The Story Of 'How You Met Your Other' Can Say A Lot

May 6, 2012
Originally published on May 6, 2012 11:06 am

If you're part of a couple, chances are you remember the exact moment you first met your mate. Well, it turns out that how a couple first met isn't just fodder for Hollywood romantic comedies, but might just predict whether a relationship thrives or falters.

That's according Faith Salie and Mario Correa, hosts of the RelationShow, a show about couples and relationships on member station WNYC.

Correa, who comes from a Latin American Catholic family, tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that, being "all about rules," he wanted to know if there were rules for how you should meet your mate.

"Is it better if you meet someone through friends, as opposed to 'I-just-spotted-you-across-the-street.com?'" Correa says for example.

Salie says she also wanted to debunk what she calls the "meet cute" trope so prevalent in romantic comedies. That's "the one that says you have to meet your mate in some preposterously cute way," Salie says.

So, they went out and talked to couples about how they met.

Becky And Jeremy

About 22 years ago, a mutual friend suggested Becky and Jeremy meet. For reasons she can't quite explain, Becky decided to sit down and write Jeremy a letter.

"It was a love letter," Jeremy says.

The letter basically said: "Will you marry me? I don't know you, but I want to marry you."

Becky actually mailed the letter, and when Jeremy got it, he says the first thing he did of course was to show it to his fraternity brothers.

"Look, I'm getting love letters from people I don't even know!" he says.

It was a bold move, but one that appears to have worked since the couple is still together.

Alice And Chauncey

Alice and Chauncey met at a Gay Pride event in a gay bar, where Chauncey had been hired to model. Shockingly, Alice did not figure him to be straight.

"I thought, maybe he's just a gay man flirting with me because that's happened many times before," Alice says.

Alice says she didn't know until later in the night when Chauncey held her hand and finally kissed her. Chauncey says he thought it was a clue when he asked her to take his shirt off, but Alice still thought he was just being a "flirty gay guy."

"That's pretty obvious to me," Chauncey says.

So What Does 'The Meet' Tell Us?

So these couples met in very different ways, obviously, and to find out what it could portend, Salie and Correa talked to John Gottman, a pioneer in the field of relationship science.

Gottman says how a couple meets really doesn't matter. What matters, he says, is how the couple tells the story.

"You can really tell when people have a very positive 'story of us,' Gottman said. "They're sitting close, they're smiling [and] there's a relish in telling the story."

On the other hand, Gottman says if the couple isn't doing well in the relationship, the story can be very general, the memories negative and it can be like "pulling teeth" to get them to talk about how they met.

So it might seem obvious that a happy couple would tell a more positive story and vice versa, but Correa says that what Gottman does is to interview the couple over many years and listen to how the story evolves.

"Each time any of us tells a story, it changes a little bit," Correa says. "So he studies the same couples over many years ... and he listens for these changes."

By listening to those changes, Correa says Gottman can predict fairly accurately where a relationship is headed.

Dissecting The Story

Salie and Correa shared the stories of Becky and Jeremy and Alice and Chauncey with Gottman. Even though they weren't part of his longer studies, he said that their snapshots tell a lot about the couples.

Gottman said Becky and Jeremy had a way of enjoying one another's sense of humor and were very complimentary, a good sign. What was missing in Alice and Chauncey's story, he says, was Chauncey saying positive things about Alice.

"She says a lot of positive things about him but he's really saying, 'You know, she missed a lot of cues,'" he says. "So he's kind of criticizing her."

They're a new couple, however, and Gottman said there's still time to course correct.

So remember, the next time you tell the story of how you met your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, be sure to stay positive.

Faith Salie and Mario Correa co-host WNYC Public Radio's RelationShow.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. If you're part of a couple, chances are you remember the exact moment you first met your mate - just like this couple does, in a scene rom the film "When Harry Met Sally."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHEN HARRY MET SALLY")

MARTIN: Well, it turns out how you met your good melon isn't just fodder for Hollywood romantic comedies. In fact, it could say something bigger about your relationship. That's according to a couple whom we meet this week, Faith Salie and Mario Correa. They're not together-together, but they do host a program about relationships. It's called RelationShow, from member station WNYC in New York. Welcome, guys. Nice to talk with you.

FAITH SALIE: Hi, Rachel.

MARIO CORREA: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. So you got kind of interested in this idea about how couples meet, and what it says about them. What triggered this interest for you?

CORREA: You know, I come from a Latin-American, Catholic family - so we're all about rules. You know, rules, rules, rules. So I thought, there's got to be rules for how you should meet your mate. You know, is it better if you meet someone through friends as opposed to, Ijustspottedyouacrossthestreet dot com.

SALIE: I've always had better luck at, I'mstandingoutsideyourdoorrightnow dot org. I wanted to debunk that whole "meet cute" trope - you know, of romantic comedies, the one that says you've got to meet your perfect mate in some preposterously adorable way. Like, you know, accidentally skydiving right into each other.

MARTIN: Yeah, running into each other in the park, spilling something on one another.

SALIE: Oops! Oh, you're so cute.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So you two are friends and collaborators, interested in how people interact in relationships. You went out and actually talked to couples about how they met, right?

CORREA: We did, and starting with this couple. This is Becky and Jeremy. And 22 years ago, a mutual friend suggested that they meet. So this is what Becky did.

BECKY: To this day, I can't even believe I did it. But for some reason, I sat down and wrote Jeremy a letter. And it was kind of a crazy letter.

JEREMY: It was a love letter. It wasn't just a letter.

BECKY: I actually mailed it, which was even crazier.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JEREMY: Of course, the first thing I did was show it to all my friends in my fraternity and say, look - I'm getting love letters from people I don't even know!

CORREA: What does it say, this love letter?

BECKY: I think it said: Will you marry me? I don't know you, but I want to marry you.

MARTIN: Wow. Becky is bold.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SALIE: All right. So Rachel, here are Alice and Chauncey. They met at Gay Pride in a gay bar, where Chauncey had been hired to model. Shockingly, she did not figure him to be straight.

ALICE: And then I thought, oh - well, maybe he's just flirting with me, a gay man flirting with me - 'cause that's happened many times before. So I still didn't know. I didn't know until later that night, when it seemed like you liked me and you held my hand, and you kissed me at the end of the night.

CHAUNCEY: So there was no clue when I told you, take my shirt off in private?

ALICE: No. I thought...

CHAUNCEY: That's pretty obvious to me.

ALICE: I thought you were flirty - I thought you were a flirty gay guy.

MARTIN: OK. So obviously...

CORREA: She's no dummy.

MARTIN: ...these couples met in very different ways. But does the way that couples meet - does this tell us anything about the couples themselves, maybe whether or not they've got what it takes to stick together for a long time?

SALIE: Yeah, that's what we asked Dr. John Gottman. He's a pioneer in the field of relationship science.

DR. JOHN GOTTMAN: The way a couple meets really doesn't matter very much. I mean, what really matters is how they tell the story to themselves, and to their partner. They're really in their own mind. You know, you can really tell when people have a very positive story of "us." They're sitting close; they're looking at each other; they're smiling. And there's a relish in telling the story. On the other hand, you know, if they really aren't doing very well in their relationship, then the interview is kind of like pulling teeth.

MARTIN: OK. So he's saying it's not necessarily how you meet; it's how you talk about how you met. But Mario, isn't it obvious that an unhappy couple would kind of tell this story kind of unhappily, and a happy couple would tell it all with this really positive spin on it?

CORREA: Yeah. No, it is. And that's why what he really is looking for is how the story is changing over time. 'Cause each time you or I tell any story, it changes a little bit, right? So he studies the same couples over many years - sometimes, 20 years - and he listens for these little changes. And by listening for those, he can predict - he says - whether they will stay together, or break apart.

MARTIN: Wow. So big indicator, according to him. But the interviews we heard with the couples you spoke with earlier, these were just kind of a snapshot in time. Did Dr. Gottman have anything to say about the dynamic that he witnessed between these two couples?

SALIE: Yeah. These snapshots are shorter than the oral histories he conducts. But with our couples' permission, we shared them. And here is his take on Becky and Jeremy, of the love letter.

GOTTMAN: They just had a way of enjoying one another's sense of humor. They had delighted one another, and they were very complimentary about one another.

CORREA: Now, Alice and Chauncey, on the other hand...

GOTTMAN: What was missing there was Chauncey saying positive things about Alice. She says a lot of positive things about him, but he's really saying, you know, she missed a lot of cues. Didn't she realize that I was a straight guy when I said, I'd be happy to take my shirt off in private? You know, so he's kind of criticizing her.

MARTIN: So should Alice and Chauncey be a little bit worried here?

CORREA: You know, they're a new couple still. So Gottman says there's still time for them to course-correct. Here's his advice.

GOTTMAN: He needs to be saying things that he appreciates and admires about Alice in order for them to look like a better couple.

MARTIN: OK. Listen up, folks. You got to say nice things about your partner, right? I am going home; I'm telling my husband he's got to start speaking up right this second. Faith and Mario, thank you both. Faith Salie and Mario Correa co-host WNYC public radio's RelationShow. And you can see photos of the couples we heard from today, and listen to their stories, at NPR.org. Faith and Mario, thanks so much.

SALIE: Thanks, Rachel.

CORREA: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.