Over the past couple of years, a psychology research article from 1997 has made its way into the popular press. Its topic is an irresistible one: 36 questions to make you fall in love with someone. Wow– now that’s what I call some powerful science…
Seriously, though, the research is about how to foster closeness and intimacy and trust. A New York Times article summarizes it below:
[The study asks whether] intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. The 36 questions in the study are broken up into three sets, with each set intended to be more probing than the previous one.
The idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness. To quote the study’s authors, “One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” Allowing oneself to be vulnerable with another person can be exceedingly difficult, so this exercise forces the issue.
This idea has taken off; there are even apps for going through the 36 questions (too many to link to). They’re mainly about disclosure and vulnerability, which is supposed to stimulate warmth and trust and closeness.
So of course I got the app and checked it out.
(Note: All of these “woman smiling while… fill in the blank… images are a good topic for another blog post sometime.)
One question really struck me:
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
My first thought upon reading it was, “oh, I’d stop worrying about my weight”.
I’D STOP WORRYING ABOUT MY WEIGHT.
STOP. WORRYING. ABOUT. MY. WEIGHT.
Oh. Wow. That’s a thought, isn’t it?
My fuller answer to this question was along the lines of, “well, I’d want to spend more time with friends and family, ride my bike more, be active in the ways (old and new) that I like, work (a little), read, write. And I would stop worrying about diets and body image and the fact that I have clothes in my closet I can’t wear and how I look in a bathing suit and how (not) fast I am on a bike. And I’d forget about renovating my kitchen.”
Of course this question is silly and unrealistic, and I don’t think for minute that it has anything to do with how we would feel if any of us were in the position of knowing we were closer to death. What it did do for me, though (and I was very surprised about it) was focus on a big burden I carry with me that I’d really like a reason to shed.
That big burden isn’t (or need not be) my actual weight. It’s rather my feelings of guilt, fear, shame, anxiety, anger, self-hate, romanticism, idealism, etc. about what my body is and could be in some other possible world (not this one).
In this world, my body cycles, paddles, swims, does errands, cooks food for others, thinks interesting or frivolous thoughts, gives hugs to friends and family, pets all dogs, dresses up in bright colored clothing, cries when it’s sad or very happy, and creates blog posts (among other things). That’s pretty awesome, once I think about it.
So I guess the study worked– I am feeling closer and more loving to myself, more inclined to trust me and love my own body as it is. Because it’s rather gorgeous.