We tend to think that romance and relationships have gotten more complicated as we tumble further into the world of Grindr apps and online dating. Gone are the days when you'd be asked to go steady by a nervous boy on your parents' porch well before curfew, the days when marriages lasted for 50 years, the days when passion was ignited through love letters. Why write beautiful prose when a text that says "U bonin 2nite" works just as well? Why ask someone to be your significant other when you can stay categorically single while, at the same time, dating one person for years?

So many books, shows and movies have been created portraying the plight of modern dating that idealizing the past only seems logical, but that doesn't mean that our perception of old fashioned romance is correct. Turns out that humans in the old days were just like humans in the new days (with less premarital sex and more institutionalized racism) in that we're all just scrambling around, grasping at crazy theories as to what makes people tick and trying to discover the fastest way to happiness. For every one of our Patti Stangers the olden times had a phrenologist speaking out on what head shapes worked best together. For every one of our He's Just Not That Into Yous they had a doctor removing a woman's uterus to cure hysteria. Dead people! They're just like us.

The Smithsonian recently unearthed a 1921 issue of Science and Invention in which the magazine's editor Hugo Gernsback examines the ways to determine whether or not a relationship — in this case, a marriage — will succeed. Needless to say, the science is as infallible as the relationship tips on Tough Love 2:

How much would the average man or woman give to know beforehand if his or her prospective married life is to be success or failure? At present, marriage is a lottery. It seems impossible to predict beforehand how your prospective mate will turn out in the future. Through certain fundamentals, which can easily be ascertained, one can be reasonably certain as to one's choice. We take extreme care in breeding horses, dogs and cats, but when we come to ourselves we are extremely careless and do not use our heads nor the means that science puts in our hands for scientific breeding. There are certain basic tests which can be made today and which will give one a reasonable assurance of married happiness.

Gernsback suggests that the chances of your marriage can be assessed by four overly complicated steps.


First, there is the Physical Attraction test. According to Gernsback, physical attraction is the most important part of any good marriage (because, as we all know, our bodies and faces remain the exact same forever and ever). It would be nice if there was an easy way to measuring one person's sexual attraction to another, but there is not. You need an elaborate machine to do it.

…around the chest of each is a chain which is secured to a piece of spring covered by a rubber hose. One end of the tube thus formed is sealed, the other connects to a manometer and also to a tambour supplied with a stylus. The stylus leaves a record on a moving paper tape showing the rate of respiration.

According to Gernsback, sexual attraction can be measured by a quickened pulse and heavier breathing when embracing or kissing your partner. His theory was then seconded by anyone who has ever had a body.


The second test is the Sympathy Test. Apparently, you can tell if one person loves another by whether or not they sympathize when seeing the other person in pain. By this standard, I would have a great marriage with my parents, John Coffey from The Green Mile and any dog I have ever seen. Couples were tested by being forced to watch their partner give blood. If they experienced "muscle contractions and sudden inhalations due to excitement" the love was real.


The third step is the Body Odor Test. This is makes sense — if you hate the way your partner smells, you are going to have a hard time being with them until you pass away in a nursing home with your husband (presumably James Garner) curled up at your side. To measure odor compatibility one person was "placed inside a large capsule with a hose coming out the top. The hose is led to the nose of the other person and if the smells aren't found too objectionable (again, measured by devices strapped to the chest and wrist) then the romantic pairing is deemed safe."

This leads us to our final — BANG BANG! Did that sudden interruption make you nervous? Did it make your partner nervous (I assume you read things together)? If you answered yes to both those questions, your relationship might be in trouble. Gernsback's fourth and final test on the strength of a marriage was the Nervous Disorder Test, in which a surprise gunshot would be fired into the air near the couple and a Rube Goldberg machine would determine their reactions. If both people were "too startled," then the "marriage should not take place." That or your partner has a very reasonable reaction to dangerous weapons.


Boiled down, none of Gernsback's assertions is that crazy. Be physically attracted to your partner, care about their well-being, don't smell bad and balance each other out are all pretty obvious truths that we take for granted. What's funny is that there was a time when a scientist felt the need to use goofy machines to figure out these seemingly timeless rules of successful relationships. Oh, simpler times!

Mechanical Matchmaking: The Science of Love in the 1920s [Smithsonian]