Tell Me More…

March: Inviting People Over, Inviting People In

5 Tools for Achieving Everyday Intimacy

Have you ever been frustrated with how long it takes to really get to know someone? Have you ever longed to fast-track a friendship past the small talk and casual banter, and into a space of openness and genuine sharing?

Psychologists have shown that by far the most effective way to foster intimacy in relationships is by asking questions. Not the “how was your day” sort of questions that too often characterize our interactions with even our closest companions, but queries like “what was your most memorable day?”—things we often don’t think to ask, but that seek for understanding, and open up a space for sharing something more.

But asking questions that prompt a friend or lover to self-disclose can be difficult, especially if we have settled into a habit of superficiality. It can also feel counter-cultural—in the modern world privacy is highly valued, and we don’t want to seem rude by “prying,” or inviting ourselves into someone’s personal space. And yet, with loneliness and despair running rampant through our society, it’s far more likely than not that the friends or the lover you wish you could feel closer to shares that same longing. The trick is finding a path to greater openness, and the courage to follow it.

If you’re hungry for more everyday intimacy, consider using one of these five tools to move conversations in your life from casual and superficial to close and sustaining.

This scientifically validated exercise developed by psychologist Arthur Aron has been used in laboratories and in the real world to achieve everything from helping perfect strangers fall in love, to revitalizing marriages that have gone stale, to neutralizing prejudice and racism. Called the “Fast Friends procedure” in scientific literature, this tool invites two people to sit down and take turns answering an established list of questions, in order. Each person answers the same question before moving on. The queries unfold in three sections, moving from more casual (“What would constitute a perfect day for you?”) to more intimate (“How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?”). If done in a way that leaves room for real sharing, this exercise can take several hours, but the investment pays off in learning things you might never otherwise know about another person—even a parent, a spouse or a close friend.

Vertellis is a card game created by a group of friends in the Netherlands who were frustrated about spending time socializing, only to walk away feeling like no genuine moments of connection were achieved. This deck can be used at a family gathering, a bar, a dinner party, or around a campfire—anywhere friends or family gather. And it’s even great for including children. Round one asks participants to reflect on past experiences such as “Which three people have influenced you most?” and “What has kept you up at night?” Round two are questions for players to guess at another person’s answer. And the third round focuses on looking forward to the future: “What is your biggest wish for the upcoming year?” Throughout the game, participants are encouraged to ask one another to “vertellis”—which means “tell me more” in Dutch—thereby inviting deeper understanding. Even if you only get through a handful of questions, this game can take dinner party conversation from casual to close in a matter of minutes.

Created by Erin Hickok, aka “The Connectress,” Cards for Connection started off as a jar full of questions written on colored slips of paper, but proved so transformational for her friends and family that it blossomed into a series of products to help more people “feel the joy of being deeply seen and connected.” Structured as fill-in-the-blank sentences, this game is more bite-sized than similar tools, but the prompts go deep quickly: “What my heart wants to hear right now is_____.” Great for groups who are comfortable being both playful and earnest, these cards ask participants to do everything from “Take turns singing a line of the first song that comes to mind” to “Gift each player with a compliment.” Cards for Connection work great as an icebreaker but can also be a powerful way to get reticent kids talking around the dinner table.

The Confessions Game is a more adults-only spin on traditional question-and-answer exercises, and was developed by the London-based School of Life, whose mission is to give people tools and education to develop emotional intelligence. Cards are divided into five categories: Career, Money, Relationships, Family, and Sex. Participants roll the dice to determine from which category they’ll pull a card. Questions range from reflective (“If you were braver, what would you be doing with your life?”) to provocative (“Is the problem with infidelity that it hurts the other person, or is it bad in itself?”) to, well, confessional (“In what ways are you not such a good parent?”). The Confessions Game is best played with a group of friends who already know each other reasonably well but are interested to learn things about each other they might not otherwise disclose until years into a relationship—if ever.

Sometimes the best way to create a feeling of intimacy is just to share a good laugh. The Truth Comes Out is a light-hearted app that generates questions for a group to answer about one of the participants, such as “What’s the last thing Maria googled?” or “What’s the biggest secret Laura is keeping?” Each player jots down their answer and tries to get others to agree. Along the way, participants see themselves through each others’ eyes, and also have the chance to provide real answers to the questions—once the laughing has died down. Created by Ellen Degeneres, this connection game is lots of fun, and especially helpful for families who struggle with gatherings being dominated by controversy or disagreement. As Ellen puts it, it’s “a good way to keep Uncle Larry from talking about building that wall.”

Cards for Connection, photo courtesy of Erin Hickock

Next time you gather with friends or family, consider taking along a game, app, or list of questions you can use to spark more honest, open, and genuine interactions. It might feel awkward at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised at how quickly most people open up, and how eager they are to speak—and listen—from the heart.

We are all longing for everyday intimacy, and sometimes all it takes is a creative way to facilitate it. As a promotional video for The Confessions Game puts it, “we aren’t condemned to have superficial conversations. We just need to find a game we can blame for forcing us to ask the questions we are already dying to raise.”