Call me a cynic. If it sounds too good to be true, I usually believe it is. This set of 36 questions has been making the rounds on the Internet faster than Superman flies around the earth. Twenty years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron came up with these 36 questions and succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in a lab experiment. However, without social media, he received no accolades till the writer Mandy Len Catron decided to jump right in to try the experiment herself and then got her article published in The New York Times.
The reality is that these 36 questions were designed to create a temporary sense of intimacy between two people but this feeling of closeness forms only one aspect of falling in love. What else was controlled during the initial lab experiment? There were 33 pairs of tertiary students who were part of a psychology class and 1 pair eventually got married (hence the big hoo-ha). Prior to the actual experiment, students had already taken behavioural and attitudinal surveys so that students could be matched such that they did not disagree on fundamentally important issues. They were also informed of the matching process and were given the expectation that they and their matches would like each other.
Under The Magnifying Glass
How difficult really, is it to make a bunch of tertiary students fall in love? Do we not remember? It was pretty much a zoo and the number of pair permutations was mind-boggling. Odds were that you and your best friend dated enough of the same guys for it to feel vaguely incestuous. Falling in love isn’t generally the difficult part; it’s staying together that’s hard. We know one couple got married after the experiment but what happened after that?
Furthermore, we already know that match-making works to a certain extent. The surveys conducted prior to the experiment was simply that. It also helps that students already knew their matches were likely to be attracted to them, something which will certainly make them inclined to reciprocate the feeling.
Even for Catron herself (who incidentally is also a university student), while she did not go through a match-making process, she attempted the experiment with an acquaintance she “occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?”” She had also gotten a “glimpse into his days on Instagram.” So we know Catron was already interested in this guy and knew enough about him to suspect they could be a match.
So What Does This Mean?
Does it mean the questions don’t work? Of course not. There can be little doubt that sitting for hours conversing with someone about intimate aspects of your life and your thoughts will make you feel extremely close to someone and this is precisely the kind of condition in which people fall in love. Making conversation is no piece of cake and having a set of questions to work with simplifies it for everyone. But you can’t just walk up to any stranger in a pub and expect to fall in love. However if you know someone you think you could love and just never had the chance to try, this experiment gives you a great excuse to start. And if he says yes, it already means he’s interested so the odds are definitely in your favour. So take a good look at all the potential around you and ask away!
The 36 Questions:
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a perfect day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- 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 choose?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…”
- Complete this sentence “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
- If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
- Tell your partner what you like about them: Be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- 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?
- 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?
- Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
- 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.
~ Li Ching (Who is a Cynic in Love)