Editor as Guinea Pig

Putting Love to a Real Test, Robert Epstein experiments if love can be learned in an arranged marriage.

By Robert Epstein Ph.D., published on June 1, 2002 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015

I'm about to embark on a very bold, very personal experiment, one
that some people might call—and in fact, have already
called—crazy. Self-experimentation has a long and proud history in
psychology, dating back at least to Ebbinghaus' classic book Memory,
published in 1885. So I insist that I'm standing on the shoulders of
giants and that I'm not simply daffy. OK, here's my experiment:

Through friends, family and some small ads, I'm in the process of
seeking a co-author to help me write a book called The Love You Make: How
We Learned to Love Each Other, and How You Can Too. My co-author and I
will sign an agreement in which we pledge 1) to read extensively about
love, and especially about the emergence of love in arranged marriages,
2) to subject ourselves to various types of counseling and 3) to put
ourselves through various exercises and perhaps to create new ones, the
goal being to fall deeply in love by the end of the contract period. The
agreement will run from six months to a year (to be negotiated), during
which time we will also pledge not to date other people and to keep
detailed, private diaries of our experiences, knowing, of course, that
the contents might end up in print.

I'm already represented on the book by one of the top literary
agents in the country, and several large houses have expressed interest
in publishing it—not surprising, since the concept is pure Oprah: a
perfect bundle of romance, controversy and inspiration.

But this isn't just a publicity stunt. It's a serious, albeit
small-scale, challenge to a vexing myth. We teach our children, and
especially our little girls, that a knight in shining Porsche is going to
drive up one day, awaken perfect passion with a magical kiss and then
drive the blessed couple down the road to Happily Ever After, a special
place where no one ever changes. Hollywood tells us that the One is out
there for everyone, so no one is willing to settle for Mr. or Ms.
Two-Thirds. We want our relationships to be like our
antidepressants—perfect and effortless—and if they don't look
as perfect today as they did yesterday, unskilled and gutless, we abandon

But here's a surprise: Sixty percent of the world's marriages are
not love marriages—they're arranged. Divorce rates are extremely
low for such marriages, and, even more surprising, in perhaps half of
them, the spouses somehow fall in love with each other. Arranged marriage
is a complex institution, but even where it's flawed it demonstrates that
people can learn to love. A couple of decades ago, after millennia of
nail biting, Westerners finally figured out how to take elements of
Eastern mystical practices and cast them into consumer-friendly terms;
now we've got mantras and chakras and katas by the dozens, and we're
better for it. Can we distill key elements of arranged marriage to help
us learn how to create a new, more stable institution in the West? Must
we stumble clumsily onto love, or can we learn, precisely, how to fall in

In 1998, some friends of David Weinlick, a graduate student in
Minnesota, set out to find him a wife. An advertising campaign generated
25 applications, and then a party was held where he interacted with the
five finalists. His friends selected the winner, and the unlikely pair
was married on the spot. Ridiculous, yes? Funny thing is, they're still
married and doing fine, and their second child is due in November.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Well, I've wondered long enough. I'm
up for an experiment.

Robert Epstein is editor in chief ofPsychology
University Research Professor at the California School of
Professional Psychology at Alliant International University and Director
Emeritus of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies. He earned his
Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard University.