Unlocking Intimacy: 36 Questions to Fall in Love
Can asking each other a structured set of questions really help two people fall in love?
That's the premise behind the famous "36 questions that lead to love," an experiment popularized by a viral essay and inspired by real psychological research on how intimacy forms.
Today, people are bringing the quiz with them on first dates, and marriage therapists assign the activity to couples looking to emotionally reconnect.
What are the 36 questions to fall in love?
The so-called 36 questions to fall in love are a set of questions developed in the 1990s by psychologists Arthur Aron, Ph.D., Elaine Aron, Ph.D., and other researchers to see if two strangers can develop an intimate connection just from asking each other a series of increasingly personal questions.
The experiment became massively popular after the New York Times Modern Love column published an essay by Mandy Len Catron in 2015 about her experience trying the questions with an acquaintance whom she went on to marry.
While the primary goal isn't necessarily to make two strangers fall in love, the experiment has shown that it can indeed lay the foundation for significant emotional connections, and perhaps even love itself.
The research conducted by Arthur Aron and his team suggests that engaging in these questions can be more effective than engaging in mere small talk when it comes to building a deep sense of closeness between individuals. So, if you're embarking on a first date, the 36 questions experiment might be worth a try!
The 36 questions are broken up into three sets, with a gradual increase in the intensity of self-disclosure with each person taking turns to ask questions... easy right :)
Let's dive right in...
The 36 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?
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?
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 them 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 they might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
You can try this practice with different people you want to develop a deeper connection with—but if your answers start to feel routine, consider making up your own list of questions that become increasingly more personal.
Two couples can also try this practice together, which has been shown to increase closeness between the couples in addition to enhancing closeness and passionate love within each couple.
The research behind the 36 questions
As mentioned earlier, the 36 questions were developed by a team of researchers led by Arthur Aron, Ph.D., and Elaine Aron, Ph.D., two psychologists who have spent decades researching how attraction, intimacy, and romantic love form. In 1997, the team published a paper in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin" describing a series of experiments in which they asked pairs of strangers or college classmates to take turns asking each other the 36 questions. At the end of the experiment, the pairs were asked to spend four uninterrupted minutes staring into each other's eyes.
The questions are designed to help two people gradually reveal more about themselves, identify ways in which they're similar to each other, and express their positive feelings toward each other. This combination of self-disclosure, perceived similarities, and openness to getting close to each other accelerates the creation of feelings of closeness and intimacy.
It is important to note that the questions weren't specifically designed to make people fall in love; they are about creating a sense of closeness.
Can two strangers fall in love with the 36 questions?
What do we think? Well, given the 36 questions are merely intended to foster feelings of closeness and intimacy between two people, I guess it really doesn't matter whether they're strangers or not.
We also need to remember, that the overall goal of the 36 questions isn't necessarily to make two people fall in love, rather the research simply suggests that the questions were an effective method to creating intimacy.
However, the researchers do also emphasize that the closeness achieved through this method is temporary and might not lead to all aspects of a full-fledged, long-term relationship.
In our opinion, the effectiveness of the 36 questions in helping people 'fall in love' varies from person to person - some individuals report positive outcomes and even marriage, others, however, have had different experiences. Some have also found that the structured nature of the questions inhibited the natural flow of their interactions or made the relationship feel more serious than it actually was.
The Bottom Line
The "36 questions to fall in love" experiment is a fascinating exploration of human connection and intimacy. While the questions themselves might not guarantee that two people will fall in love, they have been shown to create a sense of intimacy and connection.
So, whether you're a skeptic or a romantic, the experiment offers a unique way to engage with someone on a deep and meaningful level, making it a valuable tool for enhancing relationships and understanding the complexities of human interaction.
Aron, A. et al (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23 (4), 363 - 377.
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