Thirty-Six

A few years ago, the New York Times published an article entitled The 36 Questions that Lead to Love. Based on the work of psychologist Arthur Aron, these questions are designed to foster intimacy in an organic, yet swift, way. The idea is to carve out some time with someone, perhaps someone you know only a little bit, and answer these questions with them. The questions start simply, almost surface-level, with questions such as: “Would you like to be famous?” or “When did you last sing to yourself?” But slowly, over the course of these thirty-six questions, the depth and intimacy of the questions grows, until you’re asking questions like, “When did you last cry in front of another person?” and “If you were to die this evening, what would you most regret not having told someone?”

I’m not entirely sure that these questions will lead to love. However, I can see how they would allow you to take a shortcut through the early phase of dating, and reach a level of intimacy quicker than otherwise. Perhaps the title I’d prefer for that article would be The 36 Questions that Allow Love to Bloom Quicker.

So, I tried these questions with my wife of seventeen years. It was fun. We carved some time amid our busy schedules, while the kids were watching television, and had a lovely time discussing this. I’m not sure that we increased our intimacy — it’s not really designed for people in our situation. But we did learn some things about one another. And it did feel intimate, honestly. Full disclosure: we never finished all 36. Life got in the way, and we haven’t made the time to finish them since. Hopefully soon.

It reminded me a lot of a game we used to play at camp when I was a kid. It was called “Dyads.” You would be paired up with another person in your group, and sent off with a list of about twenty questions to discuss with each other. The questions weren’t quite as deep as the later ones in the 36 Questions, but for kids, they got deep enough. I remember that in my first year at camp, when I was 8, I was paired with a girl named Katie. I don’t remember anything about those questions, but somehow I still remember her name. I also remember doing Dyads again at camp when I was 14. I even remember where I was, sitting down in the middle of the steep trail that leads up to Bald Mountain. I can’t remember who I did them with, but I do remember that one of the questions on the list that year was, “You call that a haircut?”

I also remember using questions similar to this with a mentor program we developed at a church I worked at. Every student in the confirmation class (grades 7-8) was paired with an adult mentor, who would meet with that student about once a month, and just check in and talk with them about how their life was. The intention was to build up a positive relationship with an adult outside their family, and to allow both student and mentor to grow in their faith over the course of the program. We kicked it off each year with a “mentor-student dinner.” One of the activities of that dinner was to go off in pairs (mentor and student), and talk about a list of questions I gave them. I included “You call that a haircut?” as the last question, just because I thought it was funny.

So, yeah. Here’s the thing. It’s hard to get to know people. It’s hard to take things to a deeper level, either as adults or kids. Questions like this can really help that process. And there’s something really helpful about having the questions already written. If you have to ask your own questions, it can feel very awkward. (“Why are you asking that?” “Should I really ask that?”) If it’s written down by somebody else, the awkwardness is gone — “Hey, I’m just reading what it says!” Maybe Adult Dyads like the 36 Questions might be helpful in all kinds of situations — they could be adapted for teambuilding exercises, retreats, church events, that kind of thing. I may explore this in my own ministry.

And no, I really don’t call that a haircut. I call it what happens when you don’t go to the hairdresser for almost two years.

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I can’t see.

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