BY: SYDNEY MCINNIS
About a year ago, I caught wind of a questionnaire that was meant to increase intimacy between two people, or even foster a kind of love – specifically between two people who aren’t already familiar with each other. Things like this seriously intrigue me, considering human connection is essentially the foundation of my being.
I happened to conveniently be drinking wine with some people that I knew, and some that I didn’t know so well. So I searched for Arthur Aron’s questionnaire on the Internet and announced to everyone in the room that I was looking for a partner that I didn’t know who might like to participate in the experiment and see if we would fall in love. I didn’t feel skeptical about my end of the questionnaire considering my track record – I fall in love pretty easily.
A beautiful boy that I knew only vaguely offered himself for the challenge. The questions are divided into three sections, each section more invasive than the one before. By the third section, the pair is basically helping one another solve internal conflicts, and eventually you finish the questionnaire with a four-minute period of sustained eye contact. You can view the questions at the bottom of this article.
After two or more hours, sitting on the floor in the corner of my friend’s living room with the boy, I found myself feeling a profound sense of love for him. I was unsure of the permanence of this feeling, and if the love was romantic or platonic. Long story short, that boy is now my partner, and the love is pretty well as romantic as it gets.
I recently started to wonder if the questionnaire actually had anything to do with our love. Could it be that two people, already compatible to fall in love, selected each other for the questionnaire by chance? Or does opening a relationship with someone by being completely and utterly vulnerable with them set the stage for romance? I needed to look deeper into this, so I decided to arrange an experiment, this time I would look from the outside in.
To test the waters to their fullest, I decided to pair up two of my friends, Levan Sonego and Mikael Melo, that I thought were particularly incompatible – each amazing in their own way, however. I wanted to see if these probing questions really have the ability to create closeness between anyone – even those who don’t have much in common on the surface. The three of us sat down in my bedroom, candles and incense lit. I sat in the corner and tried to make myself as invisible as possible.
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The first set of questions began quietly and nervously. Eye contact was seldom made and their backs were pressed up against the wall. By the second set of questions, their body language had changed completely. They turned their shoulders towards each other and conversation was becoming more and more fluid as the mutual investigation went on. By the third set of questions, which are definitely the most invasive, I watched my friends open up to each other about deeply personal conflicts and display genuine care and empathy. At several points, it actually brought a tear to my eye. Once they had wrapped up the question portion, I left the room so they could stare into each other’s eyes for four uninterrupted minutes. In my experience, this was the portion that really pushed the connection. I felt incredibly squirmy and uncomfortable knowing that my partner had to stare at my face for that length of time, but the squirming soon turned into bliss, as I studied each corner of his face and realized how beautiful it is to just connect with someone, having no distractions whatsoever.
“In the end, it was just super interesting to see the amount of similarities I had with someone who I did find was very different from me on the whole. The things we’ve been through are very similar. It’s refreshing because you can never actually know what to expect from someone,” Sonego said. “It was a very safe chance to be open.”
Engagement encourages vulnerability. Mutual vulnerability encourages connection. Even if you aren’t connecting over what you’re saying, you’re connecting over the fact that you’re both there, nervous and saying whatever you’re thinking out loud. Of course this is going to open the door to feeling some sort of love – not necessarily romantic love, however. “When you meet someone, usually as the relationship progresses, the respect does as well, but I found myself with respect for Levan right off the bat. Respect grew so quickly because we were both putting it all out there,” Melo said.
Of course I asked the question, “do you love him?” to both of them. Turns out, Sonego and Melo didn’t come out of the experiment with any romantic feelings, but I suppose my partner and I didn’t fall in love until recently either. Doing something like this certainly allows for a relationship to develop because you feel like you really understand each other, mostly because you really do. The questions are probing enough that you really do get a basis of who that person is, and in regular life and regular introductory conversation, perhaps asking questions like those wouldn’t be acceptable. People would be caught off guard.
Elaine Aron, co-writer of the questionnaire, said to Huffington Post, “the basis of the 36 questions is that back-and-forth self-disclosure, that increases gradually (not too fast), is consistently linked with coming to like the other person you do this with. We just made it a systematic method that could be used in the lab.”
Having this exchange with someone you don’t know builds a fresh relationship, and having it with someone you already know can just multiply it. It’s truly amazing what openness and engagement can do, and I am so excited to find that this questionnaire has an impact on more people than just myself.
These are the questions:
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- 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?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling …”
- Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share …”
- If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
- 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.
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- 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?
- 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?
- Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
- 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.