In January 2015, the Modern Love column in the New York Times ran an article by reporter Mandy Len Catron about the experiment she ran trying to create connection between two strangers. She used herself and an acquaintance as the subjects. Catron applied the research findings of Dr. Arthur Aron who studies the science of love and intimacy at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. His results were originally published in the article The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (1997).
These questions can be used with someone you want to get to know, or someone you're already in a relationship with and just want to deepen the intimacy between you.
Catron and her acquaintance from a rock climbing class met at a bar and again later at a bridge. They asked each other the 36 questions that Dr. Aron developed to build connection and intimacy, and stared deeply into each other's eyes. The questions have been developed to sequentially deepen and increase the disclosure between two individuals.
What happened? In her article in January, Catron shared with readers that the experiment worked. Catron and the acquaintance from the experiment are dating and have fallen in love. After her article was published in the New York Times, thousands of people have searched the internet for the list of 36 questions and tried them with a partner or potential partner. In the nine months since her article came out, Catron has been flooded with inquiries about whether the two are still together. It seems everybody is rooting for them.
In an August, 2015 TedX talk at Chapman University in Orange, California, Catron presented on her experience of falling in love through the experiment and sharing the experience with a few million readers. She shared how unprepared she was for the amount of interest in her personal life, with emails and inquiries from around the globe about whether the couple are still together.
Catron reflects that she realizes now that the harder thing is to stay in love rather than simply falling in love. She spoke eloquently in her TedX talk about having discovered that when you fall in love, you become vulnerable and have something wonderful to lose. Love involves risking being hurt. The decision to be in love and keep building a loving relationship is one we keep making every day.
The 36 questions are a good way to get started, but keeping the loving connection going for years is the real goal. Falling in love can be easy but staying in love takes awareness, continued curiosity, growth and sustained effort, even when you don't feel like it.
Are Catron and her boyfriend from the experiment still dating? The answer is yes, and she seems happy and grateful. Here are the 36 questions from Aron's research in case you'd like to try to build your emotional connection with someone:
(ask in order)
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 phone 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 the mind or the body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take 4 minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up one morning and have gained 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 it would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you 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 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.