“Opia” – (n) the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable
Earlier this year, there was an article in the New York Times titled ‘To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This’. It was based on a study that indicated that intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by asking a series of 36 specific questions. In other words, literally, to fall in love with anyone – do this!
So, in the name of research, I wrangled my friend into completing the above exercise with me. Unfortunately, none of my male friends were game (pussies) so I targeted my female housemate instead. Granted, we have lived together for two years and, until then, I would have said that we knew each other pretty well. Quickly, you discover that most of what you know about your friends is of the superficial variety. All those cumulative hours of bathroom banter and making fun of all the characters in ‘Made in Chelsea’ and drinking into the wee hours of the morning. They only crack the surface of our understanding of the people around us, even the ones whom we share a fridge with.
The questions begin pretty basic, nothing too frightening but quickly they become exceedingly penetrating. They force you to think about things you had shelved for another time. They shift emotions like disturbing a dust that has settled. At the end you’re instructed to stare deep into your partner’s eyes for a full 4 minutes. Given we were in a Japanese restaurant during their lunch time rush, we spent the first 30 seconds trying not to laugh. Towards the end of the first minute, our faces relaxed and before we knew what was happening we were in that state of Opia. Your vision becomes tunneled and your stomach flips as if you’ve fallen off the edge of something you didn’t even know you were on. After about two minutes of pure terror, you suddenly grow very comfortable and the idea of looking away seems like the more irrational choice.
At the end of the four minutes I didn’t know whether to cry or to laugh but I was veiled in a strange sense of calm. Like the way an ocean is after a storm. A little rattled, a little worn but completely still and comfortable with one’s desertion. Everyone around us completely evaporated and the room was quiet and even when we broke eye contact it took a while for us to reenter the world completely. As if someone was turning the volume back up but very slowly. At first I felt centered and more sure of myself but as the day wore on I was suddenly entangled in a sadness I can’t describe. I guess after about 3 hours of someone digging deep into your soul you can’t help but feel a little raw. I could barely sleep that night and felt consistently on the verge of tears. The exercise didn’t reveal anything particularly new for myself but to speak the truth out loud brings it to life. It gives your feelings and emotions a name and a presence, where once it was just a vague rumbling under the surface.
As for falling in love, I have loved my housemate from the minute we stopped referring to each other by name and only by variations of ‘Dude Man’ and ‘Man Dude’. And I can’t say that any romantic feelings sprung from our experiment as I am not that way inclined (sorry Man Bro). But knowing someone so intimately breathes new life into any relationship. I can definitely see how it would accelerate a romantic relationship with a stranger or someone new. However, knowing how fragile I felt afterwards, I think I would tread with caution. I’m never one for small talk anyway, I’m a fairly open book. But to enter into the marshland of someone else’s psychology and open the gates to your own isn’t something I recommend doing on a first date. Sometimes it’s better to walk before you start running. Peel the layers over time. Do you really want to know everything about your potential partner in a three hour session? Perhaps I’m just not ready to drop my romanticised notions of love. To think that love is something that can be bred in a science lab. A formula that can be tinkered with until it produces results and proves a hypotheses. This is a notion one step too far in the future for me that I am not ready to accept in my present. But I’m still single, so what do I know?