By Jade Byrnell
If you’re currently in a relationship, you’re probably in one of two situations: Quarantined Together or Quarantined Separately. Quarantined Together may have you biting your tongue over your partner’s annoying habits and losing sight of what you love about them. Quarantined Separately may have you struggling to remember what your partner looks, sounds, or smells like. Either way, sheltering in place is the ideal setting for rediscovering your love through extreme emotional nakedness.
A 2015 column in The New York Times covers Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay, in which she discusses a method for falling in love with anyone. Referencing a study by psychologist Arthur Aron (and others), she explores the concept that intimacy can be triggered by vulnerability. Strangers were paired up and given a list of 36 revealing questions to ask each other.
The theory was that showing someone your true self inspires feelings of love. While asking personal questions of a new acquaintance might be a fun party game, asking them of an established partner can lead to a deep and lasting connection. So whether you and your love are living on top of each other or separated by social distancing, now is the perfect time to get real with each other by asking for (and offering) some new information.
It’s important to remember that these questions were designed by psychologists to compel self-revelation. Answering them truthfully can trigger feelings of psychological exposure, so you must be ready to care for each other whether you’re on the couch together or online and apart.
How To Do It If You’re Together
- Carve out some time for this activity. Dedicate an evening or even a weekend to learning to love each other more deeply. Create a cozy, sensual space. Pillows, candles, incense, and music are all excellent additions to set the mood. Sit down together, turn off your phones, and really focus on each other.
- Print out the questions if you can. It’s more intimate to read them off a sheet of paper held in your hand than off your laptop screen. Remember that they’re divided into groups of three, with each group digging progressively deeper. So print each group on a separate sheet to allow you both to fully concentrate on them.
- Let the answers sit. Resist the impulse to respond. Just listen to your partner’s responses and meet their eyes. It’s in this silence that the love grows.
- Be there for each other. Big emotional revelations draw different reactions from different people. Tears are a possibility. So is laughter. That’s kind of the point. Deliberate vulnerability is scary. It requires deliberate acceptance.
How To Do It If You’re Apart
- The best way to approach this is face to face, so a video chat is optimal. It allows you to see and hear each other, which ups the intimacy factor. It also allows for more immediate emotional support, as you can see how your partner is feeling in real-time and they can hear your voice.
- If you can’t video chat, the second-best way to do this activity is in a series of handwritten letters. You each mail the same set of questions to each other on the same day and agree to read them at the same time. The vibration of your loved one’s handwritten thoughts coupled with the silence of solitude can make this experience come to life.
- Have a plan to connect after each reading. You can write a response letter with your thoughts about your partner’s answers. You can call each other on the phone. Or you can video chat. Each of these options have different advantages and disadvantages, so this choice really comes down to your shared personality. Handwritten letters are tangible elements of your lover – something they created with their body. Phone calls allow you to hear their breathing. Video calls let you see their face. There’s no wrong choice to make. Just go with your gut.
After It’s Done
Be aware of the fact that you each may feel exposed. So be gentle with yourselves and with each other. Make space for feelings. Leave time to connect. Look for opportunities to validate, praise, or reassure each other.
If you gained new appreciation for some aspect of your partner, make a point to notice how it manifests in your day to day life. Mention it. Compliment them. Brag about them to others, even if they’re not there to hear it. The more you can cultivate affection for the unique individual you have chosen to love, the stronger your feelings will be.
If you are feeling extra vulnerable, be as candid about that as you were about the questions themselves. Let your lover know you’re feeling delicate and in need of comfort. Be as specific as possible about what would make you feel amazing, secure, and adored. Then revel in it.
When we consciously let down the guard we keep up all the time, our real self can be seen. And once it can be seen, it can be loved. This is what allows us to relax, knowing that the person we’ve chosen has chosen us. The real, unvarnished, beautifully flawed us.
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