Which they often were; approximating emotional intimacy, it transpired, could be very boring. Most of the time people don’t want to pull down their walls in front of someone they’ve just met. They find it—shockingly—weird. And, of those who did get real that fast, I cannot remember a single detail, except a slight sense of unease, an awareness deep down that I should not be privy to such things about a person whose surname I didn’t know.
I didn’t make a conscious decision to retire 36 Questions, but at one of these little gatherings, someone—whose identity I’ve long since forgotten—taught me a new game. The premise was simple. Everyone sat in a circle; one person whispered a statement to the person next to them, such as “Who here do you think has the nicest hair?” The listener would then point to whoever fit the bill. If the person on the receiving end of the accusing finger wished to know what question they were the answer to, they had to drink. It seemed more dangerous than 36 Questions, but it was more immediate too, and so usurped my former go-to.
Playing the Whisper Game is one of my few regrets in life. The spicier the questions were—which I encouraged, with the view that they would lead to greater knowledge of one another—the more devastating the outcome. Feelings were hurt and offense caused. A fight broke out on one occasion between two participants, and, while they screamed at one another, the rest of us hurriedly shuffled out the door, party over.
Still, I decided to wheel it out once more on my 25th birthday, encouraging strangers to sit in, even though by now I was surrounded by solid, real-life friends and had a loving partner. “This is horrible,” the latter said quietly, after one round that saw me identify the friend “most likely to cheat.” “Why are we playing this?” I felt indescribably grubby. There was no good answer to his question. The round petered out—the last gasp of my obsession with these sorts of games.
Recently, I have been re-remembering that period. In my mind, my university years and early 20s were a lonely time, defined by a yearning for rich, rewarding connections. I felt my striving, my games, the work I put into the business of building emotional intimacies paid dust. But that is not true, not by a long shot, otherwise I would not have the honor of having the deep, loving friendships I have today. When I look back now, after years of growth and change, step by painful step, I can see with clarity that it was not others who were unable or unwilling to connect with me—it was me, myself, who would not let them in, trapped behind walls I did not yet have the life experience to dismantle. I was not ready to answer the 36 Questions I posed to others.