36 questions: a pathway to meaningful relationships

Photo by Casey Gomez, Student Publications

The list begins with a simple question: given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

It’s the first of 36 questions that, theoretically, will generate extreme closeness between the pair of individuals who answer them. A couple trying to get to know each other on a first date, for example, might be one step closer to falling in love. The questions are organized into three categories, getting more and more intimate and personal as they continue.

The final prompt instructs participants to ask for advice from their partner on a personal problem and marks the end of what is meant to be an intense 45-minute experience.

The list comes from a study led by psychologist Arthur Aron called “The Experimental Generation of Personal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings.” Years after the study, which showed a positive correlation between individuals who answered the questions and increased interpersonal closeness, the internet took hold of the paper and ran with it.

People tried the list on their romantic partners, taking turns exchanging questions. They tried it on people they had never met, hoping to find true love. They had varying degrees of success.

I heard about the list a few months ago and decided to try it with my romantic partner at the time. We didn’t seem to fall more in love, but I recognize that we were already significantly close   and weren’t performing the experiment under strict experimental conditions.

However, I found the experience far more gratifying when I tried it with a relatively new friend about whom I didn’t know a great deal of personal details. Beyond just the questions, which were interesting enough, we found ourselves getting pulled into other conversations and emotional stories. 

I felt that I came out of the experience knowing her far better than I had before and now we can relate to each other on a deeper level. 

I look back at that moment as a significant milestone in my relationship with her.

It strikes me that we are often so wrapped up in looking for a “hack” to find love, or a way to lock down someone we’re interested in. We don’t invest nearly as much time or effort into cultivating closeness in our platonic friendships.

I am certainly guilty of this. I worry about making sure a crush or boyfriend knows how important he is to me, but I find myself thinking less about whether one of my best friends might feel neglected. 

It’s not too hard, either. Many of the same things we do to show appreciation for a significant other, we can do for our friends. 

If someone is on your mind, let them know you’re thinking of them. 

If a friend is having a rough day, see if there is anything you can do to help or just pick them up a coffee or snack.

In my opinion, life is more fulfilling if I can have deeper-than-surface-level relationships with people that are important to me. 

My friends are there for me through thick and thin. I want to invest time into relationships with them, instead of ignoring them in favor of  a potential partner whose long term presence in my life isn’t guaranteed.

I took the whole experience as a wake up call, that I should create a space for love in all of my relationships. 

So I urge you to try it. Show people in your life that you want to know more about them by asking them these 36 questions. You might be surprised with what you find out.

It’s so hard to resist the pull of popular culture, which tells us that the only place for intimacy is in romantic partnerships. 

Investing into getting to know someone more deeply is a sign of love, whether that affection is platonic or romantic.