According to a report in the New York Times, you can fall in love with absolutely anyone. All you have to do is ask the person 36 specific questions. Why these? Apparently it’s all about vulnerability. The study’s authors said: ‘One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.’
In other words, be open, be honest, be vulnerable. Presumably this is reciprocal. You would take it in turns, right? But then, it occurs to me that it plunges us straight into that classic human ‘thing’ where, all the time you’re listening to the other person, you’re framing your own reply, your own witty anecdote, your own even more open and vulnerable response. How many people really listen?
Actually, I’m not sure you even need to ask all those complicated questions. Just before Christmas I went on a Zen retreat. Every day we would sit down in front of one another and ask one question: ‘Tell me who you are?’ And then we would just…listen. It was the most unusual experience. Some people were reserved, barely saying a word; others told the most intimate, the most revealing, often quite traumatising, things. And your job was just to sit and witness what they were saying; to act like a mirror. And a curious thing happened. These people were a real mixed bag, all sorts, men and women, ranging wildly in age, shape, colour, class, character. But, as I listened to them, as I focused on their faces as they talked, I started to feel…awed. They were all just incredibly beautiful somehow. Each and every one of them. I suppose you could say I fell in love with them. And I know that sounds horribly hippy dippy but it wasn’t like that – it was really quite indescribable, quite extraordinary, quite…beautiful.
But then…what does the New York Times mean by ‘falling in love’? Would I have wanted to jump into bed with these guys? Would I have wanted to spend my life with them? Would I have wanted to cuddle up by the fire cosy under the snugly throw with them? Er, no.
Actually, the most interesting part of the study was the bit that isn’t being talked about so much. The bit where the participants silently stared into each other’s eyes for two to four minutes.
And I did a little bit of that on the Zen retreat too – and, you know what, that really is the strangest thing. Double dare you to try it.
Anyhow, what you really want to know is what the questions are, don’t you? Here you go.
- 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 youare 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 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.
The thing that is still making me ponder is the sheer ordinariness of it all. If one can fall in love with anyone, does that mean nobody is special? Is there really no preference involved?