Once, when I was dating a man I wasn't serious about, I agreed to answer the thirty-six questions the New York Times guaranteed would make us fall in love. It was not my brightest moment, but there was whiskey involved, and this was one of those Modern Love essays heard round the world; you couldn't go anywhere in the winter of 2015 without someone mentioning it. The essay, To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This, was based on a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron that explored whether intimacy between two strangers could be fast-tracked by asking each other a set of increasingly intimate questions. The idea was that mutual vulnerability would foster closeness.
I have been known to ask a lot of rather impertinent questions, so I enjoyed the permission this list gave to probe. These are questions I would ask anyway—and if you are dating, getting to know someone, and suss out your compatibility, they're questions you should probably be asking, too. I might try to get at the answers is a more sly, somewhat less pointed way than: How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? Do you want to be famous? Etc. You learn a lot about a person from these questions, and I remember bristling at some of this guy's answers as we drained our drinks. (Really, the person he most wanted to have dinner with Hemingway?) About two weeks after the whiskey-and-questions exercise, I broke up with that guy. Four years later I was still receiving original love songs and pleading texts begging me back. His is the only number I have ever blocked. I'm not saying correlation equals causality, but that's my experience with The Questions.
Needless to say, I was in a very different love boat when I pulled out the list again with the man I am with now—a man who has taught me more about loyalty and trust in two years than I learned in a ten-year marriage; a man who has built me custom bookshelves in two different houses; a man who makes coffee every morning and manages to make me laugh on the way to a root canal. In other words, we're already intimate. I'm already sold. Already all-in.
What struck me this go-round was how some of the questions sounded like a note from a 7th grade girl. "What is your most treasured memory?" I have a pretty high cheese tolerance, but really? Barf. I also couldn't believe that anyone already in a serious relationship with someone would need to ask, "What is your idea of a perfect day?" I mean, if you haven't tried to make your partner's vision of a perfect day happen, what kind of partner are you?
But by the time this man and I were telling each other five positive characteristics we saw in the other, I had softened to the task at hand. It wasn't the words themselves, per se. I already know this guy thinks I'm a great cook and likes the look and feel of a particular area of my body. There was power in the revelation, and especially nice to hear from someone who is more of a do-er than a say-er.
What was more surprising was being reassured about something I perceived as my own weakness. I am more of a say-er than a do-er. I worry I am impatient, lazy, and prone to irritability, even when I'm not on the way to a root canal. So when this man told me he sees something else in me, in fact, that he finds me unfailingly generous with my time and affection, that he sees me working so hard at life and at love, I was surprised in the best way possible.
And that's one thing love lets us do. Feel that we are worthy of tenderness and affection despite our flaws—or that the flaws we imagine as our biggest, are hardly there at all.