Creating closeness and intimacy with another person usually takes time, communication, and shared experiences. Psychology research suggests that there is a way to speed up this process and get closer to another person—even a complete stranger—by asking a specific series of 36 questions.
This is something that might help you get to know a potential romantic partner faster—but these questions may also be helpful for fostering intimacy with family, friends, and long-time partners.
Origins of the 36 Questions
In a 1997 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researcher Arthur Aron and his colleagues paired people who were unacquainted with one another. Some of the participants asked each other A set of 36 superficial questions. Other participants asked each other the 36 closeness questions.
What they found was that the participants who asked the 36 closeness questions felt a greater sense of closeness to one another than those who had asked the superficial questions. The researchers also found that it did not matter whether the participants had shared beliefs or attitudes—they still felt as close to one another after the exercise as people report feeling in relationships that formed naturally.
You can perform this activity on your own by taking turns answering each of these questions.
- In the original study, participants were asked to spend no more than 15 minutes answering each set of questions. While this can be a good guideline, you may take as much time as you need to answer each set depending on the time that you and your conversation partner have available.
- Make sure that your conversation partner is comfortable answering these questions. Many are highly personal in nature, so it is important to discuss this before we get in your conversation.
The 36 Questions
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
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?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
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?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about him or her; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about him or her already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. 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 that individual yet?
34. 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?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. 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.
You can repeat these questions with anyone you are interested in building a stronger connection and greater closeness. You can also create your own questions if you like. As you may have noticed, each set of questions becomes increasingly personal, so start your questions with less personal ones before working your way up to questions that necessitate deeper self-disclosure.
How It Can Help
Forming bonds and connections can become more difficult as people grow older. Whether you are looking for friends, romance, or just to build a stronger social support network.
Because many of our conversations as adults center on things like work-related topics or polite small talk, it can be difficult to establish close connections.
This activity relies on a strategy known as reciprocal self-disclosure. Throughout the activity, you take turns sharing increasingly personal information about yourselves.
In order to get close to other people, we have to be willing to disclose things about ourselves and listen to what others share with us. When relationships develop naturally over time, there is a process in which people get to know one another and gradually share more and more of themselves with the other person.
Will It Produce Lasting Closeness?
Researchers suggest that spending 45 minutes asking these questions can significantly increase your closeness. This increased closeness can even improve your chances of forming a new relationship with others.
The researchers who developed the 36 closeness questions believe that the closeness produced through this activity is similar in many ways to the closeness that emerges over time in more natural settings.
“On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the procedures produce loyalty, dependence, commitment, or other relationship aspects that might take longer to develop,” the researchers noted.
So while these questions may be helpful for producing feelings of closeness, it isn’t likely to produce the same type of intimacy that you would gain over time and with shared experiences.
Aron A, Melinat E, Aron EN, Vallone RD, Bator RJ. The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: a procedure and some preliminary findings. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 1997;23(4):363-377. doi:10.1177/0146167297234003