TEDx: How to fall in love with a stranger in Sydney. Ask 36 questions and then there’s the 4-minute stare. Does it work?

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Is that the chemistry of love written across their faces?

Simon and Tamara appear to be displaying what could be the start of something amazing.

Take seven Sydney couples – Simon and Tamara included – give them 36 questions aimed to ‘bring about accelerated intimacy’, then, have them stare engagingly into each others eyes for four whole minutes.

This is the groundbreaking “social experiment” How to Fall in Love with a Stranger based on the work of a psychologist Dr Arthur Aron in the 1990s, which has just been replicated in Australia. In New York, earlier in the year, the same experiment caused a storm.

After the couples introduced themselves they were asked to choose questions from three different envelopes. The first envelope was ‘getting-to-know-you questions, the next ‘encouraged them to go deeper’ and the third set were intended to make them think about themselves as an item.

A week later the couples were asked to go on a date, instructed to take photos then go somewhere quiet and repeat the most intimate questions.

What happened?

Well, for the moment, Head Video Curator Melanie Horkan who has made a movie about the experiment for the TEDx ‘Ideas worth spreading’ event at the Sydney Opera House next month, isn’t revealing all.

She said How to Fall in Love with a Stranger was all about being still and vulnerable in a safe place with a stranger as well as ‘peeling back the layers’ of reserve.

“The original experiment was quite groundbreaking, one couple got married a the end of six months,” she said. “We asked everyone what they thought about online dating and universally they said they found it exhausting, demoralising and frustrating that people were judging them based on a picture. I think things are about to shift. People are jaded and looking for alternatives,” she said.

“One couple when they went away to do the most intimate questions alone spent four hours doing them. There’s something really interesting going on there I think.”

Simon lives in Kings Park, north west of Sydney, has just turned 36 and is a landscaper. He said his ideal partner would be someone with a sense of humour, who likes the outdoors and someone who, at night time, he could just be at one with. He said he wanted to give Tamara a hug when she told him she had recently lost her grandmother.

“The staring was quite different,” he said. “She couldn’t stop giggling. For some reason I thought I had to be serious just trying to look at both her eyes and her mouth and trying being in the moment. Four minutes is a long to stare at someone without saying anything.

“At first I saw her from the side profile I did do a double take so there was an attraction definitely. I felt that she sort of needed a hug. It was a little bit awkward but I didn’t feel I could get up out of the chair to make sure she was alright but however she seemed to pull through it.

Tamara is 38 and lives in Campbelltown and works part time for a charity as well as doing some writing. She said she thought the experiment went really well.

“I think all the way through there were nice surprises with him. He was able to express his feelings and he is soft emotionally – not hard. So I was surprised all the way through – his lovely honesty, his authenticity …he was sharing…yeah really warm, loving and human.

“We probably had more of a giggle before going in and the staring – that was where I got to laugh. Not so much funny – I think we are both funny people but that forum was not a funny one. He is an attractive man and there is also in his being that he is a lovely guy and that is obviously appealing.”

How to Fall in Love with a Stranger screens 21 May at 2015 TEDx Sydney Film Program at the Opera House.

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