Valentine’s Day is a mere two weeks away and you’re crawling every profile put up in the last 2 years and 500 miles on OK Cupid to find a sweetie before cupid gives you the cold shoulder yet again. When you finally snag that tentative drink at a hip but not-too-hip bar and neither of you cancels (or pretends to cancel after a glance), the challenge continues. You impress enough with amusing anecdotes that come from buzzfeed on date number one to make it to date number two. Und so weiter, as the Germans say. However, somewhere in there, you might want to fall in love.
To this end, take a bit of advice from a study that recently figured in an article in the New York Times. Perhaps you’ve already heard about the 36 questions of Arthur Aron. Perhaps not. Aron and his team say that closeness can be generated by asking and answering 36 questions of increasing personal intimacy and then staring into each another’s eyes for four minutes. As you disclose your vulnerabilities, your connection grows. Does it work? Aron’s study had a surprising outcome; two of the original participants in the study married just six months after meeting in the lab. So, yes, it does work in some cases.
The questions, published HERE, are divided into three sets. Each set steps up the level of disclosure. From set one, for example, you get questions like “Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?” From set two, the questions are ever more probing. “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?” And from set three, “If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.”
Does it work out of the lab? The author of the New York Times article, Mandy Len Catron says that she and her date — an acquaintance — fell in love after answering the 36. The questions have also been used successfully to reduce racial prejudice between police and community members, and foster friendships.
The trick seems to come from your Arthur’s wife Elaine Aron, who also designed the study, cautions that you have to be open to falling in love for the questions to work in that particular way. Sincerity and reciprocity seem crucial to the success of the 36.
My own efforts to get people to try the questions out with me have failed. To begin, I can’t even answer the questions by myself without getting irritated at how slumber party-esque they seem. They hardly seem to probe the soul or draw out shocking revelations. I think a camp counselor once asked my cabin, “What does friendship mean to you?” (question 20) and I’m sure I’ve had philosophical discussions around “What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?” (question 32). In a more vulnerable time in my life, I might be moved to tears trying to recall my most treasured memory (question 17), but for now, I think keeping track of my passwords is the most important thing my memory can handle.
As for staring into the eyes of my significant other, this quickly turned into a staring competition in which he won and I lost. Instead of feeling love, I felt inadequate. I would never survive in the wild should constant attention on a single point be required. I tried again with both my cat and my dog and neither was willing to participate. Hence, the other problem with this method of obtaining love — the other party has to take it seriously.
My conclusion: what works for some doesn’t work for all. Hence all those phrases about fish in the sea. If these 36 questions get you love before or after V-Day, all the best. If not, don’t fret. I’ve managed to fall in love a few times and all that required was a good cocktail or three.
Bonus info: Today, January 31, in Japan is Love Your Wife day.