36 Questions That Lead to Love

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Have you ever met someone, discovered you had a certain chemistry, and found yourself up on the rooftop all night, talking about everything under the sun and stars? What did it feel like? Did it open up your heart, expanding a space for vulnerability and for love?

Open your heart

Mandy Len Catron’s essay in The New York Times, “To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This,” describes why deep and probing questions provoke such an experience…these 36 questions, in particular. The 36 questions were scientifically designed and applied in an experiment by psychologist, Arthur Aron, more than two decades ago. In Aron’s experiment, two strangers were brought into a lab through separate entrances and were sat facing each other. They were given this series of progressively intimate questions. After completing the Q&A, they were asked to stare into the other’s eyes for four minutes, without saying a word. And did it work? Did 36 magical questions and a 4-minute stare lead to love? Well, six months after the experiment, these two strangers got married. So you be the judge.

get married

Catron, in her essay, repeats the experience with a university acquaintance in a bar. While this atmosphere and the fact that they were not strangers didn’t comply with the former study, Catron notes that the questions did what they were supposed to do, which was to open communication up gradually from not too personal – “What would constitute a perfect day for you?” – to more intimate – “Tell your partner something you like about them already.”

I like you a lot

As the questions intensified, Catron noticed that she started to relate to and feel more for her conversation partner. “We exchanged stories about the last time we each cried, and confessed the one thing we’d like to ask a fortuneteller. We explained our relationships with our mothers.” This is because the questions increased the partners’ vulnerability and intimacy at a rate that wasn’t easily discernable.

Intimacy

The questions were designed to allow one not only to know the stranger at an intimate level, but to know oneself. Instead of being able to hide behind a practiced narrative, the questions blow away this smokescreen, speeding the rate at which a pairing feels more intimate. Catron notes, “Ours was the kind of accelerated intimacy I remembered from summer camp, staying up all night with a new friend, exchanging the details of our short lives. At 13, away from home for the first time, it felt natural to get to know someone quickly. But rarely does adult life present us with such circumstances.”

Adult life

Discomfort comes with vulnerability, and Catron found herself feeling discomfort not so much about the questions that required divulging a personal confession, but rather the questions which called for an opinion about the other person. Question 28, for instance: “Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.” Questions like this create interpersonal closeness and demonstrate how we project our sense of self on the world in the way we view others and the attributes we value in them.
In the end, Catron and her partner completed the experiment, staring into each other’s eyes on a bridge. And did the 36 questions lead to love, yet again? Yes. And they can for you too.

36 Questions That Lead to Love

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