Just a few days into 2015, The New York Times published an article about how to fall in love. The author, Mandy Len Catron, described her experience mimicking a study that aimed to build closeness among study participants - and she did, indeed, fall in love with her study partner.
But what exactly was this study? While there have been many similar research projects, the original was published in 1997 by Dr. Arthur Aron. The procedure was relatively simple. Subjects were paired up and given 36 questions to answer in 45 minutes. These questions became more and more personal as the list went on. After the study was over, the participants, on average, rated their partner relationships of 45 minutes as being about as close as average relationships in their lives. Furthermore, 30 percent of the participants rated their relationships of 45 minutes as being closer than the closest relationships in their lives!
So, maybe this wasn't love per se - but two of the participants in the original study did fall in love and get married, and Mandy Len Catron herself fell in love with her partner when she tried it out.
I can add another story to the mix as well. When I met my husband, we didn't know about this study, and we didn't have this list of questions. However, our conversations got very personal - very quickly. Before we had been "official" for three days, he knew where I wanted to be proposed to. We loved talking about ideas, society, our experiences and our goals. We still do.
So, what exactly did these participants ask each other? What was so powerful about these particular questions? Their order is important. Part of the "magic" is that, throughout the 45 minutes, these questions increase in intimacy. Here are a few:
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
Is there something you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
The 36 questions in Dr. Aron's study are not magical, but they are designed to produce closeness. And so, through these questions, we can learn what closeness is...
It's knowing what someone values. It's knowing another's fears. It's knowing where someone came from and where he would like to go. It's identifying with another. Most importantly, it's sharing part of oneself, trusting another and being trusted by him in return.
So, the study doesn't necessarily create love. But when you really know a person's values and fears, where he came from, where he would like to go - when you identify with and share yourself with someone, trusting him and allowing him to trust you - could you resist loving that person?
What would happen to our most important relationships if we turned to each other, got to know each other in these ways and chose to trust and be trustworthy?
What would happen if we asked our husbands or wives about their longtime dreams and asked why they haven't made those happen? We'd probably learn about secret passions and what our spouses feel is really important.
What would happen if we asked our fathers about their most treasured memories? We'd probably hear about the happiest moments of their lives, learn what makes them happy and better understand how to serve them meaningfully.
What would happen if we put our arms around our sons and (gulp) asked them how they feel about their relationships with us? We'd probably walk away knowing better how to express love and encourage growth in our children.
And, finally, what would happen if we sat down with those we love and told them about our fears, hopes, desires and memories? We would feel known - feel significant. We would feel love and trust grow for the loved ones who know our deepest selves.
You could fall in love, save a marriage or strengthen a family in just 45 minutes.