Can 36 questions make you fall – and stay – in love with anyone?

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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.

Or at least, that’s the abridged version of Mandy Len Catron’s love story, which took on a life of its own after her New York Times essay (detailing the rather more nuanced truth) received 8 million views in January 2015 alone, garnering her a series of TED talks and a book deal, to boot.

Spoiler alert: three years on, Catron, now 36, remains in love with Mark, the other half of that experiment – and still receives regular emails from hopefuls who tried the ‘36 questions’ on Tinder dates, long-lost friends and timeworn spouses hoping to ignite revive a spark. A cohort are putting them to the test at a Valentine’s ‘Fall in Love With a Stranger’ event at London’s Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, on Tuesday night.

“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.

In fairness, the beguiling title of her book, How to Fall in Love with Anyone, out today, might give them the idea.

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.

It was during research for an earlier iteration of her book that she first stumbled across an experiment, developed by psychologist Arthur Aron, to see if romantic love could be created in a laboratory.

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.

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