February 14, 2016

heart1I’m usually a grouch about V-Day because the commercialism gets on my nerves. But a kinder, gentler me found a free and lovely way to share a wonderful hug with myself, my significant other and my students.

The “36 Questions” are the answer. They come out of a research study on intimacy. The study poses 36 questions designed for couples to ask each other. At the end, they look into each other’s eyes for four minutes.

The beauty of the questions is that YOU DON’T NEED A PARTNER. You don’t even need to do it on Valentine’s Day. I’ve tested the questions out in some of my classes as an exercise for writers and  creative types to take personal inventory. This is what we found…

First, some background. In 2015, The New York Times published a personal essay about the study in its popular “Modern Love” column: “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” From there, readers went nuts sharing the link.

What a novel idea — intimate conversation!

I don’t want to go through the questions here because that would spoil your adventure. Most of my students weren’t aware of the questions. The surprise element was definitely important as they reflected on who they are in a thoughtful, non-threatening way.

Students who are in relationships enjoy the shared discovery. They often say they learn things about each other that they didn’t know before.

Even more terrific is that single students dig the questions too. Sure, they might long to do the questions with Someone Special. But for now, 36 moments of self-reflection offer a chance to fall in love with Self. I really like that.


Other options for viewing the questions

OPTION 1: Read the questions on a Times website page that lists the 36 questions.

OPTION 2: The Times has the questions on a free app for the smart phone, iPad and other devices. It also plays as a slideshow on your computer. After the last question, it even sets a four-minute timer for you.

The app is designed to death. So if you enjoy “Modern Love” drawings and a firmly guided experience, this is for you. All the overthinking that went into this app will keep you feeling like you’re reading the Times — a plus or minus, depending on your point of view.


OPTION 3: There’s also a quiet, elegant alternative app from No distractions here. Just calm, soft visuals that keep the focus on the moment, the questions and you.

36 questions

OPTION 4: Read the questions and learn more about intimacy research in the full study: The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings. 

OPTION 5: If the 36 questions feel like too much touchy-feely gooeyness, I even have an option for you. Check out The New Yorker magazine parody: To Fall Out of Love, Do This.

Soooo, what do you think?

Last year, I read through the questions by myself and said, hmmmm. Then, feeling curious, I asked my bf if he would look into my eyes for four minutes. Halfway through, I started to cry! Something about being that close and his willingness to humor me made it a memorable moment.

Then the other night, I asked him to do the questions with me so that I could blog about it. It was a busy evening of running errands. Not an ideal setting. Still, the answers were interesting. We didn’t finish all of them but I felt we should. I was like, right now, we have to enjoy an intimate conversation now, now! Big mistake.   :)

A few hours ago, we did the four-minute thing. I didn’t cry this time. Instead, he said I was beaming. He looked pretty happy too.

Then I went to the bathroom mirror and stared into my reflected eyes for four minutes. I wanted to see if piece of the exercise could work solo.

My conclusion: Not the same as reacting to a flesh-and-blood person. But worth trying because it showed me how far I’ve come in self-acceptance. There was a time, as recently as a few years ago, when I’d hate staring at myself. I’d focus on flaws — enlarged pores, eyebrows that need plucking and worse. While those thoughts came up as I stared at myself, it was easy to send them away and observe emotional content. Calm eyes. No tightness in the lips.

And that’s huge progress. A gift to myself.

If you give this a try or have thoughts on any of this, let me know! xo