36 Questions in a Quarantine
It's like being stuck in the car, only for days or weeks. Reach out and listen.
Posted Mar 25, 2020
The "36 Questions" made a splash years ago after the concept appeared in a New York Times "Modern Love" column. Readers loved the idea that these 36 questions could make couples fall in love. It was the latest aphrodisiac, the social-science Cupid wand. It was magic.
And it is magic, the magic of listening. The actual questions themselves don't matter all that much.
The magic is listening to each other, and taking turns.
As simple as that sounds, we often don't do it when we need to. And just doing it can make your life much better. It's free, too. If you're reading this post this week or this spring, you're probably stuck in your house because of the coronavirus. I feel for you if you lost your job or your freelance business is drying up. Maybe your kids are home with you and restless, or you're cooped up with siblings or roomates. As the days wear on, we'll all ignore each other for stretches, but this is also a time to try the kind of games you'd play on a long car ride.
The magic is listening to each other, and taking turns, with anyone at all.
Social psychology researcher Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York, first published his results under the title "The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness" in 1997. Note the title: "Closeness," not "Romantic Love."
You don't need to wait for someone you'd like to be with. Try it with someone who is hard to be with, but you're stuck with. Call it "Love in the Time of Corona."
As I originally wrote, his questions only take about 45 minutes to discuss—and they almost always make two people feel better about each other and want to see each other again, according to Aron.
Each of you should take a turn answering each question. Especially if you're using this process with family read the questions first and decide if you'll be leaving some of them out or switching in something else. Aron told me personally that he believes the process, not the questions, are what counts.
Here are the original questions, in order:
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, who 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're 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 choose?
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 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 dreamt 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 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.
Here are a few variations:
- If you could choose the sex and physical appearance of your soon-to-be-born child, would you do it?
- Would you be willing to have horrible nightmares for a year if you would be rewarded with extraordinary wealth?
- While on a trip to another city, your spouse/lover meets and spends a night with an exciting stranger. If they will never meet again, and you could never otherwise learn of the incident, would you want your partner to tell you about it?
Have fun! Wash your hands!