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The 36 Questions That Lead to Love
In Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” she refers to a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. The 36 questions in the study are broken up into three sets, with each set intended to be more probing than the previous one.
Why You Should Try It
Building close relationships in adulthood can be challenging. Many social situations call for polite small talk, not heart-to-heart conversations, making it difficult to really connect deeply with people.
One way to overcome these barriers to closeness is by engaging in “reciprocal self-disclosure”—that is, to reveal increasingly personal information about yourself to another person, as they do the same to you. Research suggests that spending just 45 minutes engaging in self-disclosure with a stranger can dramatically increase feelings of closeness between you. In some cases, these feelings of closeness persist over time and form the basis of a new relationship.
Why It Works
To develop closeness, we need to be willing to open up. But opening up isn’t always easy—we might fear coming on too strong or embarrassing ourselves. The 36 Questions encourage us to open up at the same time and at a similar pace as our partner, reducing the likelihood that the sharing will feel one-sided. It offers space for our partner to respond positively to our self-disclosure—with understanding, validation, and care—in a way that can also enhance closeness. This mirrors the gradual getting-to-know-you process that relationships typically undergo, only at a more accelerated pace. The feelings of closeness generated can, in turn, help us build lasting relationships that increase our overall happiness.
Evidence That It Works
Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363-377.
Unacquainted pairs of participants instructed to ask one another the “36 Questions for Increasing Closeness” reported a greater increase in feelings of closeness than pairs instructed to ask one another 36 superficial questions instead. Pairs who completed the closeness exercise felt closer regardless of whether they shared certain core beliefs and attitudes, or whether they expected the exercise to work in the first place. Remarkably, their feelings of closeness following the conversation matched the average level of closeness that other participants reported feeling in their closest relationships.