The Secret to Love Is Words

by Liz Colville

But which words? Don’t know, depends on the love. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas at Austin says that couples who match each other’s “language styles” tend to stay together longer. Nothing is specifically mentioned about the fact that couples eventually become one person, speaking one streamlined narrative of co-dependence, material-aspirational harmony, self-directed half-imagined chore burden, and other-directed blame, but language is apparently part of the reason that they do.

Pennebaker focused on little words — really, the only words we ever speak anymore:

such words as personal pronouns (I, his, their); articles (a, the); prepositions (in, under), and adverbs (very, rather) — the types of words most people don’t give much thought to.

So presumably people who use “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine” a lot are attracted to other self-involved types, meaning there is less and less hope for that whole “opposites attract” argument, and the world is just fast becoming full of these two-person armies of sameness.

Pennebaker used speed-dating to gather his research, and also did a separate study involving very young adults, analyzing their instant messages. He says young people are “wonderful groups to study” because they have “notoriously unstable relationships.” Why do scientists want things to be so hard?

For those going on dates, the researchers have some really, really enlightening advice: “Be yourself.” And hope your date copies everything you say, because apparently that is the only way you will like them and stay married to them. Until that day when you receive a fax of yourself to your fax machine, there are mirrors, or the PhotoBooth application on Macs.