Love with a Perfect Stranger

Revised 1/26/21

Imagine the possibility of falling in love with a complete stranger in just 45 minutes. Sounds improbable, right? Well, according to the intriguing research conducted by psychologists Arthur and Elaine Aron, it's not just a possibility—it's a reality. Their groundbreaking study focused on something simple yet profound: the power of asking and answering a series of 36 questions, revealing deeply personal insights, and the astonishing connection it can forge between two individuals who were previously perfect strangers.

Is it possible to fall in love with a perfect stranger in 45 minutes? Apparently so.

Husband and wife psychologists, Arthur and Elaine Aron, research how close relationships develop. Previous research has shown that a history of reciprocally exchanged favors leads to the bestowing of additional favors to their exchange partner, no matter who provided the last favor. In other words, the receiving and bestowing of favors builds trust, one of the fundamental building blocks of intimacy.

The Arons explored this already established research that suggests that reciprocal exchanges actually bind the transactors together, and wondered if they could kick it up a notch.

Could they construct a brief dyadic exchange that could create an experience to allow subjects to fall in love with a perfect stranger?

Forty-five minutes to closeness

Here's what the Drs. Aron did:

  • subjects were paired off.
  • Each pair moved through a process of taking turns answering a series of 36 questions.
  • One subject would ask the question, and the other would answer in paragraphs. There would be little interruption because the couples were strangers.
  • As each subject advanced through these questions, it required them to disclose more and more personal information about themselves. For example, the first question was an innocuous one; "What would constitute a perfect day for you?" One of the final questions was "of all the people in your family, whose death would be the most disturbing?"

The Machinery of Joyful Connection

Aron (1997) reported that relationships deepened in 45 minutes beyond all expectations.

Subjects said feelings of intimacy that were remarkable, given that on only 45 minutes had elapsed, and these exchanges occurred under laboratory conditions, not romantic candlelight.

Here's what's most unusual. We can't slough-off off this piece of research lightly. According to the Arons, hundreds of studies have confirmed the same outcome.

The process was by way of one of the building blocks of workplace emotional affairs; progressive personal self-disclosure engaged in through an escalatingly intimate process of reciprocal exchanges.

Personal disclosure, under the right conditions, can slide into intimacy with blinding speed.

The researchers offer two explanations for this phenomenon.

  • First, it is the escalation of personal disclosure. As the couples reveal more personal information in a trusting way, mirror neurons are activated.
  • Second, it is the reciprocal mutuality of acting together, back and forth. The couple becomes more synchronous.

If it can incline perfect strangers to fall in love with each other, what can it do for your marriage?

Can you really fall in love with a perfect stranger in 45 minutes? Yeah, actually there are some marriage certificates from these research subjects to back that claim. But what does this research mean?

Implications of the Aron Intimacy Research

If all it takes is 36 questions to fall in love with a perfect stranger, no wonder why emotional affairs at work are at such an epidemic. It's hard to grapple with the idea that all of your intimate exchanges and reciprocities require more attention as profoundly meaningful social markers and boundaries than our culture currently allows for.

And it's not even about love with a perfect stranger we are talking about. It's about the Zugszwang Effect. The Zugzwang Effect is a situation in a chess game where it's your turn...but any move you make will weaken your position.

Personal disclosure and accepting help from others on a regular basis are two known neuro-behavioral pathways to intimacy that can imperceptibly shift the nature of a workplace relationship, or a friendship, one question, or one granted favor at a time. Resist the inclination to be socially available to "attractive others."

Disclosure and Breached Boundaries

Do not enter into these sort of social transactions lightly. Love with a perfect stranger can be the result of a series of breached boundaries and careless line-crossing. The research says that if you're in the habit of doing this when you have a partner at home, you will, most likely, eventually imperil your marriage.

This ongoing research has huge implications for couples therapy in the treatment of many infidelities, particularly workplace affairs, where synchrony may already be an aspect of the workplace relationship.

This is why science-based couples therapists read research in the first place. Elements of this research would also be highly valuable in Pre-Marital Counseling programs.

Science-based couples therapy seeks to apply cutting-edge science by crafting specific interventions that help couples to appreciate the complexities and contradictions of intimacy.


The Arons' research unveils a striking aspect of human connection—one that goes beyond mere curiosity. It sheds light on the rapidity with which intimacy can develop, solely based on reciprocal disclosure and engagement. But this revelation isn't just about falling in love with a stranger; it's a reminder of the delicate boundaries in relationships.

Their findings highlight the subtle ways in which emotional affairs can unfold, emphasizing the importance of respecting boundaries and the potential risks of uninhibited disclosure. For couples therapy, this research offers invaluable insights into understanding and navigating the intricate dynamics of intimacy. By integrating these scientific revelations, therapists can craft tailored interventions, helping couples appreciate, navigate, and cherish the intricate dance of intimacy in their relationships."

Fall in Love with your Partner all Over Again in Online Couples Therapy


Aron, A., Melinat, E.N. Aron, R.D. Vallone, and R.J. Bator, 1997. "The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure and Some Preliminary Findings" personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23:363-77.

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Dr. Kathy McMahon

Dr. Kathy McMahon (Dr. K) is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. She is also the founder and president of Couples Therapy Inc. Dr. K feels passionate about couples therapy and sex therapy and holds a deep respect towards those who invest in making their relationship better. She is currently conducting online and in person private couples retreats.

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