Most 23 year olds will agree. You have to kiss many princes before you find the one.
The first time I read an article titled 36 questions to make you fall in love with a stranger, the writer in me laughs. The fact that scientists think they’ve found a cheat code to intimacy hightailing past the initial everything makes me want to smile at a stranger and work my way backwards. Because, why not? Isn’t that how it should be? Start heavy from the heart of the maze until only much later when your nerves are intertwined together do you pause and ask them how old they are, where they went to high school, what their name is – answers that don’t really mean anything.
I’m tindering (no shame) and I match with a beautiful boy, the kind you’d want to pin up on your wall as a teenager. ‘Model?’ I say brusquely, partly because I expect him to reply in emojis, but mostly because all his black and white James Dean shots are pulling at my imperfections so I want to look like the one in control. ‘Yes, does it show?’ That makes me smile. We slip into conversation that spells SPARKS in capitals, that a third person would read and go ‘Why are you using so many big words?’ He’s wise and funny and the story in us is scratching itself out so I ask him if he wants to fall in love with a stranger. We’ve both read the article and admit that the concept of sweetly tricking your brain into a familiarity fast track is intriguing. We decide to meet the next day but Paris being the ultimate matchmaker votes to make it rain. ‘My place?’ he says, ‘I’ll pick you up outside the metro and you can decide if you feel safe with me.’ There are different levels of safe; psycho axe-murderer versus someone who looks like a Demigod while I’m barely making it to pixie human, the idea that I’m meant to open my head up and count my flaws out loud making my palms sweat in the metro. I was right to be worried. He’s gorgeous. I wait to get used to his face but it’s not the kind of beauty that grows on you so I focus on finding structure in how we’re going to go about this. He’s cooked for me and doesn’t make a big deal of it, which I like even more than the cooking part and we eat on a battered pirates treasure chest with a view of lovely Parisian rooftops. I swear I am making none of this up.
Can you blame me for swiping right?
It’s truth time and we sit facing each other I’m nervous but he seems to be enjoying the intensity of this string of moments so I take it in too. I feel like a warrior stripping herself off her armor. The questions start off lightly leading into things we’re passionate about but even then every answer is a memory and therein lies the beauty of this game. We gift memories and the deeper we dig the more raw the edges of our voices get. He’s a great listener. And as I watch him listening to me his beauty is taken over by something stronger and slowly bleeds its way under my skin because what we’re doing here is special and cathartic and it takes people of the same kind to recognize that.
I learn backstories I would never have guessed – he’s a linguistics major, is bros with Macklemore, was discovered by a photographer at the airport, had a suicidal ex girlfriend, I learn the cheat codes to his family, I learn about the people that have loved him and those that have hurt him and the closer we get to somewhere, the more his ‘previously on’ makes me feel like I was meant to be here in this moment doing this with him.
Its strange right, how you can only connect the dots starting backwards, how our histories are inexplicably linked to our outward behavior, how we have conditioned ourselves over time to behave a certain way now. I get where the scientists are going with this; it’s two people undressing themselves in front of each other and pointing out their scars and saying look at me, look at this crescent shaped scar on my knee, I got it when I fell off the diving board and thought I was dying and this is why I hate swimming except it’s not just scars it’s tattoos and warrior wounds and rainbow layered stories of happiness and now when you look at their body you only see color.
My Frenchman in Paris
They’re smart though, these scientists, every couple of questions is peppered with a ‘how do you feel about the other person now’ slant and while we start off honest we move closer to ‘I really want to hold your hand right now’ and there’s a constantly sated constantly alive current running through me but it’s not something I know what to do with yet. It’s not sexual, more primitive, I want to get off my chair and sit next to this boy and put my hand on his face and say ‘I know you’ but that sounds insane because this is not a movie and I’m just a 5 foot nothing Indian girl with a heart too big for her body.
When we’re done sharing us we’re meant to look into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes. This is when the current running through me makes it almost impossible for me to sit still and go through with it. I feel naked. I feel like my flaws have feelings and it’s not just me right now that I’m worried about but a whole firework display of my fears and everything that he knows now. 'You need to breathe’, he says, ‘Stop worrying, you look perfect’ and as I ease into it and we look into each other’s eyes the pull is inevitable. When we’re done I get off the chair and sit down on my knees in front of him and we hug for the longest time.
It could have been a perfect kiss. But the timing isn’t right and body contact is enough, better even, solid. In all honesty we would have gotten here anyway but this just linked us together so fast so deep that it helps skip all the bullshit. The idea of the game is to stop you from playing the game. Did we fall in love? Maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe it comes and goes in waves.
The truth is, I met a stranger and we stacked a Jenga tower of truth and it’s still standing.
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Illustration by Eshna Goenka