36 questions for the single and ready to mingle

Sophomore slump

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It is painfully apparent that Valentine’s Day is this Saturday. My only loves in life have been Denny’s and DIY projects. I look forward to Feb. 14 for only two reasons: heart-shaped doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and half-off chocolate at Target on Feb. 15. I don’t think I need to try to be any more cynical to say that I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day, or even love itself. I’m more than cool with platonic and familial love, but romantic love has never made sense to me. Talking about love we use words like “crushing,” “falling” and “heartbreak.” Those are pretty violent ways to describe something that is supposed to be pure and gentle, and it scared me into thinking that I should just be like Oprah and marry my career.

Mandy Len Catron wrote a piece for the New York Times about how she and her acquaintance, who later became her boyfriend, asked each other 36 personal questions. This was based off a study done by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron to generate closeness in two strangers, and the two strangers in the original study went on to get married six months later. I decided to recreate this study with someone that I barely knew because: 1. Why not? And 2. Love can’t be studied in solitude. With another person I was hoping to figure out why I couldn’t love someone else.

The first set of questions was essentially harmless. They reminded me of those really vague essay prompts colleges love to ask, like, “What would constitute a perfect day for you?” or “If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?” The questions then went full steam ahead as we were asked to relive terrible memories and say things that we liked about our partner.

I think we spend a majority of our lives rotating through the same five facts whenever we talk about ourselves to strangers. In order for him and me to get anywhere, we had to break that cycle and actually dig deep to find the answers to those questions. The questions were in a way very simple; they could have been answered in one sentence. We ourselves added layers to the questions and expanded them in order to fit our needs.

This was one of the few genuine interactions I’ve had with someone my sophomore year. During that time some of the strongest eye contact was made, and the outside world started to fade as we kept asking each other more questions. I don’t think I’ve poured my heart out to a complete stranger since freshman orientation, when I was so desperate to make friends. I genuinely cared about his contribution to our conversation, and I would like to think he cared about what I contributed as well.

There I was sitting with someone who I only saw throughout my harrowing trips across campus or in Kelvin Smith Library, and we were both curious to see how different, yet still similar, we were. We shared laughs and even awkward moments, and all of that built something for us. It’s odd how we both spent 20 or so years never knowing each other, forming different lives, but still found some mutual understanding between us. And even though this experiment was about a time of togetherness, I was still able to isolate myself from it all. I found that my so-called “inability to love” came from my lack of self-worth. When he shared the redeeming qualities that he saw within me that I did not see myself, I realized that I did not see that I was a decent enough person to be worthy of love. During that time together, I came to love myself a little more, and I thank him for that.

Like Catron I too wondered what would happen to the two of us once this was over. Were we going to become a nuisance to our friends by forcing them to go to our destination wedding in Barcelona? Or were we going to have a smaller wedding featuring a Beyoncé flashmob? I guess I have to answer the question that you all may be wondering: Did we fall in love with each other? Well, no, we most definitely did not.

For those of you out there who were rooting for that Barcelona wedding, you’re probably thinking, “Maybe you didn’t try hard enough,” or “Maybe your eye contact game was off point,” or…maybe neither one of us wanted to fall in love—whether it was with each other or anyone at all. Catron sums it up best by saying that you can’t choose who falls in love with you. It’s so harsh, blunt and logical that it has to be true. Forcing ourselves to form a serious commitment would not have been fair to either one of us. Love doesn’t just happen because you know the last time your partner cried in public.

He wasn’t The One for me, and I was sure as hell not The One for him, but we both built a foundation that night. That foundation was too weak to hold something like love but strong enough to hold something like friendship. And who says I won’t ever ask these questions again? Catron’s original study promoted vulnerability. And through that, he also promoted the foundation of a loving relationship. But I’m only 20 years old, and I have about 60 more years of life left in me to find someone with whom to share those questions. So for now I’m just going to roll with the punches and see what will happen next.

Sophomore Stephen Kolison is single and ready to mingle.