Can 36 questions lead to love? The internet thinks so – it’s filled with stories of strangers falling in love after answering three sets of questions. A cute, quirky (also terrifying) idea.
It’s based on a study from 20 years ago. The idea is that reciprocal, escalating, personal self-disclosure will foster closeness and accelerate intimacy. Basically by both of you oversharing you feel really connected and lovey-dovey.
Somehow these magical love-sparking questions came up in conversation on a date last week. Which is why last weekend (with vino in hand) I told my life story to someone I was only just getting to know, shared personal memories and talked about the role love and affection play in my life.
I’m a pretty open book (after all this is a blog post about my dating life), but I usually share things on my terms. The 36 questions force you to talk about things that don’t naturally come up in conversation.
I was sceptical about the falling in love part, but nonetheless was excited/nervous to see what would happen.
So, we sat on my couch with risotto and red wine and (a little tentatively) started on the questions.
The questions are split into three sets which get deeper and deeper as you go. We took a lot longer than the 50mins it’s supposed to take because we asked follow up questions, got distracted by details and went on tangents. It turned into a series of mini-conversations really.
[Top tip: if you’re trying this at home, learn from my mistakes and be the person to answer first on all the early questions so that you don’t have go first on the super personal ones. Pretending that you did answer first also does not work as a strategy.]
The first set is fairly safe, it starts like trivia. Who’s your ideal dinner guest (I chose Annabel Crabbe, he chose Obama), do you want to be famous (we both just want to be known for being good at what we do) and when did you last sing to yourself (very recently – yay for karaoke).
It gets a little more serious when you’re asked to ‘name three things you and your partner appear to have in common’. Rarely do we notice and verbalise the things we have in common with others. We spend so much time focusing on our differences in society, it’s really powerful to acknowledge our similarities. Aaaand acknowledging you’re both really attracted to each other is a great way to set the tone for the evening 😉
I also loved the ‘tell your life story’ question. Such a great way to understand who and what shaped someone, what they value and why they are who they are.
The second set of questions takes it up a level. We were asked to share our most treasured and most terrible memories, talk about our families and our relationships with our mothers.
I really enjoyed talking about (and almost disclosing) the role that love and affection plays in our lives. Usually that’s just something you figure out as you get to know someone.
My favourite question from set two was no. 22 ‘Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner’. Pretty nice to hear the positive things someone sees in you – and have the chance to tell someone what you like about them. All the warm and fuzzy feelings.
By this point we were well onto the second bottle of wine. Which was lucky, because things got super real in set three. We shared ‘we statements’, talked about crying, regrets, death.
Question 26 asked us to complete this sentence, “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…” Then in question 27 you tell each other what would be important to know if you were to become close friends. And in question 28 something you like about each other that you wouldn’t usually say to someone you’ve just met. Intense.
Once you get to this stage, it’s really hard to pretend you’re just answering innocuous questions. You’re telling someone what you want to share with them, what you like about them, what they should know about you. It kind of feels like you’re completing a pre-relationship survey, which is an unusual feeling to say the least.
The final question requires you to share a personal problem, ask your partner’s advice & get your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem. We both went for big questions (and surprisingly similar ones) about the purpose, meaning and direction of our lives.
It wasn’t the most probing question of the 36, but knowing that I can share my challenges openly and honestly with someone and receive insightful, thoughtful feedback is really important to me, so that was pretty great.
(Lots of) eye contact
Having made it this far, we decided to give the optional extra activity a go: stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes.
After a few nervous giggles and repositioning on the couch, we decided there was nothing in the rules that said we had to stay silent. Considering we’d spent the last hour or so sharing personal details, asking each other about religion and politics seemed like fair game. I soon realised how often I naturally look away in a conversation, especially if it’s a serious topic (or if I’m trying to think!) The forced staring felt a bit weird after a while and our timer paused itself so I don’t quite know how long we spent, but it did break down any last barriers! It’s a special thing to gaze into someone’s eyes after you’ve shared such an intimate experience.
So, did it work?
Well, answering questions didn’t magically result in falling in love, but there was a lot of trust and mutual respect. Given that we were both okay with trying an experiment like this, we kind of had a head start on the whole ‘being open’ thing. Though I don’t believe it’s that easy to fall in love, the questions created a space to be open, honest and vulnerable.
Sharing such intimate details with someone else is scary, but having someone share their stories with you is pretty special. Certainly an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
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 him or her 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 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.
Extra challenge: Eye contact
Stare into your partner’s eyes for four minutes.