I have always thought of love as an elusive beast — hard to catch and hard to keep. Once I found it, I would do anything I could to keep it alive — even if that meant giving everything I had to a relationship to the detriment of my own personal growth. The result of that attitude is that every time a relationship has ended, I have spent months, years even, trying to pick up the pieces and become whole again. In the spirit of trying something new, and honoring myself as an individual, I’m taking a cue from science.
See, scientists have to suspend their expectations or biases on outcomes of experiments. They don’t get to involve their emotions, because that can destroy the integrity of the experiment. And they explore simply for the love of exploring. So, I’m going to start thinking the same way about relationships. I won’t get attached to an uncertain future outcome. I will date with no expectations except to learn and enjoy myself.But how can science change the degree of sacrifice I offer in a relationship? Well, the data is telling me falling in love might be easier than I thought.
A study by psychologist Arthur Aron explores whether intimacy between two people can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. Basically, can you contrive closeness or does it have to happen organically? Well, the extent of its effects aren’t totally clear yet, but the questions definitely encouraged a deeper connection than conversations of similar length between similar people that we would consider “small talk.”
These 36 questions build on one another, beginning more generally, and growing more specific and personal as you work your way through the list. How intensely or quickly your feelings or your partner’s will change through this process is a mystery. That they’ll grow is something you can count on.
So, rather than waiting for love to find you and then holding on for dear life when it does, why not invite it into your life, accept the results as they appear, and think of a “successful relationship” as one from which you learned something new? If you’re up for it, give these questions a try.
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.