choice—how do you know you’re ready to make a choice that totally changes the trajectory of your life? You just do. Because you’ve had practice choosing—love is a choice. It’s easier to be selfish. It’s easier to be alone. But every day, we wake up and choose love. We choose to work on our relationships. We choose to show up. And eventually those small choices make bigger ones easier.
    3. It’s not just romantic love. Showing up and loving each other as friends, family, etc. takes work. But it’s so worth putting that work in.
      1. Friendship - self-disclosure in the form of rambling conversations about wages and religion that I know sometimes have annoyed friends in my life…but I do it because I love you
  3. But what do I know? I only know my own experience. And I know what fine people like all of you have told me. 
    1. Everything I know about love
      1. Matthew Gatozzi
        1. “Experiencing love is probably one of the most rewarding parts about life, but it's not actually always easy. There's so many different types of love. It's not just romantic love. There's kind of that brotherly love with friends, there's family love and each of these loves or types of things. Has different dynamics and different challenges. But one thing that transcends any type of love is commitment and there's something so satiating about being committed to another person and the depth that you get to have when you can connect with another human emotionally, spiritually, and go deeper and get to learn. More about their life and how they see the world and being able to experience that experiencing somebody else's vantage point with you with yourself is truly the best thing ever.”
      2. Sarah Reynolds
        1. “What do I know about love? I'm not sure know is the right word as someone's still in my early twenties, but in my experience, love is about safety and acceptance. Love. Isn't about how long you've known someone or how long you've technically been present on the perimeters of their lives. Love is about who you call. When you get the text that your family members in the hospital love is about who you can depend on to door dash you snacks when you're having a bad day, love is about who will listen to you. Talk for over an hour about something that excites you, even if they don't really understand, just because they care and they enjoy seeing your face light up love is about. Who celebrates the happiest and best parts of you and who sits with you during your darkest moments? Accepting all of it.”
      3. Ali Ben-Levi
        1. “Weirdly enough. I learned everything that I know about love by watching my parents get divorced. Ironic, right by that. I mean, I watched them love me and my siblings unconditionally and make sure that this big seemingly scary thing didn't come between any of us. I watched them learn to love themselves more independent of any person and just continuously preach self-love by making hard, but right decisions. Um, I've been grateful to feel that type of loyalty and just general lightness, um, in France. Partners and because of watching my parents and myself to hope that wasn't too cheesy for you.”
      4. Arthur Aron
        1. “It comes from what we call our self expansion theory. That love is an intense desire to unite with another person. And a lot of the excitement about love is that intensity of that desire. And that's one of the reasons to we exciting activities with people over time. Is it reminds you of that excitement of a person responding to you and forming that relationship and connecting that.”
    2. A lot of what I’ve come to understand about love has come from all of you. You’ve shown me love even on my hardest days, and I’m so grateful for that.
  4. Conclusion - love is so many things, it isn’t something to be defined in singular terms. Love is sneaking a Reese’s into your girlfriend’s work bag because she loves them. Love is checking in on your childless, unmarried friend every single week even though you have a toddler and another on the way. Love is making their favorite meal and love is both simple and terrifyingly complex. At least…that’s love in my life.
    1. I want to know what love is in your life. How does it manifest? Where does it manifest? Is it something that can be engineered, or does it happen without our own interventions?
    2. Think about it. More importantly talk about it. And let me know what you come up with. I want to hear from you.
    3. I’m Kinsey Grant and remember…TIC and so are you.