Last month I, along with the rest of the world, read the Modern Love article “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”, which chronicles a writer’s experiment of falling in love via 36 questions, derived from some fancy psychological study. Granted, the writer fell in love; I was sold. (Desperate times call for desperate measures.) The challenge now lay in finding a poor sucker who would be willing to sit there and answer 36 questions about himself – and, worse yet, listen to me answer 36 questions about myself, a mildly unbearable feat considering that I’m known to manifest six opposing notions while answering one single question.
Luckily my fan friend and fellow blogger Isaac of Isaac Likes was in Paris for Fashion Week and happened to be a perfect contender for this project – I mean, the guy has a relationship blog of his own! It was a match made in Bloglovin’ heaven! Plus, having only met a handful of times, we didn’t know each other that well, which happened to be one of the prerequisites for the experiment. I sent him the link and he immediately agreed, although he did appear uncharacteristically nervous about the part where we were supposed to stare into each others eyes for a total of four minutes.
6pm on a Friday night. Isaac meets me on my street with an angry look on his face. Gallivanting through Marais in a billowing Zegna coat like the street style maven that he is, he informs me that, if he doesn’t eat, he’s going to kill me. Recognizing the dangers of male hanger, I lead him towards République, where we find a random Moroccan restaurant with not a single hipster in sight, a true PFW miracle. Food enters his body, he becomes human again. He has the Hermès show at 8, which is gravely interfering with our plans of falling in love, and so I volunteer to accompany him and hold his man purse while he battles off the street style paparazzi. (I’m kidding. I don’t think he has a man purse.) Le Uber arrives and le mass traffic begins immediately. I suggest we carpe diem it and start the experiment on the spot.
8:15pm, Place de la Concorde. We’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic but neither of us seems to care, as we are busy discussing the first question on the list – our choice of a dream dinner guest. I’m shocked to hear Isaac nominate Kanye West – why?! The guy has verbal diarrhea in every interview that he does, what is there to discuss? We debate Kanye as the role model of our generation, a conversation I have previously had with just about every man I’ve dated. When my turn comes, I promptly rattle off a list of female philanthropists, pronouncing a very DVF-inspired desire about the woman I want to become.
8:15pm. “What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?” The Uber is whizzing by the Eiffel Tower, which sparkles from across the river as we attempt to conjure our perfect day. A perfect day is a day spent with a person you love, exploring a a city you love; a perfect day is doing a whole lot of everything while doing nothing at all; a perfect day is getting so caught in the moment that you forget that your phone exists. I suddenly realize that I haven’t looked at my phone in an hour, and whatever we are doing is constituting as a pretty perfect day for me. In fact, our entire trajectory is quickly starting to resemble a very chic version of Before Sunrise… Shit, am I falling in love?
8:25pm. We arrive to the Radio France building in the 16th, just in time to witness the models do their final walk in front of the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. There goes a 30 Euro Uber! Then again, it was the most romantic taxi ride of my life, so money well spent. We find a brasserie. The banquettes are red and the tables are dark wood and the Eiffel Tower, ever the supporting character, glistens behind Isaac as we enter into the deeper, grittier part of the questionnaire. “If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living?” I would quit my other job and write; he would write and be honest. In fact, we agree that we would both start being pretty damn honest.
“Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?” Most of the questions, if answered sincerely, force you to reflect upon yourself in ways you don’t always want to, particularly in front of an almost-stranger. Gone is the first date charade of pretending to be a better version yourself, the carefully prepared autobiographical data, the articulate life story.
My favorite question is the one where you tell your life story in as much detail as possible in four minutes. Isaac stays on his childhood and adolescence for three of them and breezes through the rest. I follow his example. Suddenly, I’m a kid again, pulling up some of the most random of childhood memories. I feel slightly out of space and time, similar only to the feeling I get when traveling by airplane, of being detached and liberated and knowing that, in that moment, everything is possible.
10pm? 10:30pm? I have long ago lost track. The questions are flowing, we are getting better at answering them, more concise. In the third section, certain questions repeat themselves. There’s a lot of talking about one other: “Tell your partner something that you like about them already.” “I think you’re smart.” “I think you’re ambitious.” Then, the “we” statements. “I think we’re sensitive.” (He’s going to kill me for saying this, but he’s a big baby.) “I think we’re similar.”
Or, perhaps, not so similar after all. One of the questions inadvertently leads to us to the topic of money, a sensitive subject that we have previously disagreed upon. I was raised in a way that assumes traditional gender roles and a man’s responsibility of taking care of his family. While I have every intention of working and contributing to a household income, I simply cannot see myself ever subscribing to the New Age mentality of men and women being equal in every way. Isaac was raised in New Zealand, one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to gender equality, so it is no surprise that his vision is inherently different. And it is precisely at this point of the conversation that it became evident that, no matter how creatively connected we may be, it is this fundamental difference in upbringing – in our core value systems, even – that would be the potential deal-breaker if something were to develop between us.
11(ish) pm. “Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it.” Isaac, ever the guy, decides to use this as an opportunity to talk about sex, the one subject that we managed to avoid throughout 35 questions. “I don’t have sex, you don’t have sex. This is a problem, let’s talk about it.” Fair enough. Isaac admits that he’s worried girls will get attached and he will no longer be able to sustain his “nice guy” persona. I’m worried that guys won’t get attached and I’ll never hear from them again. “I’ll have sex with you and we’ll stay friends,” he proposes, making me strangely nervous. Is this where this is headed?
The next step entails staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Isaac keeps hinting that we will definitely end up making out after, which I neither encourage or discourage. We order another Uber and start heading back to his Airbnb rental, when my girlfriend calls me. “I came home and my door is open! I’m scared!” – comes a cry of mid-fashion week hysteria. I figure it’s a good way to buy at least an hour of time and volunteer to come look for the intruder – en plus, Isaac is looking very intimidating in his Batman-esque Zegna cape. We arrive and scour the apartment to find no signs of break-in, probably a good thing, considering that our collective self-defense skills would have been limited to swatting off burglars with Maison Michel hats . Calmed, we try on said hats instead and take the pictures you see above. We tell my friend we need to go stare into each others eyes and make out. Mystified, she hands me a bottle of rosé (Isaac doesn’t drink) and sends us off.
1am. We finally arrive at Isaac’s Airbnb, a tiny shoebox studio perched on Rue Notre Dame de Nazareth. It’s oddly cozy, a throwback of a place where one could imagine creative folks before us planting literary seeds (and other seeds) while prostitutes and drug dealers linger downstairs. We sit at the tiny table and attempt the staring match, except that I’m terrified and we have to start over four times. Everything Isaac has just told me, and everything that I have told him, flashes in front of my eyes à la Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. I feel naked, exposed. Why does he have such kind eyes? Honest eyes. Once I get into the rhythm, I feel slightly better, and the last two minutes whiz by. Just like that, it’s over.
He moves (rolls over?) 20 centimeters to the bed, grinning, and gestures for me to come join him for the bonus part of the experience. I lay down next to him. We kiss. It feels like a kiss between friends, and there is nothing wrong with that.
In conclusion, neither Isaac nor I fell in love that night. And yet, something inside of me woke up. For one, I remembered what it’s like to have a real conversation, to get to know somebody on a personal level and have them to get to know me in return. (It’s vulnerable and exhilarating and scary at the same time.) In a way, I remembered what falling in love feels like. (It’s vulnerable and exhilarating and scary at the same time.)
It’s safe to say that no 36 questions are going to make two people fall in love. What they will do, though, is expedite the process where there is one, shattering the castles of bullshit we build in the sky at their very foundation, allowing to build something much more solid instead. In our case, this something solid is what is promising to become a great friendship. A friendship that possibly may not have been, hadn’t we sat in that brasserie with the red banquettes by the Eiffel Tower and asked each other those 36 questions.
P.S. To read Isaac’s rendition of this encounter, which I didn’t read until my own went live, click here.