In early 2015, an online hubbub erupted over a researcher’s claim that 36 specific questions, answered seriously, could create intimacy and cause two people to fall in love. It’s that easy? I must have wasted my time entertaining butterflies in my stomach, losing my ability to concentrate and feeling insanely happy. Silly me. I could have skipped periods of bliss and moments of uncertainty of by answering 36 questions and listening to a possible partner do the same.
Evidently, as soon as a casual boyfriend and I answered question one, “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” we would have been on our way to marital bliss. And by the time we worked our way to the last query, “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it,” we would have been negotiating the guest list for our wedding and how we’d keep Uncle George away from the champagne at the reception.
I can imagine women doing this exercise, chatting easily as they answer question 21, “What roles do love and affection play in your life?” Women tend to share personal information quickly and effortlessly as a way of cementing new relationships.
But, based on my experience, men tend to keep their feelings to themselves at first, preferring to talk about happenings or activities: traffic, golf, politics, the weather, the Broncos, beer. I can imagine Joel’s puzzlement if, in the early days of our acquaintance, I had asked him question 24, “How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?” And I don’t think he’d still be around if, over dinner, I piped up with number 26, “Complete this sentence: I wish I had someone with whom I could share…”
I also think most couples would give partner-pleasing answers to the questions rather than truthful ones. Most of us parade our best behaviors in the early months of a relationship. We keep our hair presentable, say please and thank you and pretend to like hockey. We also conceal our weaknesses. Joel never knew I ate sauerkraut, had sinus issues and would bring too many clothes and seven dying houseplants to my marriage.
When answering question 32 “What, if anything, is too serious to joke about?” most of us would never admit we don’t like jokes about the eccentricities of our parents or the size of our ears. In response to question five, “What would constitute a perfect day for you?” a clever woman might talk about grilling steaks for dinner and watching an action movie; a quick-thinking man might mention walking on the beach and making dinner together while sipping wine.
Finally and more importantly, I believe falling in love and building a meaningful marriage can’t be hurried. Actions over time matter more than answers to imposed questions. Words can’t guarantee we’ll be safe with the person we marry, that he or she would never harm us, demean us, betray us or intimidate us. Only by living together can we learn whether our chosen partner enjoys spending time with us, gives family the highest priority, uses humor as a bond rather than a weapon, celebrates our successes and encourages our efforts.
I fell in love with Joel quickly and completely. And everything I assumed about the kind of man he was and husband he would be during the exciting and fun-filled days of our early courtship has proved to be true. How he answered question five, “When did you last sing to yourself?” would have been irrelevant compared to the person he was and is.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.