The city night sky glimmered while I pondered on what just happened.
I wanted to hold on to that sliver of hope that things could eventually work out because, “we deserve to at least give this a shot, right?”
I wished I knew the answer to that.
But he just stood there and said, “I’m sorry.”
For a brief moment, I tried to justify what went wrong. Then I remembered someone once told me that, “We can’t ask someone to be a part of our lives if they don’t even know what they’re doing with their own.”
That’s the truth—a truth that I’ve known from the very start, but I still put myself out there hoping he will choose to love me.
It all started with 36 questions. And it’s all coming back to me now.
On the night of my 30th birthday, as the clock struck 12, I found myself staring deeply into his eyes. I’ve always been drawn to their color and how they change depending on his mood but that night they were exceptionally beautiful. And sad.
While we were having dinner that night, I told him about the “36 questions to make you fall in love.” I read an article from the New York Times called “Modern Love” by writer Mandy Len Catron. I told him that ages ago an experiment was made to prove that it’s possible to fall in love with someone by asking 36 particular questions to each other. To quote from her article:
“A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.”
He knew where I was going with this. I wanted to try the experiment. Despite feeling skeptical about the whole idea, he said yes and moments later, we began.
We sat across each other and I could feel the weight of his gaze all over me while I took a moment breathing in the perfect view.
“Are you falling in love with me after the second question?” he teased.
The first few questions seemed simple and innocent such as, “What would constitute a perfect day for you? Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?” In which I answered, Chris Evans. He said I shouldn’t invite him because I’d probably get nervous. He knows I get nervous easily. (Like that one time I talked to him over the phone before a big presentation at work.)
Then the questions became more complicated as we went along.
Instead of just taking turns in answering, we started to engage in a meaningful conversation where we asked each other follow up questions. Simple questions answerable by yes or no became open-ended ones.
Unlike the original experiment done many years ago, we were not strangers. This was not the first time we’d met. The truth was, we’d met a couple of months ago and spent fair amount of time getting to know each other. But that particular night, we shared stories we hadn’t told each other before—like his crazy stories from Singapore, how our childhoods were, and even our most terrible memories in life.
Surprisingly, a dynamic was created between us. We were in this together. Without knowing it, we found ourselves in the middle of this intimate ground where we could trust each other and just be ourselves.
It’s not easy to just open up to someone and let them see through you.
Knowing him, I knew that it was unusual for him to reveal his deep, dark secrets or share his feelings. In that moment, I was touched with the exceptional trust we had for each other. I realized how each question was leading us to a broader picture of who we both are—the decisions and some of the experiences that helped make us.
For a moment, we both felt vulnerable. We were seated in front of each other, but I’d never felt this close to him. It’s as if we were both put into a dimension where it was just me and him, opening up.
I realized that we were not just talking, we were sharing. Sometimes, we feel like we already know someone because we know what they’re doing, what they’ve been up to—but we only know how they are not who they are. We set aside the deeper questions and that stops us from truly knowing someone for who he/she really is.
As the night went on, questions kept on coming. We confessed the last time we each cried and shared what we liked most about each other.
“I like how you act when you’re nervous. I like your giggle and your smile, I like it when you laugh.” Then he paused…I saw him from the corner of my eye. He looked at me then look down and said, “I really appreciate what you bring into my life.”
That’s when it hit me. A feeling I’d been trying to ignore. A feeling I’d been trying to shut off the whole night. Or should I say, the whole time I’ve spent with him for the past few months.
“You make me feel brave. That’s what I like about you,” I answered back briefly.
But there are a lot more things I like about him. I like that he likes waking up to the stories I write. I like that he likes reading them. I like when he tells me funny stories to help me whenever I have writer’s block. I like it when he touches the small of my back and holds my hand when we cross the street.
For a moment, I was lost. I could feel my heart beating so fast. Not because of the cognac we had been drinking all night but because of the unexpected realization that hit me.
“So shall we do it?” he asked with his teasing smile.
Then, I was brought back to reality.
There he was seated in front of me, much closer this time. I set the timer to four minutes and inhaled as deeply as I could. I couldn’t help but smile nervously the whole time. I’ve never stared into someone’s eyes this long before. As a matter of fact, I’ve never stared into someone’s eyes like this ever. He was nervous too.
There I was looking straight into a man’s eyes, trying to get to his inner thoughts and wishing I knew what was in his mind. I felt his happiness and sadness at the same time. It’s just utterly weird and magical to see someone really “seeing” you—to look at someone and see your own reflection in his eyes. It’s seeing myself the way he sees me and vice versa.
Then the timer buzzed. Four minutes was over. For some reason, I felt relieved and disappointed at the same time. I told him that was a bit fast but the truth is, that was the longest four minutes of my life.
Yet I don’t want it to end.
“I’ve never stared into someone’s eyes that long…without kissing her. That was the whole purpose of it. You would kiss and then you would fall in love,” he told me.
I wanted him to kiss me. But at that moment, our eyes shared more than physical touch could.
Could it really be possible to fall for someone by spending a couple of hours getting to know each other?
I’d say yes.
It doesn’t have to be right at that moment.
I didn’t know it at the time. But I’ve come to realize that love is a choice. As Mandy said in her article, we may not have control of who we fall in love with, but in order to fall in love we must be open to the possibility of it. It’s a matter of asking yourself what you are going to do about it.
I used to believe that love was something that happens to us like magic.
I was wrong.
Love is a combination of will, chemistry, timing and most of all, the choice to love the other person.
As I look back now on the night of my 30th birthday, I’ve realized that love is an action we take. It’s a choice we make.
Did he and I fall in love?
Author: Jessa Tek-Ing
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Ryan Polei/Flickr