can 36 questions help me fall in love with myself?
Louis Staples discovers the surprising therapeutic qualities of the quiz designed to fast-track romantic relationships
Louis Staples discovers the surprising therapeutic qualities of the quiz designed to fast-track romantic relationships
This article is part of THE WOONIVERSE ACCORDING TO... Jamie Flatters.
Can 36 questions bring two human beings together? Could it make them fall in love? In a culture that is still driven by the quest for romantic, monogamous love – with bizarre TV shows like Married at First Sight and Love is Blind taking things to new levels of weird – it’s certainly an enticingly simple proposition.
First created in 1997, 36 Questions to Fall in Love is a study by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron which was initially conducted at Stony Brook University in New York. Its aim was to speed up the creation of intimacy between two people by bringing them together to answer 36 intimate, revealing questions. The experiment was first conducted by pairing a heterosexual man and woman together and giving them a list of 36 questions to try to answer. At the end, the quiz was concluded with four minutes of sustained eye contact between the pair. And lo and behold, the couple got married just six months later.
Dr. Aron has said that the intimacy is intended to grow over time. So, participants are not meant to instantly fall in love, but the quiz is supposed to give them a headstart and a deeper point of connection from the outset. This will hopefully give them a better chance of forging an even deeper sense of intimacy and, one day, love.
Ryan Campinho Valadas, an integrative therapist, and sex and relationships specialist, tells woo that taking a quiz like this can be beneficial. “As humans, we like things that help us to organise our minds and organise our thoughts,” he says. “I think quizzes like this are useful and I think other colleagues of mine would agree, but only if people take them as guidelines.”
Campinho Valadas thinks there can be a tendency to approach quizzes like this too rigidly. “Sometimes people take personality quizzes or things like this as dogma, almost like law,” he says. “People then become fixated on it and it becomes an aspect of their personality rather than something that actually can be worked on. Something that can evolve and that can be fluid. Take them as things to keep in mind, rather than something you have to follow.”
When it comes to this specific quiz, context of it is important: it was written in 1997, primarily for heterosexual couples. “The study was first conducted on a heterosexual couples and it was probably done with lots of heterosexual couples at first. And that's always interesting to me, because there might be a queer perspective that is missing,” Campinho Valadas says. For couples, he notices a distinct lack of sex in the quiz, and thinks there is an idea running through it that emotional intimacy always leads to sex, which in today’s world we know isn’t necessarily true.
Keeping in mind these helpful caveats, I wonder whether this quiz could help single people, or people who are already in relationships, to know ourselves better, or learn to articulate our feelings and fears in a more healthy way. Embarking on this quiz solo, I had a central question: Could it help me love myself?
Avatar's Jamie Flatters explores the meaning of self-love in a new, three-part short film series.
What did I think of the quiz?
From the outset, in Set I, something that is immediately fascinating about this quiz is that it consists of some questions which might seem obvious, or things you’ve thought of before. Question 1, for example, feels like a standard conversation starter: “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” On the flipside, others are questions I’ve never thought to contemplate, like Question 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?”
Throughout the first section, I felt like I was being lured into a sense of security by cutesy questions about things I am grateful for (Question 9), but then having that security quickly shattered by questions which invited me to think about things which are imperfect or even a little traumatic. Quite a few of the questions seem to hint at our own mortality, with Question 7 practically slapping me in the face with it: “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” Question 10, “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?” made me realise that, many years later, I’m still not totally over my parents’ divorcing when I was 13, which made me feel a little embarrassed and vulnerable.
But here’s the thing: even when you discover things you don’t necessarily love about yourself, the structure and format of these questions encourages you to be kind to yourself about them.
Moving into Set II, I’m struck by the duality between the past and the future that persists throughout the quiz. And also how seemingly innocuous questions can be anything but. Question 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?” had me debating whether I’d want to know if I’ll have children, or whether I’d prefer to find out how my career turns out. Really, it was a question about what matters more to me, which for me was not easy to answer.
In this section, it feels like there is a focus on friendship. Question 16, “What do you value most in a friendship?”, had me genuinely stumped for a while, before coming to the realisation that positivity – a friend who thinks the best of you and wants the best for you – is the trait which binds my friendships together. Question 20, “What does friendship mean to you?”, had me thinking about all the ways my friends have supported me at my low points, but also the times I have been there for them. I felt proud of myself, but also of the friends who I have in my life.
Of course, as seems to be the nature of this quiz, these fuzzy moments are interspersed with darker ones. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more vulnerable than when I was asked to spend time thinking about Question 18: “What is your most terrible memory?” And in Question 19, this was followed by the reappearance of death: “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?” My answer: stop working immediately. (Maybe my career isn’t as important to me as I first thought?)
Moving into Section III, we see a similar mixture of themes: the past, the future, death, family and friends. The questions got noticeably more complex and specific, which for me, meant they took longer to answer. Question 34, for example, had me thinking for a long while: “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 chose a painting I did at art school which hangs in my bedroom, because unlike material things it is truly irreplaceable. In Question 35, we return to the topic of death: “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?” The word “disturbing” was key here. I chose my brother, because I’ve never even contemplated living in the world without him, whereas that generational reality is usually implicit in most parent and child relationships.
In the questions in this section, it feels like an added level of critical thinking and introspection is required - digging beneath the surface in a way that we’re not always used to.
Was the quiz a valuable experience?
One thing this quiz taught me was that someone asking you a question casually is very different to reading questions and taking the time to really think about the answers, or write them down. It almost felt like I was journaling at points, with the answers pointing me towards things that I liked about myself and things I was insecure about. Honestly? At some points it almost felt like therapy, particularly when the questions asked about familial relationships and things about the past. It was like the black mirror of my computer screen holding an emotional mirror up to me.
Another key theme of the quiz is questions which invite us to really think about what is most important to us. Sometimes, what we think is our priority isn’t actually when we’re asked to pick just one thing, which is interesting to know. It can be motivating but also calming to reassess your priorities in your mind, which is an exercise I personally don’t do very much in day-to-day life. After completing the quiz, I sort of felt like I’d completed a Marie Kondo-style organisation of my thoughts. That same satisfaction you get after doing a declutter of your wardrobe. Campinho Valadas tells woo this is all about structure. “If you have some structure in place, you can actually have a lot of freedom at the same time,” he says. “Often we tend to think of structuring freedom as incompatible, but I find that they work really well together in this kind of quiz.”
I’m not sure if I could say definitively whether this quiz helped me love myself, but it definitely made me more self-aware. Most importantly, it did make me realise things I like about myself and also the people I’ve chosen to surround myself with. In the end, I felt proud of the life I’ve created for myself as an adult. And even when I stumbled across insecurities or things which I didn’t necessarily like about myself, I felt like I was in a space where I could be forgiving to myself about them and give myself the benefit of the doubt. “These kinds of questions allow for introspection and reflection on our lines on our values and our goals,” Campinho Valadas says. “Ultimately, the more aware we are of what those things are, the clearer we could be with the people we're relating to and relating with. And that's always a massive benefit.”
If a quiz can give us more insight into who we are and make us feel more emotionally in tune with ourselves, I think it’s a valuable exercise regardless of whether it leads to love - of the self, or of anyone else.
Allow Avatar's Jamie Flatters to guide you in a calming hypnotherapy experience designed to help uncover a new level of self-love.
Do not listen/watch this while driving or operating machinery, only listen/watch in a place where you can fully relax safely.
Try the quiz yourself:
- 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?
- Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- 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?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- What does friendship mean to you?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
- Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling ..."
- Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share ..."
- If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
- 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.
- Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- 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?
- 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?
- Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
- 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.
Welcome to THE WOONIVERSE ACCORDING TO… Jamie Flatters. In this liminal space, we provide an individual a chance to reflect through creativity how to harness their own power to make a positive change in the real world around them. This time around sees Jamie and some of our writers reflect on the idea of self-love and what it means to them. There's even a relaxing hypnotherapy session if you're struggling yourself).