"To Hear You Tell It:" How-We-Met Stories Can Predict Your Future Happiness


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A Sciku: A science-based haiku

His eyes still twinkle.
She smiles every single time.
They love their story.

To Hear Him Tell It…

My husband is a talker…(and you have to see me smiling as I say that.) Ask him how we met, and he’ll happily tell you, stretching a five-minute story into a twenty-minute tale, no matter how many times he says, “To make a long story, short.” 

He laughs about the fact that it was Jason, the son of an old family friend who introduced us. Jason was also a former college student of mine — one of my most memorable for his boisterous, smart presence in the classroom. We had stayed in touch for several years after he got out of school, partly because he managed a local business that I frequented. 

I had been happily divorced for four years when Jason asked me if I’d like to go out with his older friend. What did I have to lose? I said “yes,” and Jason proceeded to set up an outdoor birthday party for himself, inviting both of us to a bonfire. 

Nothing like meeting a blind date for the first time, surrounded by the romance of a cool October night, sparks flying to a violet-blue sky, watching long-established couples sitting around on big hay bales! 

I was the lone single, waiting for the arranged rendezvous. 

Not Love-at-First-Sight, But…

 “Well, I knew who I was supposed to pair up with when I got there,” 

my husband laughs when he tells it. 

“There was a cute little blond sitting there all by herself, and I knew she was my intended target.”

 He’ll go on, talking about how he had been worried and stressed after a hard day at work and wasn’t up to mustering much of the required first-meeting chit-chat. 

“But after that… on our first date…WOW. I was smitten. We were having such good conversation over dinner that we decided not to even go to the movie. From that point on, I had no doubts.” 

The sparks didn’t fly at the bonfire, but they ignited an inferno on the first official date. Unbelievably, he asked me to marry him eleven days after our first date. Incredibly, I said yes. 

Almost twenty years later, we are still love-struck, happiest when we are together. 

The Soft Science of Love Language

If any researchers had studied us and asked us to tell our “how-we-met” story, they would have known that we would be happily married years later, regardless of the whirlwind, eleven-day, “love-at-second-sight,” courtship. 

Science has investigated the phenomenon and declared that love at first sight does happen. (And if it happens on “first” sight, there’s no doubt it can happen on second!)

In case you’re wondering, more than 50% of the American population believes in love-at-first-sight, and most of the believers are male. If that seems strange, think about this. Some researchers believe that it takes less than one second to decide whether you find someone physically attractive. You then determine whether there’s an attraction as a potential mate within the first three minutes of meeting. Since men are more focused on physical cues, they believe in love-at-first-sight more often than women. 

But how fast a relationship develops isn’t an indicator of the success of a marriage. What matters is how the couple remembers its starting point.

Tara Parker-Pope, author of For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, cites a 1992 study by John Gottman that took fifty-two couples who had been married an average of five years. Researchers interviewed them, asking them their “how-we-met” stories, filming them and monitoring their body responses. 

Based on the couples’ retelling of the story, researchers predicted which couples would stay together and which would divorce. 

Three years later, their predictions were 94% accurate. 

Glass Half-Full / Glass Half-Empty

If the couples told the details of their meetings a little differently, it didn’t matter. If their stories of the exact sequence of events didn’t match, that didn’t matter either. The only thing that matter was how they told their story. 

Couples who related their how-we-met story in a positive manner, smiling, laughing, or bathing it in nostalgia, would stay together. Couples who remembered the events with a tinge of pessimism, or who threw in slight barbs or a bit of negativity, would probably get divorced. 

Tara Parker-Pope cites another study that looked at ninety-five newlywed couples over a nine-year period. Newlyweds are not as easy to predict as couples who have been married several years because they’re still in the first glow and haven’t settled down to a pattern or faced difficulties. But the research methods were the same: interview couples, ask them how to describe how they met, listen to each telling their story while being filmed and monitored. 

Do you know what happened? 

Even after interviewing newlywed couples, researchers were able to predict with 86% accuracy which couples would be together after 4–6 years. After 9 years, their predictions were 81% right — prognostications based solely on how a couple’s “how-we-met” story was told. 

In both studies, what mattered was not the accuracy of the details but the positivity of the telling. 

Couples who laughed, smiled, and described the beginning of their relationship with positivity, even bathing it in rose-colored nostalgia, would stay together. Even hard times were remembered with a certain fondness because they got through the difficulties together. 

That First Glow

Remember when you first found your “one?” The knock-me-over, can’t-think-straight, butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of feeling? That is the first glow of love, and the physical response is one of the reasons we might overlook future problems. Our critical thinking skills are reduced in the presence of the dopamine surged caused by the love reaction. 

But if you can retain the sense of optimism about your future together, even decades after you’ve made the decision to marry…

If you can remember fondly the events that brought you two together…

If you can repeat your “how-we-met” story with spontaneous joy, still smiling after all these years, 

Then you know you’ll stay together. 

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Melissa Gouty is a copywriter, author, teacher, and speaker. She is the founder of www.LiteratureLust.com, a website for readers, writers, and thinkers. A keen observer of human nature, Melissa writes "Heartfelt Stories" in addition to articles on history, marketing, culture, and travel. Her book, The Magic of Ordinary, is a heart-warming depiction of growing up in the 1960s with a father who made life magical.

Danville, IL

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