Here’s a fairytale for the 21st century. A thirtysomething woman, weary of online dating, meets up with a handsome acquaintance in a bar, googles a Nineties experiment that promises to make them fall in love by answering 36 specific questions, and shares their happy ending in an article that goes viral online – sparking a copycat craze around the world.
“I’ve heard from all kinds of people, some of whom have gotten married, some who were like, ‘I tried your questions and they didn’t work!’,” she marvels over the phone from her home in Vancouver. Not at their romantic failures, but that anyone should imagine her a guru who had uncovered a fast-track formula for finding lasting love.
But her tome is neither manual nor magic bullet, counsels the English and creative writing professor at the University of British Columbia. Rather, a thoughtful attempt to answer the questions she had been asking herself since her parents announced they were getting divorced when she was 26 – which “felt like the wrong ending” to the love story she had grown up with – and then finding herself single after the break-up of a long-term relationship.
The 1997 study paired up mixed-sex strangers who took turns asking each other questions, escalating in intimacy from the ice-breaking (If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?) to the intense (Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing?) and ending with four minutes spent staring into each other’s eyes.