Emotional Intimacy: It’s Not In the Cards

Magicians don’t reveal their secrets, but here’s the secret to relationship magic.

Thirty Six Questions

In an article that went viral last year, Mandy Len Catron described how she found love by using research from a scientific study on developing emotional closeness. The study (Aron, et al., 1997), first published nearly two decades ago, used 36 questions and a period of gazing into each other’s eyes to create a connection between two people. They took turns asking each other a probing question, such as: “Would you like to be famous? In what way?” and “For what in your life do you feel most grateful?” The article that describes how Catron successfully created strong feelings with her friend became one of the most read New York Times articles of the entire 2015, and gave rise to apps, card games, books, and clubs that utilize similar questions.

Similarly, in some Orthodox Jewish circles, it has become popular for women and men to use cards with exploratory questions during their dating process. Toward the beginning of a relationship, daters sometimes try to determine if they are a match for each other by asking questions that address emotional aspects a person. Another way that dating pairs use those questions is if they have been dating already but do not feel that they are developing an emotional connection. They try to jump-start a relationship by using inquisitive questions similar to the ones suggested in the study and printed on cards.

Does It Work?

Most dating couples that use the cards find them to be of little help. Similarly, there are reports of individuals and groups that have tried to use these questions on a large scale, such as in a sizable gathering of potential daters, to no avail. What happened? Were Arthur Aron and his colleagues mistaken? Is the research ancient and no longer applicable?

The answer is a stroke of irony. If you understand how to use the cards, then you don’t need to use them. The cards and questions aim to help people create an emotional connection. An element that leads to creating this connection is for two people to share some of their thoughts about themselves and some of their feelings. If two people are open to sharing in that way, specific cards or questions are not usually necessary.

Not Feeling It

It might be said that facts happen all around us, but feelings are what we live. Facts include the actual experiences that we have, both by ourselves and by interacting with the external world. Feelings are what those experiences mean to us and how we interpret a specific interaction. For example, “the sun is shining” is a fact; “therefore it’s a great day for me to go running” is a feeling. Yet, since feelings involve making your personal meaning out of the facts around you, they can not usually be summarized in a brief sentence.

The key to creating a connected relationship with another person is for each to share both facts and feelings with the other. (In this regard, it is sometimes helpful to separate the term “feeling” from the term “emotion.” Emotions can be understood as mood reactions to the facts and the feelings, “since it is a nice day and I can go running, I will feel happy.”) For example, consider the following two scenarios:

Scenario 1:

Avi: It’s such nice weather.

Shani: Yes. The weather is really beautiful.

Avi: Look, the sun is shining…

Shani: …and there is barely a cloud in the sky.

Avi: It’s such a pleasant temperature.

Shani: Yeah, and it’s not even humid.


Scenario 2:

Avi: It’s such nice weather.

Shani: Yes. It is beautiful. What do you like most about this weather? (reaching for a feeling)

Avi: I enjoy the pleasant temperature outside. It makes me feel like swimming. (expressing a feeling)

Shani: Swimming? That sounds interesting. Do you swim often?

Avi: Only in the summer, but I love going swimming when I can.

Shani: Really? Is there a specific place you like to go?

Avi: I usually swim in my neighbor’s house. He is so generous. He always let me use his pool.

Shani: That sounds so nice of him!

Avi: Yes. It’s one of the things I really like about my community. There is a sense of camaraderie and friendship in the whole neighborhood.

Notice how, in this brief example, when Avi and Shira only stay on the plane of facts, there is very little connection. They merely “swap facts.” If the conversation continued, they might both think, the dreaded “Oh well; nice person, but there just wasn’t any chemistry.” On the other hand, when Shani probes for a feeling, and Avi shares some of his feelings, the conversation takes on a whole new dimension. Instead of the conversation remaining about the weather, it becomes a medium to explore a little bit about who Avi is, including a pastime he enjoys and a bit of his opinion on his neighborhood. If the conversation were to continue, Shani would probably discover more about Avi and feel connected to him. A way to summarize this is:

Fact + Feeling = Emotional Connection

The Cards in Your Hand

The cards and questions that dot the dating horizon have a goal of bringing up subjects for a couple to discuss that are going to induce them to expressing some of their feelings. Yet, unless a person is both aware of the importance of expressing feelings, and ready to express them, the cards will do little good. Many people respond to the probing questions their partner asks them from the cards with simple facts, which leaves the couple with the relationship as flat as things were previously. In sharp contrast, if the couple understands the importance of expressing feelings, then specific questions or cards are usually not important. Once they are disposed to exploring and sharing some feelings, many of their conversations will build an emotional connection without needing the cards altogether.Ordinary topics of conversation provide wonderfully fertile ground for each of them to explore and express feelings. Cards or a list of scripted questions might be helpful or beneficial, but only if the daters are both primed to expressing and discovering feelings.

Consider expressing more of your feelings to a person you want to connect with. We experience facts, but live feelings. When you combine both, F+F, you will find your relationships deeper and more rewarding. Emotional intimacy – it’s not in the cards. It’s in the feeling.



Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin23(4), 363-377.

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