It’s not always easy to build rapport with people you just met, especially now that we’re practically used to being so disconnected to everyone and everything. Thankfully, a few scientists came up with a step-by-step guide that succeeded to make two people fall in love in just less than an hour.
I’ve been in quarantine for 100 days, and the abundance of time I have in my hands allowed me to reminisce about a lot of things I took for granted — like excessive socialization. One weekend before the lockdown, two of my college friends and I decided to talk over a bottle of Soju and wine in the condo. We were at that stage of our friendship where we weren’t necessarily intimate — but we also couldn’t get enough of each other’s company. It was a Thursday night, and we collectively decided to push aside all our homework and just breathe for a while. I took the opportunity to propose the 36 Questions to spice up our evening a bit. They were a bit skeptical at first, but they eventually agreed that it’s definitely interesting to get figuratively naked to each other.
I first learned about the 36 Questions through a musical podcast by Two-Up Productions. It’s a story about a young couple who makes use of the renowned 36 Questions as a last resort to mend their broken relationship. I was obsessed with it for months, especially because of Jonathan Groff. There was even a time when I listened to it every night until I fell asleep. With a little research, I later found that the idea behind the story came from a New York Times article in 2015. The author, Daniel Jones, cites Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay, and how she refers to a study by Arthur Aron (and some of his colleagues) that explores the idea of an accelerated intimacy between people through a series of specific personal questions.
The 36 Questions that is expected to lead to love, is a 45-minute exercise that attempts to create intimacy and closeness between people through mutual vulnerability. It is divided into three parts and is designed to become progressively probing. The final task of the study is to stare into each other’s eyes for a solid four minutes. Definitely mortifying.
“People are not truly best friends until they smash their walls and fearlessly become vulnerable to each other. This is how intimate connections are born.”
My friends and I bent some rules. For starters, there were three of us, so we weren’t exactly expecting a throuple by the end of the exercise. We also didn’t follow the 45-minute rule, which I thought was liberating, because it allowed us to get really chatty in-between questions.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
The first part was a piece of cake. The first few questions brought up our similarities and impressions of each other, especially question 8 (Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common). Some qualities we believe we share are artistic, easy-going, open-minded, and dedicated. In general, Question 11, for me, felt a little too soon. I scrambled with countless occurrences in my head and debated what felt okay to be shared. I don’t recall what bits I highlighted, but I assume they were something safe and generic.
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
The first set allowed my friends and I to get familiar with each other, but the second set definitely helped our friendship get a bit more depth. Anthropologist Ted Fischer explains that love is simply a positive evolutionary force. As I sat all ears to my friends, I started to appreciate the exercise even more.
We were all limbered up by question 13, and hearing what they had to say made it even easier to just open up. Catron said that she does not believe you can easily create love. However, the feelings of intimacy and trust — which are important conditions for love to thrive — slowly become apparent with the help of the 36 Questions.
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling …”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share …”
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. 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.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
By part three, we were already a little light-headed from the alcohol. I felt like I could tell my friends anything, and they would only reciprocate kindness. It was probably two in the morning, and we have already taken countless turns to the restroom to pee. Nonetheless, we felt closer than ever.
We skipped the four-minute stare-a-thon at the end of the exercise because we didn’t know how to manage it. Should we take turns? Should we stare at one person each? It felt like having to decide if we should get into a threesome. The idea of staring into someone’s eyes was mortifying enough, what more if you had to do it twice? Catron expressed that staring into someone’s eyes was definitely intimidating. She said that the crux of the moment wasn’t just the fact that she was really seeing someone, but it was also that someone was really seeing her. Once she embraced the terror of her realization and gave it time to subdue, she said that she arrived somewhere unexpected.
Following our 36 Questions night, my friends and I became more inseparable that we hung out almost every day. If there is someone you want to build intimate connections with, then I suggest you try this exercise. If along the way, the questions start to feel like a routine, you can always twist it up a bit and make it personal, just like what we did. There were times wherein someone would share something really intriguing that we’d get stuck in one question for a few minutes. Couples and families can also try this activity together. It has been shown to increase closeness and love with each other.
In the musical podcast 36 Questions, Natalie and Jase do the exercise twice — when they meet and when they try to rekindle. I think it would be a communicative activity to do once my friends and I reunite after this whole Coronavirus fiasco.
P.S. while you’re still waiting for the lockdown to be lifted, go give 36 Questions the musical podcast a listen (they’re on Spotify)! I am in desperate need of someone to discuss this beautiful work of art with.
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Aron, Arthur, et al. The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. Sage Journals, 1997
Catron, Mandy Len. To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. The New York Times, 2015
Jones, Daniel. The 36 Questions That Lead To Love. The New York Times, 2015
Jones, Orion. 36 Questions Designed To Help You Fall In Love With Anyone. Big Think, 2015