Podcast Idea: 36 Questions

Five years after the viral NYT article, we revisit stories of love, loss and more sparked by a little list of questions.

Description: On January 9th, 2015, the New York Times published a piece by Mandy Len Catron called “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” The piece offered up 36 questions, that you’re supposed to answer with your partner (prospective or achieved). Everything from “Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” to “What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?” You’re supposed to answer the questions in order, take them seriously, and then at the end you’re supposed to stare into the other person’s eyes for four minutes. And with that, like magic, you’re in love. Or maybe you’re not. But if you were in love you’d know it by then? The piece was a huge hit, and couples everywhere tried it. I once saw someone on a first date at a bar pull out their phone and attempt to coerce their skeptical counterpart into taking part.

Now, five years later, we take a look back at how the 36 Questions changed the course of five different relationships. We’ll meet lovers who met because of the questions, and lovers who no longer speak because of them. The 36 Questions cannot make you fall in love, but it certainly can make you think about love differently.

Host: Mandy Len Catron (author of the original piece)*

Executive Producer: Rose Eveleth**

Comps: Why Oh Why meets Where Should We Begin meet Kismet, on Modern Love*.

Sample Episode 1: On January 16th, 2015, just a day after the 36 Questions piece was published, writer Mona Eltahawy* Tweeted “So has anyone done that 36 questions to make you fall in love thing? Seriously considering falling in love so wanted to know if it works ;-)” In her replies, a man named Robert Rutelege replied “Is there a sign up sheet?” There wasn’t technically, but they met up and tried it. And they’ve been together ever since. On this episode, the couple takes us back to that first set of questions and how it felt to answer them. Was it really magic at first (or 36th) question?

Sample Episode 2: Not everybody’s outcome is quite as good as Mona’s. Alicia M. Cohn*, did the 36 questions, and instead of falling in love, fell out of it. But perhaps that is also the power of these questions — they can make you realize that you’re not actually in love after all?

Sample Episode 3: Whenever something like the 36 questions piece goes viral, you can expect a wave of journalists to try the method themselves, and report back. “I was willing to bet I could wholeheartedly go into the experiment and walk away like I do on most every Tinder date: not in love,” writes Carina Hsieh*, whose date said that he “wouldn’t want to do the questions again with someone else.” Others tried to do the questions via text/messaging and that didn’t go great either. Does something like this work when you go into it as a joke? (Ideally on this episode we would find someone who started this on a first date thinking it was stupid and then changed their minds, but this is a joke newsletter so I’m not going to find that person for you right now!)

Sample Episode 4: Sometimes, even when you’re in love, it doesn’t work out. Such was the case for Reddit user priority_snail*, who writes: “I was talking to this guy that I had known for a couple of months (we lived in different states) and when we actually met for the first time we decided to do them together. It was a conversation I will always carry with me. The questions start out surface level but require more vulnerability as you progress - I think we both started crying at different parts of the date. At the end we parted as friends (we lived over 5 hours away from one another), but I think I really did fall in love.”

Audience: People who listen to Modern Love because honestly this should just run on Modern Love.


If you have a podcast idea that you’d like to see me turn into a Podcast Idea, send it my way! rose.eveleth@protonmail.com, or just reply to this email.


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* Hosts and guests have not signed on in any way. I’m making stuff up here!

** This newsletter is for fun. Ideas belong to their initial creator, credited here as Executive Producer. Don’t be a dick and don’t steal these ideas. If you love a show, and really want to get it made, get in touch with the person who came up with it.

Long live independent podcasts. Long live bad ideas.