Love through 36 Questions


Can you fall in love with anyone by asking a list of 36 questions?

When an old college acquaintance speculated to her that "given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone," Mandy Len Catron invited him to see if it was possible. The two of them followed the guidelines of an experiment that Arthur Aron, a psychologist, conducted in the 1990s. It paired together university students who didn't know each other and had them ask a series of 36 increasingly personal questions. Catron and her friend asked each other those questions and then stared into each other's eyes for four minutes.

They fell in love. Catron says that the experiment paved the way for her and her acquaintance to fall in love because it created a sense of trust and closeness that they built upon. That trust and closeness – something we call emotional intimacy – is essential to any relationship. Dr. Aron's 36 questions certainly seem like an effective way for a couple to develop emotional intimacy.

One of the main reasons is because they require each person to gradually open up to each other by sharing increasingly in-depth ideas, feelings, thoughts, and impressions. Making progressively personal disclosures and hearing similar ones from another person helps two people feel a growing sense of connection and trust. The list of questions starts with items that require a small amount of self disclosure, like "What would constitute a perfect day for you?" and lead to deeper questions, like "What is your most treasured memory?" and eventually to "Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life." Because the questions gradually become more probing, Catron "didn't notice we had entered intimate territory until we were already there, a process that can typically take weeks or months".

Unfortunately, many daters go out with each other for weeks or months without learning very much about their feelings, how each other thinks, what they value, how they approach life, and what gives their lives meaning. Asking each other questions like those on Dr. Aron's list might help them do that.

The last item on the list is a great idea for every couple to try after they feel they've begun to build a trusting connection. Each person shares a problem with the other and asks for advice on how to handle it – a good way to help each other feel valued. Then, each asks the other to reflect back on how the speaker seems to be feeling about the problem, which encourages the couple to tune into each other's emotions.

While asking Dr. Aron's 36 questions on one date might jump-start the process of building emotional intimacy, we think it's a better idea to space them out over a period of time. Most people feel more comfortable gradually getting to know each other and slowly increasing their sense of trust so that they can reveal more of their vulnerabilities. There are other elements of emotional intimacy that need time to take root and grow – elements like shared experiences, loyalty, dependence, and commitment. And love, the emotion that Catron hoped to be able to create, depends on a lot more than emotional intimacy.

How can you use these questions to help you build a connection with someone you're dating?

1. Give each of your dates a purpose. Think of a few new things you'd like to learn about each other and bring them up as topics of conversation or questions to ask your dating partner.

2. Don't focus on just the facts. Ask questions like the ones on Dr. Aron's list to share your ideas, attitudes, values, and sensitivities with each other. Dr. Aron divided his questions into three groups. Stick with the first group of questions during your first few dates, and gradually move on to each of the next groupings as you feel more comfortable with each other.

3. Have fun. There's no reason why you can't combine fun activities with serious conversation on the same date. Some of the things you do together should be interactive – a board game, athletic activity, or even shopping together lets you experience different sides of each other's personalities.

4. Focus on being "present" on your dates. Use all of your senses to concentrate on the experience, the conversation, what you're doing together. That helps make the date more enjoyable and allows a connection to develop naturally. When you're present, it's easier to resist the counterproductive urge to conduct an ongoing "analysis" of what's going on.

5. Don't schedule your dates too close together. You need time to "process" your experiences and feelings, and that often takes place as you go through the routines of your life. Twice a week is an optimal time-frame for seeing each other while you're building a relationship.

6. Find a married mentor to talk to if you want advice or a perspective that can help you acquire clarity about a courtship. Your unmarried friends may be great sounding boards and advice-givers for other aspects of your life, but aren't the best resources when it comes to dating.

These steps can help propel your budding relationship forward.

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