Four Minutes

couple for Four Minutes

“Any two people can fall in love, given the chance. Don’t waste your time searching for the perfect soul-mate. You can fall in love with a total stranger in a couple of hours. Don’t believe me?”

People stirred, grinned, glanced around the room to see others’ reactions. Professor Forbes continued.

“There’s a psychologist, Arthur Aron, who came up with a test to see if people who didn’t know each other could bond – even fall in love – in an hour or two. He had them answer thirty-six questions followed by four minutes of staring into each other’s eyes. There are some married couples as a result. So who’s feeling brave? Who wants to try?”

Professor Forbes had a reputation as an iconoclast. His unorthodox teaching methods were discussed all over campus, and seats in his classroom were coveted.  Jody had to wait two semesters to get in, but she felt it was well worth it. He didn’t disappoint.

Now, in response to his challenge, she raised her hand. She’d just broken up with her  boyfriend of three years. What she’d thought was true love didn’t survive the separation when they went to different colleges. Jody covered her hurting heart with a cynical, world-weary attitude; a good jumping-off place for social experiments, she thought. Especially cock-eyed ones that would never work in a million years.

Ian also volunteered. Jody’d seen him around campus and thought he looked interesting (read “cute,’” but she didn’t use that junior-high term any more). They’d never gotten acquainted. Ian was always in a hurry, and Jody had been preoccupied with trying to fan the embers of a dying relationship.

“Any thoughts as you get started?” Professor Forbes asked.

“Just…it’s not gonna work, that’s all,” Jody said. “And even if it did, I wouldn’t be interested. Love sucks.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Ian echoed.

“Well, there you go, already you agree about something,” Professor Forbes said.

Jody and Ian took seats at the front of the classroom in chairs set so close that their knees touched. Jody wished she’d washed her hair that morning and put on something other than an old, stretched-out sweatshirt. She straightened her spine and lifted her chin. Ian slouched and stretched his legs wide so her knees were inside his.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?

Ian went first. “I’d want Eminem.”

Jody wanted Malala. She shrugged; it figured. Not much common ground there. They continued.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Jody said, “My parents and my home.”

Ian said, “Being the first one in my family to go to college.”

Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Jody hesitated; she’d never shared her secret ambition. But what the hell, she might as well be honest. What did it matter?  “I want to write a book. I haven’t done it because I’m not good enough. I don’t know how to begin.”

Ian:  “I want to become a doctor. I’m working on it, but man, it’s hard. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it.”

What is your most treasured memory?

What is your most terrible memory?

What does friendship mean to you?

If you knew that in one year you would die, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

Jody and Ian answered with increasing frankness. The rest of the room fell away; there were only the two of them talking directly to each other. Professor Forbes’ voice was disembodied as he asked the questions, a neutral conduit for the connection that grew between them.  When the bell rang signaling the end of class, neither of them heard it. The room cleared, but Jody and Ian didn’t move.

At last they reached the final question: Share a personal problem. Jody’s eyes welled as she described how flat life seemed now, how joyless and tiresome and difficult. Ian spoke of his fear that he’d disappoint his family by flunking out of school and what it would mean to him to give up his dream of medicine.

The final exercise was to hold eye contact for four minutes. At first, Jody felt herself stiffen with terror at seeing and being seen so intimately, but gradually she began to relax. Slowly, Ian sat up straight and leaned toward her. His knees came together and squeezed hers. She reached for his hand. His eyes were hazel with tiny flecks of amber. She felt herself falling into them.

“Time’s up,” Professor Forbes said, giving their shoulders a little shake to get their attention. “You’ve just spent the last hour and ten minutes getting to know each other. How do you feel?”

They didn’t answer, didn’t even glance at him. Hand in hand, they walked out of the classroom and into the rest of their lives.


“And that, kids, for the fourteen-hundredth time, is how I met your mother,” Ian said, smiling into the hazel eyes of his twin daughters. “Now I’ve got to run or I’ll be late for evening rounds. Look, here comes Mama, home from her book signing. I’ll bet she’ll tell you a bedtime story.”

The girls raced to the door and tackled their mother around the knees when she entered.

“Again, Mama. Tell us the story again,” the twins chorused, “about how you met Daddy.”




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