February approaches and I feel somewhat compelled to discuss romance, although I am promising myself that next year will be different …
I have just read an interesting piece in a daily broadsheet about the psychologist Arthur Aron. He hypothesised that by creating a revealing conversation between two parties, the vulnerability that it engendered would spark an intimate relationship. The questions were published in a study called 'The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness' in 1997. (1)
He tested the theory by persuading 52 sets of male and female strangers and 19 sets of female strangers to try it. Two of the participants entered a lab via separate doors, before sitting opposite one another and answering his series of ever-more personal and probing questions. Six months after the experiment two of them got married. Not great results statistically - but what have you got to lose? Here is a sample from the 36 questions. You may (at the least) find yourself a new best friend.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
3. What would constitute a "perfect" day for you?
4. 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?
5. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
6. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
7. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
8. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
9. Is there something that you've dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
10. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
11. What is your most treasured memory?
12. What is your most terrible memory?
13. What does friendship mean to you?
14. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
15. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people's?
16. Make three true "we" statements each. For instance, "We are both in this room feeling ... "
17. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
18. 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.
19. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
20. If you were to die today with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?
21. 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?
I do not think this is a universal panacea for loneliness. The 'choice' of person with whom you embark upon this is obviously critically important and may have ultimate sway over the outcome. Given a choice, I think most people would opt for someone they already feel comfortable with, rather than a complete stranger. The person chosen must also share your feelings to some degree, or they wouldn't agree to be part of the experiment. However, these questions could help the slightly awkward couple (so beloved of Hollywood) who never seem 'to get it together'.
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(1) The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings, Aron A et al. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 1997. Available at: http://www.stafforini.com/txt/Aron%20et%20al%20-%20The%20experimental%20generation%20of%20interpersonal%20closeness.pdf