A couple of days ago I read an article in a newspaper about two people who decided to recreate a 1997 experiment devised by psychologist Arthur Aron. The experiment consisted of two strangers asking each other 36 set questions within the space of an hour, after which they had to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Apparently the authors of the experiment suggest that “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” leads to a “key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship.” In other words, the 36 questions could very well lead to two people falling in love.
This article came at a relevant time for me. I’m just at that stage in my wip where the hero and heroine realise they have fallen in love with one another. I’m very anxious to make this credible for my readers. How often have you read a book where the heroine suddenly has a lightbulb moment, realising she’s actually in love with the hero? And you, as a reader, go WHAT? You’ve never shown any inclination of being in love before this. All you do is argue, and the hero is an arse. And now you say you’re in love?? At this point, you toss the book aside.
Because I’m at this stage in my manuscript, I’ve been asking myself what is it that makes people fall in love? I’ve been going over novels I’ve read – or films I’ve watched – where the process of two characters falling in love is handled well, and in a believable fashion, and asking myself what makes a credible situation for two fictional characters to fall in love in the first place. Why do they do so? What has happened in the build-up to the realisation that they’re in love, to make it credible?
In a romance novel, the part where the hero and heroine realise they’re in love is THE major turning point. I’m thinking of two stories where this is handled in a great way. One of them is Pride and Prejudice, of course, the single most perfect romance story. I remember reading the scene where Darcy confesses to Lizzie that, despite himself, he has fallen in love with her and wants her to marry him. I was a teenager at the time and – lucky, lucky me! – had no idea this was going to happen. I remember clearly my shock at the scene. “What? He’s actually in love with her?? No WAY!” It’s a masterly scene because, despite the surprise value, the reader feels no sense of disbelief that Darcy could be in love with Lizzie. Of course he could. We’re all in love with Lizzie by this stage. It’s just that he’s hidden his emotions so well, and we feel Lizzie’s enormous surprise and anger at his arrogant proposal. After this, and after Darcy writes Lizzie an eloquent letter, we see her gradually falling in love in her own turn. It’s a gradual process, and the actual point where Lizzie realises she’s in love isn’t clear (although she does tell her sister Jane, tongue-in-cheek, that she knew for sure when she saw Darcy’s estate at Pemberley :) ).
Another story I’m thinking of where there’s an excellent scene in which the two protagonists realise they’re in love is the brilliant The Sound of Music. It’s the scene of the ball, and Baron von Trapp asks Maria to dance. Afterwards they stare into each other’s eyes (not for four minutes, as in the psychologists’ experiment, but to the viewer it feels like an age :) ) Of course shortly after that, Maria runs away, and it’s such a pivotal scene that in the days when there was an interval in cinemas, this is where everyone drew in a big breath and went to get an ice-cream to try and cool down.
And so this is why I’ve been fascinated with this recent experiment. I come back again to the findings that “sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure” is the key to forming a close relationship. Isn’t this exactly what a good romance novel is all about? If there has been this level of growing intimacy throughout the course of a novel, then the reader will have no difficulty accepting that the hero and heroine have fallen in love, no matter what the situation is between them. In fact, the reader will be willing them to get together!
If you’re interested in reading the article I saw this week, you can find it here.
And if you’d like to know what the 36 questions that could make you fall in love are, I’ve pasted them here:
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 them; 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 them 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 them 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.
How about you? Why do you think two people fall in love? If you have a partner, can you remember the moment you realised you were in love? And what’s your favourite moment in a novel or film where the protagonists realise they’re in love?
If you have any questions or comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!
18 thoughts on “36 Questions to Make You Fall in Love”
Aloha Helena. :-)
Great post. How interesting. I really liked the questions too. They were quite revealing. And that makes sense for the study that was done. It’s often our vulnerability or ability to show our tender side or what we feel might be our more personal private side that captures someone’s heart.
I’m fallen in love in a variety of ways and had my characters do the same thing. Most of these are based on my own life. Henry loved Izzy the moment he saw her. They just connected soul to soul.
Rob realizes he’s in love with Kulani when he says it automatically to him. I love you. And realizes it’s true. He does. It just popped out.
Beau and Mattie gradually fall in love with each other.
Charlie gets hit with a sledge hammer one day when he’s missing Henry and Izzy badly. That’s when the dawning realization hits him that he’s in love with them. He’s in shock but it also feels right. He feels relief and peaceful when he accepts it.
So I think there’s lots of ways for it to hit. I’ve probably ran the gamut in my own life. I’ve fallen in love. Grown in love. Had it hit me like a freight train with me staggering around muttering “My god. No way.” Afterward I’ve known all the signs WERE there. I was just being obtruse.
I’ve had it hit me as a deep soul knowing.
I’ll always take the deep hit right between the eyes. I think they’re my most magical relationships. :-)
I might swipe some of these questions for later interviews. They were excellent. Loved this blog.
Thanks and aloha Meg. :-)
Hi Meg, you summed it up when you said “it’s often our vulnerability or ability to show our tender side…that captures someone’s heart.”
It’s interesting to hear how you handled your characters falling in love within your own writing. I particularly like the scenario where one of the protagonists doesn’t realise he’s in love until the others are absent. That rings very true to life. We often take people for granted until they’re gone, and only then do we start examining how we feel about them.
I thought this set of questions was really interesting. If two people answer them seriously and truthfully it must surely bring them closer together.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts!
Grear post – I must follow you :-)
Thank you! That’s so kind of you to take the time to comment. Have a great weekend!
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You too Helen Fairfax :-)
Great post, Helena.
Another Austen one, from Emma: ‘It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr Knightley must marry no one but herself!’
Oh, that’s a great quote! No one can beat Jane Austen. I haven’t read Emma for ages, but now I have an urge to take that book back down off my shelf. Thanks for reminding me of it!
What an interesting post, Helena, although I haven’t read through all the questions yet! I absolutely agree about the Sound of Music – I’ve always thought that is one of the most romantic scenes in a film. And I like Kate’s quote too as the reader also begins to think no one else should have Mr Knightley. Can’t think of another at the moment but I do love a story/film where the attraction is gradually building, even if not mentioned until near the end.
Hi Rosemary, I do dislike it if I read/see a scene where the hero/heroine apparently suddenly realises they’re in love, and yet the reader can’t see any reason why they should be. It was reading a book like this that made me wonder how other authors manage it successfully. Those were two examples that came to mind. I loved Kate’s quote, too! Thanks for your comment!
Great post, Helena. My goodness that is a powerful list of questions. Like Meg, I may borrow a couple for my Tuesday Author Chats! Talk about being vulnerable. Wow. Yes, to Sound of Music! Just re-watched the original recently. The dance scene where it hits them is so powerful. Thanks for this post. I need to go look at my WIP to check out the falling in love thing. I think it makes sense. As a reader I have to care about the characters. I’ve recently read some stories, where I just didn’t like the people, so I didn’t care how things worked out for them. Needless to say, I didn’t finish reading. :) I’ll share.
Hi Marsha, I like to care about the characters in a novel, too. Some writers say that isn’t the point – that you can create main characters that aren’t likeable, and the reader will still engage with them – but I find that very hard to do. Jane Austen said of Emma that she’d created a character no one would like but herself, and it’s true it used to be my least favourite of her books. Now I’ve grown to appreciate it more. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment
These questions are all very deep and incredibly difficult to answer. I think I would struggle.Yet, if answered honestly and truthfully, they would reveal a lot about a person, about their secret desires, wishes and hopes. You really made me think about that ‘lightbulb’ moment I too have been guilty of! Thank you!
Hi Marie, I struggled with some of these questions, too, especially as you’re not supposed to think too long before giving an answer.
I’m at a point in my wip where the heroine is falling in love with the hero, but I want to make sure he’s a character worth falling in love with, so that the reader will find it believable. I’m going to go back and read through the story so far, to make sure I’ve painted him in a lovable light :)
Thanks for your comment!
I think, funnily enough, that i’m too close to the events in DEAR MISS LANDAU to disassociate any answer I could make from them. The blog DEAR MISS LANDAU AND THE SUNLIT CITY (preferably read by the author!) should be an answer in itself, plus acknowledgement that I gave everything I had to get there, and that all the other, seemingly important, reasons just dropped away during the crossing…
Hi James, sometimes (or actually, very often) our actions are a far more powerful answer than words. After your comment, I looked back over the questions and tried to see them from the point of view of someone with Asperger’s. Now I see that a lot of them aren’t clearly defined, eg ‘Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling…” ‘
How do you know TRULY what the other person is feeling? It’s impossible to give a true statement.
When people are in love, or falling in love, they often give out subtle signals that I imagine must be very hard for someone with Asperger’s to pick up on. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. If you ever wanted to write a full post about it, please do get in touch.
Hi Helena, what a timely blog post for me.Thank you. I’m working on the romance connection in my wip too. I think readers have to fall in love, but with the characters, so they will root for the couple to get together. Sometimes I just want to shake one of the characters and tell him to wake up. Don’t be so stupid. LOL..Hmm that reminds me of one of your books.That is good writing when the reader gets so involved with characters’ lives! Being practical, and coming from the baby boomer, generation, I don’t believe men like to be vulnerable, so I doubt they would sit and answer those deep questions where he has to reveal his inner feelings. And staring into the eyes of the other person? I think we’d be laughing after a bit…LOL…T’is a romantic notion I believe. Great post!
Aloha J Q.
I don’t think it’s a romantic fantasy. My late husband would have gladly done that with me. He and I both believed in deep love. And also we’re just outside the baby boomers age group. I know that the next generation up from me would find this harder in general. As a rule I don’t go for those men. I don’t like their attitudes or emotional immaturity or switched off ness. I go for whole men. They’re more metro and men that can’t express their feelings or be emotionally there turn me off.
Men that don’t cry frighten me.
I like my toyboy because they’re good at expressing emotions and acting like whole humans. They have things that need some work :-). But emotionally they’re much more satisfying.
Aloha Meg. :-)
Meg and JQ, you’ve both brought up an interesting point. Have men’s attitudes to revealing emotion changed over the years? I think there was a period here in the UK when men had to hold back their emotions, just to survive. I’m thinking of the two world wars in particular, where men – and women – were encouraged to keep calm and carry on, just to get through. Apparently in other periods – in the 18th c for example – men had no compunction about showing their emotions in public.
And then there’s also the cultural thing. Men’s responses are different in different cultures. I think young men in Australia, for example, might still think it a sign of weakness to show emotion. Or is that just a stereotype, like the stereotype about British reserve?
It’s an interesting discussion. Thanks for raising the point!