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36 burning questions you need to ask anyone you're planning on falling in love with.

Is it possible to fall in love with a stranger, just by asking them 36 questions? Possible, yes. Advisable? Probably not.

If I had done what this woman did on her first date, there would never have been a second one with the man I have now been with for 10 years. We would never have made a home together. We would never have had two children.

If I had done what this woman did on her first date, we would never have made it past dessert.

Today the Internet is talking about a beautiful essay by Mandy Len Cantron, who writes about how, on the first official date with a man she vaguely knew, she asked the 36 questions that are guaranteed to indicate exactly how compatible two people are.

Mandy Len Cantron, who wrote the excellent New York Times account of her first date that the world’s talking about today.

The questions are well-known in psychology circles as the subject of an experiment carried out in 1997. Psychologist Athur Aron and his team devised a list that could be scientifically proven to form a bond between two strangers in a laboratory setting.

It’s a list that predicts compatability. It’s 36 questions that could make people fall in love.  Or not..

Here’s a sample (the full list of questions is at the end of this post):

– 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?

– What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

In her story, Len Cantron doesn’t do the experiment in a lab, she does it, as many of us would on a first date, in a bar.  But imagine, if you would, the horror of asking some of the more, um, personal questions, to a man you had just met, and were um, romantically interested in:

– When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

– 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?

– 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 list is absolutely fascinating. I want to rush home and go through it with my partner right now. I want to ask all my friends.

But, 10 years ago, when I went on for a Saturday afternoon drink with a man I sort of knew from work, if I had pulled that out and started going through it, I would have been home by 5pm.

Being the kind of guy who’s always up for something interesting, I think my date would have agreed, as Len Cantron’s did, so that wouldn’t have been the problem.

But he would have been bound to say something I deemed “stupid” or ” shallow”, like choose Jean Claude Van Damme as his dinner party guest, or confess that he wanted to be famous for winning the world air guitar championships (true story, people). His perfect day would definitely have included much, much beer.

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My answers would have been pretentious. Bob Dylan and Maya Angelou would have been my dinner guests, I would definitely only want to be famous for creating/inventing something profoundly important and my perfect day would have involved walks on the cliffs and wine.

I would have analysed how open he was prepared to be with the deeper questions, was that a good or a bad sign? And I would have instantly prescreened my answers to those to not give away anything too personal, too painful, to someone who I didn’t yet know I could trust with my secrets, my failings.

I would have judged him, found him wanting, and walked away.

And what a life I would have missed.

Be careful kids, this is where a first date can lead.

What really happened was this – we had a few too many drinks and a spectacularly bad pizza that he thought was fine. I found him funny and, um, different to the guys I usually dated, we laughed quite a lot, and then I left thinking, ‘Hmmmm?’

I did not think I had met my soul mate. I did not instantly foresee years of adventures and laughter and two little red-headed people without whom we could no longer live.

Who you are right now, the things that you think define you, like your favourite dinner guest and your most-treasured possession, are transient, are not for-ever things. The answers to these questions would be different tomorrow, and the next day.

Which is the problem with conducting a scientific experiment in a non-scientific environment, and possibly with placing too much stock in the answers to questionnaires, whether a by an eminent psychologist or a dating website.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go home, insist my partner does this questionaire with me tonight, and then fight about our answers.

Because that’s one thing that wouldn’t have changed between the first dates and now – 10 years on, I probably will still think his answers are wrong. But now I’d know it doesn’t matter.

Arthur Aron’s 36 questions that form bonds between strangers.*

The questions have to be asked, in this order, by each person. It should take 90 minute. No fighting.

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are 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 want?

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 any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set 2

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 dreamed 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?

Set 3

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 very 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.

* From “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness“, by Arthu Aron and associates, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 1997.

 Do you think this a fool-proof way to get to know someone? 

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