Monday night's Bachelorette featured a date that rose lovers have come to cherish as an ABC classic. The adrenaline-pumping "So you wanna marry me? Do something terrifying to prove it" date. In this episode, Andi made Marcus rappel down a ridiculously tall building — one of their greatest fears! — to make sure that he's capable of love.
While a high-octane-activity date might not seem like a fair compatibility test, there are many reasons why producers have at least one every season. First off, phobia-inducing situations make for great TV — the more crying, the better — and provide perfect fodder for some truly terrible metaphors: "I'm jumping out of this plane and into his heart." (Drink.) "Like this bungee cord, love catches you when you fall." (Drink.) And in Andi's words, "It's leap-of-faith day." A literal leap of faith. (Seriously, just down the whole bottle.)
The second reason? Science.
"Doing very, very high-octane kinds of dates definitely can bond you together more than a mundane, run-of-the-mill one," says Dr. Diana Kirschner, psychologist and CEO of Lovein90Days.com, striking fear in all suitors who have to settle for a picnic. "What happens is that adrenaline is released that mimics the feelings of falling love."
And it doesn't end there. Staring into your partner's eyes for stability during the terrifying descent causes an increased release of oxytocin, a bonding hormone. "If a person is frightened and literally clinging to a protector, a knight, they actually have the experience of being saved by this person," Kirschner says. "Certainly it's not going to make for lasting love, which is a whole other ball of wax, but at that moment you are bonded together and will associate a scary-turned-pleasurable high and relief and excitement with the other person."
Because after successfully finishing the dangerous-seeming event, both partners will experience a pleasurable burst of dopamine.
"This corroborates the advice Ovid gave young men: take your date to the gladiator fights if you want sex," says Dr. Elizabeth Saenger, a Harvard-trained psychologist and former matchmaker for upscale professionals. "Actually, he didn't say it quite so crassly, and he said it in Latin, but that was the idea."
Fear can trick the brain into feelings of attraction.
Saenger cited a 1974 study by Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron that identified instances of misattributed arousal. In it, researchers placed an attractive woman at the end of a "fear-arousing suspension bridge" and a "non-fear-arousing bridge." According to Saenger, "Men who crossed the wobbly bridge rated the women as much more attractive than men who crossed a stable bridge."
This supports the James-Lange theory of emotion, stating "We are afraid because we run." In other words, emotions are interpreted based on a physiological reaction to events.
But do you really want to fool your brain into thinking that you're more emotionally connected with someone than you actually are?
And that brings us to why you maybe shouldn't make your date jump out of a plane (or something) for you:
Apart from the risk of creating a false sense of attachment, the No. 1 biggest reason not to force an early date into a terrifying situation is because, well, it's terrifying. And if a partner is legitimately phobic of heights, as Bachelor(ette) contestants often claim they are, then forcing him or her to rappel down a building can be a very bad idea indeed.
In the wise words of Dr. Saenger, "Dealing with phobias on a date is, to use a favorite word of psychologists, 'inappropriate.' It is also plain stupid, and can be unethical."
Bachelorette contestants are, by definition, risk takers. Who else would be willing to broadcast their love lives on national TV? But in the real world, maybe stick to a boring dinner instead.