I’m sure you have heard of the 36 Questions to Love. If you haven’t, you clearly don’t surf the internet at ungodly late hours like myself, so let me explain. Psychologist Arthur Aron did a study to evaluate creating closeness in an experimental context. Simply put, a set of 36 questions in three sets were given to complete strangers to ask and answer. The questions start simple enough and then become more detailed and personal. After the 36 Questions are answered, the strangers are then asked to look in their partners eyes for 4 minutes. You read that correctly, 4…whole…silent…minutes.
I first came across these 36 Questions a few years back when I was dating a guy that I had been with for over a year. We came to a pretty rough part in our relationship, and I saw the questions as an opportunity to rebuild communication between the two of us. Sadly, we broke up before we could ever answer the questions. Since then, I have always wanted to try them and see what the buzz was about. I found several Youtube videos and articles done by magazines like GLAMOUR, all using complete strangers as the subject.
And since yours truly loves a good challenge, I thought, maybe it was finally time to give this a go. First question: who do I do the 36 Questions with?
Enter my lovely and handsome test subject, a gentleman I had already been on one date with and had a great time. Bonus: he was familiar with the study and the questions having done them before. Well this should be a breeze then! As stated early, the questions are in 3 sets, each set become more personal. The first set had questions like:
- Would you like to be famous and it what way?
- What constitutes a “perfect” day for you?
“This is going to be easy.”, I thought. Since we had already had a nice first date, we were both at ease with the first set of questions. And we also learned a great deal more about each other. But then I should have realized, that things were going to get REAL, real fast. The idea of the questions are not to embarrass your partner, or make them feel uncomfortable. Rather, to get to a more personal layer of the person that you don’t normally see at the stereotypical coffee date with the archaic questions like “So what do you do for fun?” or “You went to UGA? What did you study?” These questions are meant to make both people think, and if you’re lucky, be very honest and perhaps even vunerable.
And that is exactly what happened. Set two had questions like:
- What is your most terrible memory?
- How do you feel about your relationship with you mother?
The first question had me discussing a time in my life that I don’t often speak about, and one that was deeply personal. However, I felt a sense of ease in discussing it with my partner and perhaps that was what made it so genuine. We went back and forth talking about our childhood and our views of the world, and soon the questions, though challenging, became more insightful.
The third and final set had questions like:
- When did you last cry in front of a person? When did you cry alone?
- Tell your partner something you like about them already?
I was thrilled to get to the final set. Mainly because if I got any more personal with my answers, I would have to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner seeing as how he would practically be family by then. Full disclosure: the last time I cried in front of a person was in fact him, when I answered a question in Set two. And that was when it hit me, the act of sharing something deeply personal with someone who respects you and is humbled by you sharing that information, is a beautiful thing. It brings a different kind of connection with someone- a human connection, just as impactful as an amazing first kiss.
To conclude the 36 Questions, you are to look in your partners eyes for 4 SILENT minutes. Ok, I am a wisecrack, smart ass on a good day. But when I feel uncomfortable or awkward, my level of wisecrackery gets to almost biblical levels. “How the hell am I going to stare at this guy for 4 minutes and NOT say anything.” , I thought. I gave myself an internal pep talk. “Just look at his nose or his eyebrows, don’t stare for the whole 4 minutes, try not to laugh like a hyena and for Gods sake, don’t hum.”
The first few minutes were awkward to say the least. We both had nervous smiles, coupled with my seizure like attempt to not laugh. And then the most amazing and insightful thing happened. Staring became easier. It was like I was looking at a good friend. One who knows me well, but more importantly, had no desire to laugh or judge me. It was at this point, I let my guard down and stared without feeling embarrassed. I set a 4 minute timer on my phone and after 4 minutes, it went off. But we continued to stare at each for an additional two more minutes. 6 minutes of silence and staring. It wasn’t awkward, or strange and if I am being honest, those last two minutes after the timer went off was my favorite part of the entire experience.
I think we were both amazed to continue holding our gaze. But it was perhaps the most deeply personal and wonderful experience I ever had on a date. The rest of the evening was a fun night out at karaoke and some great Netflix and chill. After the 36 Questions, I can honestly say I am happy that I finally did them and grateful that my partner was so open and kind with his answers. So if you are curious to try them with your significant other or with a stranger, I highly recommend it. Below is a link to the New York Times article where the questions were featured. My advise if you do try them, be open, be honest, enjoy the process and have plenty of wine- you’re going to need it!