Wednesday night, while more than 70 people asked complete strangers personal questions hoping to fall in love or make a new friend, two University students sat together in a corner of the room, furiously coding a new website to set their movement in motion.

Inspired by a column in The New York Times, these two students are hoping to launch a nationwide movement to help students form relationships.

On Jan. 9, writer Mandy Len Catron posted a narrative called “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” for Modern Love, a rotating column in The New York Times. In the column, she describes how she fell in love with her current partner by mimicking a study conducted by psychologist Arthur Aron, who teaches at Stony Brook University.

In the study, Aron describes gathering two strangers in a lab setting to ask them 36 questions designed to accelerate intimacy. He reported he had successfully managed to make his subjects fall in love, and they married six months after the experiment was conducted.

Engineering junior Randa Sakallah and Engineering senior Natasja Nielsen hosted a “36 Questions” session at the Michigan League on Wednesday night with more than 70 participants.

After reading Catron’s Modern Love column, Sakallah’s first thought was to host an event at the University similar to Aron and Catron’s experiments.

“Going into this semester I had just kind of been thinking about what kinds of social events I can do with my friends that are different from just a normal party,” she said.

After posting an event on Facebook, they said it had completely sold out within three hours and more than 100 people had joined the waitlist.

“It happened really organically,” Nielsen said. “We just started inviting all of our friends and they started RSVP-ing and inviting their friends.”

Participants were sent a three-part survey three days before the event. The first part asked for the participant’s name, gender, sexual orientation and age, and the second was a series of questions asking them to rank their interest in topics concerning organization, religion and theoretical physics. Nielsen and Sakallah said they enjoyed reading the third segment of the questionnaire most, which asked what the participants were looking to get out of the event.

“We were worried that some people would be going in with an expectation like ‘I’m going to find a date for Valentine’s Day,’ ” Sakallah said. “But most people had similar responses of ‘I’m coming in with an open mind. I don’t have any expectations.’ It’s really cool to see that perspective from students because … it’s kind of a vulnerable position to put yourself in.”

The depth of the event’s questions varied. Some were more benign such as how famous someone would like to be, and other were pointed inquiries about topics like familial relationships and death. At the 36 Questions event hosted at the University, participants were split into groups and then, from the groups, further divided into pairs to answer the questions.

LSA junior Nivedita Karki, who is a web editor at the Michigan Daily, and Engineering senior Madhav Achar, who both said they attended because its general premise looked interesting, had met two years ago at a South Asian Awareness Network conference before being coincidentally paired together.

“It was just interesting to me that someone would think just knowing another person would be enough to fall in love with them,” Karki said. “It was kind of like being a part of a social experiment.”

Achar said he didn’t mind answering some of the more personal questions included on the list.

“I had more fun answering them than if I was to go on a date in general,” he said. “The first time you meet someone you might ask a couple of questions, ‘what’s your major? Blah, blah, blah.’ I’m glad to see that major wasn’t on here, because that’s not the most important thing about someone.”

After answering all 36 questions on the list, the next step for participants is to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes without looking away or speaking. When it came time for participants at the University’s 36 Questions to move on to this part of the event, the room was filled with sporadic giggles and whispers.

“I have trouble making eye contact with someone when I’m talking to them,” Achar said. “It’s just a habit. So just four minutes of eye contact without talking? That was kind of hard. But we had a good time, I think. We’re survivors.”

Achar and Karki said they were both planning to stay in touch and meet up again this weekend.

Sakallah, the co-organizer of the event, said it was important for her to host 36 Questions in a University setting because oftentimes college students have a difficult time being open with others, even with people they’ve known for years.

“Especially at Michigan, people aren’t apt to be super vulnerable,” she said. “I was reading through these 36 questions and for some people I would think I know really well, I wouldn’t know the answers to these questions. I think that’s important for college students specifically to have those kinds of relationships especially at this time because we’re all at a formative stage of our lives.”

Nielsen said she and Sakallah had discussed hosting 36 Questions as a way to offer an alternative to “hook-up culture.”

“On the romantic side, for people who are looking for that, on a college campus, you’re not really getting into these deep relationships,” she said. “A lot of times everyone’s so caught up in their classes that you miss a lot of opportunities to really get to know people that you’re supposedly close to.”

Moving forward, Sakallah and Nielsen said they plan to make 36 Questions a series of national pop-up events. Sakallah said she had a friend in San Francisco who had a similar idea and had held a successful event similar to 36 Questions last week.

“We kind of decided that we were going to launch this whole thing and have a bunch of events all over the country,” Sakallah said. “Ann Arbor is just one out of a bunch.”

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