So… What work do you do? (And it better be interesting.)
How do you like to spend your free time? (We all spend most of it on Facebook – just don’t say it out loud.)
Romantic comedy or action? (No, you can’t possibly like both.)
What’s your favorite number? (3.14159265359? Me too! Wow, we have so much in common…)
Am I the only one who’s a liiiittle sick of all the small talk that is requisite in dating? Or in many social interactions, for that matter?
Last week I read an article in the NY Times about a woman who, with a man she was on a first date with, decided to try to fall in love by going through a list of tested questions that get supposedly progressively more probing and exposing. At the end of the questions they stared into each other’s eyes for four minutes.
This is all based on a study by psychologist Arthur Aron. I get the idea. What makes a relationship more intimate is the two people progressively opening up to each other and accepting each other for better and for worse. This normally, or ideally, happens gradually over time but in this case, it is given a catalyst – structure that helps it happen in a more accelerated way.
That’s all great because I truly believe that a major issue in dating is the objectification of the other – forgetting that they are, in fact, completely human, just as you are. And so any attempt to help us remember that, no matter if we decided to go on another date with them or not, is welcome in my books.
When I started reading through the questions, I didn’t like them. I found them to be a little silly, maybe too western?
As I read them I was reminded of a book I was given when I was in a promising relationship called The Hard Questions: 100 Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do.” by Susan Piver.
I took out the book and started reading the intro. I found that it spoke to me almost perfectly as she voiced the different concerns she personally had that brought her to discuss very real, often difficult, questions with the man she loves before she felt ready to marry him.
The cool thing is that the questions in the study are catalysts for the beginning of a relationship (which by definition means it isn’t necessarily going to go anywhere) and the questions in the book are for a relationship that is already committed or is very much leaning towards commitment.
Both groups of questions can also be used repeatedly in a relationship as the relationship and the individuals evolve, in order to continue to be in tune with each other.
I read the 100 questions and liked most of them (actually, more than the first time I skimmed the book a few years back). I felt like they really could help a couple feel out their dynamics and know where they stand on potentially all the important issues that exist in life in order to hopefully move forwards with clarity, respect and kindness (a word she accentuated throughout).
The problem is that when I then went back to the 36 questions again, and even while having in mind that they truly are for a very preliminary point of the relationship, I still don’t like them..
I still find them somewhat juvenile and simplistic. To me it feels like they aren’t written for a complex life lived by a complex person with complex emotional and intellectual internal workings.
For example, any question like, “What is your favorite…?” irks me since a favorite anything sort of goes out the window by the age of 20-25. Who would I have for dinner is a sort of fun question but not for this setting. In the book, a question like, “Where do you want to live? Name a geographical location.” might sound too difficult to answer but, in fact, it’s a snapshot of the status quo and that’s, I think, legit (if nerve wracking in itself).
Examples of questions from the book The Hard Questions
The questions in the book are divided into categories such as home, finances, family and spirituality. Here are examples of a few questions from the book:
How much money should be in our savings account so that each of us feels “safe?” How much do we contribute to it monthly or annually? Who makes those contributions, and in what proportion?
What do I like about my family of origin? What do I dislike?
What kind of community do we envision ourselves in? Close-knit? Occasional get-togethers? Based around work, religion, cultural pursuits or hobbies? How do we achieve that community?
What place do spiritual and/or religious beliefs play in our home and home life?
Examples of questions from Aron’s study
The 36 questions used in Aron’s study are split into three sets with each set being more intense than the last. Here are examples of one question per set, in order:
Preliminary: Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
Intermediate: What is your most terrible memory?
Most intense: Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
My 36 Jewish-inspired questions
Of course if you don’t like how something’s done, you’ve got to do it yourself. And so I went on an expedition to think of 36 progressively personal questions I would want to use in order to get to know a man and in order to help him get to know me. Some of my questions are from the originals with modifications to allow more complexity and honesty. For example, I wouldn’t say “What is your most terrible memory?” Instead I’d say, “Share a very bad memory.”
The ones I copied basically as is from the originals, are noted as such.
These questions aren’t about getting to know a ton about each other, although it’s the beginning of that. It is more about seeing how you relate to each other when you both try to be as real and open as possible.
Also, you shouldn’t force yourself to say something you really feel uncomfortable saying. It’s about laying the potential foundation to open up more and more over time.
And so here are my 36 questions with a definite Jewish twist. (The “partner” is the person with whom you are doing this exercise.)
- Name 1 to 3 character traits you think people notice about you when they first meet you.
- Name 3 character traits you already noticed in your partner.
- Within the confines of your commitments (work, etc.), what constitutes a great day?
- If you had freedom from your commitments for one day, how might you best enjoy spending it?
- What is something you really want to be able to say about your life when you look back on it at 120?
- What character traits in someone make you want to be around that person?
- Name 5 things in your current life that bring you great joy.
- Name 2 things you appreciate and 2 things you don’t appreciate about how you were raised.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained 1 to 3 qualities, what would they be? (From original questions)
- Name two things you love and two things you really don’t like about the Jewish tradition as you currently see/experience it.
- For four minutes tell your life story in a lot of detail. (From original questions)
- Name 3 things you and your partner appear to have in common. (From original questions)
- Name 2 very important people in your life. What kind of relationship do you have with each one?
- Name 5 things about yourself that you really like or are very proud of.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful? (From original questions)
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? How might you make it happen? (From original questions)
- Tell a treasured memory. (From original questions)
- Tell a hard memory. (From original questions)
- What do you like about the current dynamics in your family? What don’t you like?
- How do you like to spend your weekends?
- Talk two minutes about your relationship with either your mother or father.
- What is something you want to do but hesitate because of social norms?
- How connected are you to technology?
- Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of 5 items. (From original questions)
- Talk about your relationship with money.
- What is your natural speed in life and how does it fit within the society you live in?
- What do you think about having kids?
- Name 2 to 3 things that worry you.
- Name 2 to 3 things that scare you.
- If you could be born into any culture, which would you choose? Why?
- How do you feel about your body?
- Name 1 to 2 things you dream of doing with a partner.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you believe in God? How does your level of faith affect your life?
- What do you like about your partner right now?
- What are 1 to 2 things you really feel you need from a partner?
- 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. (From original questions)
What do you think of these questions? Which would you add or take away? Can you imagine ever doing something like this with a date?