It’s a bit of a crazy idea but one that has received a fair bit of media coverage in recent days, with articles in both the New York Times and The Guardian.
In short, it is claimed that asking a set of 36 questions developed in a 20 year-old behavioural science study will lead to instant love, even between total strangers.
Researchers Arthur Aron and his team asked strangers to take turns answering a series of 36 questions and end by staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes.
Twenty years ago their original experiment actually resulted in a wedding between the two participants six months after the study.
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.
The idea is intriguing – particularly to the many people here whose marriages will inevitably be “arranged”.
If you are of a marriageable age, chances are that you have had to field your fair share of rishtas. Arranged marriages may be traditional here but that does not make them any less daunting.
Aunties are quick to point out that an arranged marriage doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the idea of conjugal love. They say that you are more likely to find happiness with someone who’s been screened by your nearest and dearest. Certainly older generations are testament to the fact that love can grow, even between people who meet on their wedding day.
Luckily, modern arranged marriages tend to allow more room for maneuver, with prospective brides and grooms being given the chance to get to know each other a little. This brings its own challenges however. Some families are reluctant to allow too many meetings, and many insist on having a chaperone present. Even if your family is very liberal, meeting a prospective spouse is awkward.
So could these questions help you out in a tea trolley situation?
Could asking someone about the last time he or she cried or how happy his or her childhood was help you find love? What will your aunties say if you spend four minutes staring into each other’s eyes?
What’s key about Aron’s study and the recent follow-ups is the notion that it debunks the notion of “The One”, the romantic ideal that there is one perfect person for everyone. Even the Guardian’s guinea pigs, who felt no spark, felt that, given the right circumstances and two people who are both looking for love, these questions might indeed breed romance. The idea that there are many people you could fall in love is one that fits neatly into the whole arranged marriage scenario. But can any questions really help you find love?
If you’re the decidedly uncomfortable position of meeting a potential spouse, chances are that you will gather the courage to ask about your “deal-breakers”. Whether it’s drinking, smoking, wives working or joint families, everyone has key points that they want to make sure of in an arranged scenario. But what about romance? How do you gauge if this is someone you could fall in love with? That’s where this questionnaire comes in handy.
At first glance the questions seem fairly ordinary. They start off innocuously enough, breaking the ice, and gradually become more intimate. However once you actually start the process of answering them with another person, you realise that the process is very revealing. It tells you a lot about a person, their motivations and their character. The progression of sharing your dreams, experiences and aspirations also engenders a feeling of familiarity and closeness. However, if you’re scoping out an arranged marriage, perhaps you need to go a little further.
It may seem clinical but, as long as there's some basic chemistry, maybe love can wait. The things you want to gauge are a person's honesty, their flexibility, how they deal with conflict and setbacks. Do you have similar ideas about and expectations from marriage? Can you see a way to make a framework for mutual trust and respect? Ultimately these are the things that form the basis of a happy marriage.
So once this ice is broken, what else should you be asking? Here are a few ideas.
Ask about his or her parents’ marriage? Are they compatible? How did they meet? How do they come to decisions? Is there anything you'd do differently in your own marriage?
Whatever people may say, some of their expectations are governed by what they have seen growing up. Whether you realise it or not, your parents' marriage affects your own expectations of marriage
Ask about the last best evening they had with their friends. This will tell you a lot about how they like to unwind
Where do you see yourself in 20 years time? Yes it's a bit of a job interview question but if you are going to be spending your life with someone it's important to know their goals.
Do they take time out for themselves away from their family? How do they spend this time?
What do you expect from your spouse and your marriage? This is perhaps the most vital question – we make assumptions about other people all the time but there is no substitute for actually listening to them. You may be surprised.
As for yourself, be honest. Even the best, most romantic and passionate marriages involve compromise. You don't want to make things hard for yourself from the beginning by pretending to be something you're not.
So will you fall in love with them at the end of the process? If you’re both looking for love and are inherently compatible, this may be a good start. At the very least you can mitigate the dreadful awkwardness of those rishta meetings. These 36 questions may lead to the funniest, most exhilarating tea-trolley situations ever.
You may even make a friend or two.