Who Are You?

How well do you know the people you love?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

After a great deal of resistance and skepticism, I have fallen in love with podcasts. It happened shortly after our second lockdown in Portugal. It was hard and fast and I’m better for having embraced it. Although I love music and have been listening to music while working out for years, I found my long, rigorous walks with music, tedious. I noticed a podcast option on Spotify one day and thought I’d give it a try. It’s been a truly transformative experience. I now look forward to my long walks, choosing which podcast I will listen to before I leave my apartment. Stay with me, I’m getting to the point.

One of my favorites is Modern Love, a New York Times podcast. Modern Love is a column that started in the NY Times in 2004; I didn’t know till now that it was also a podcast. They’re usually about 15 minutes long and nearly always engaging. Essays about love, loss and redemption, are read by mostly famous people. These readers choose an essay because it resonates with them in some way or another. I’m listening to one of these podcasts, and it’s a reaction to a study done where you can meet a potential romantic partner, ask them a set of 36 questions, and then by the end, know whether or not you are compatible.

I can’t see myself participating in such an experiment; however, the concept of truly getting to know a person based on their answers, peaked my interest. Lockdown can be a massive downer if you allow it to get to you. Day after day of the same routine, not knowing the day of the week, wondering when it will come to an end. It has forced some of us to be creative with our time and perhaps even use the time to improve our lives.

As a single man, living alone, I find that if I’m not careful, days can go by without human interaction. If you’re an introvert like me, that could be considered nirvana; but I’m not sure how healthy it is. A friend of mine in Brooklyn, and dare I say, my soulmate, has a similar attitude about solitude. Gina and I have talked about why we enjoy living alone and how we are seldom lonely, many times. But this Modern Love podcast on “36 Questions” had me thinking about how well I know Gina. We’ve been friends for over twenty years; good friends for over 15 years. She is beautiful, funny, independent, probably the best mother I know, resilient, an amazing cook, and she loves me, but how well do I really know her?

We speak via Facetime almost everyday and when I visit New York City, I almost always stay with her. As friends often do, we share problems with one another, hoping for sympathy, empathy, and sometimes just an ear. But there is this 35 year period before we became friends that I know little about. There are also the things we may not share for fear of embarrassment or just consideration; not wanting to bore the other person or drag them into our neuroses. As I considered my friendship with Gina and what I knew or didn’t know, it occured to me that this might be a good time to take our friendship to a deeper level.

May be an image of 2 people, including Christopher Papagni and people smiling

The idea of asking Gina questions about herself seemed like a great way to start. A few weeks ago I sat on my terrace with a pen and paper and a smart cocktail (a term another friend uses for cocktails that are complex and have deeper meaning). I deliberately did not look at the 36 questions from the study; wanting to customize my questions to suit my intention. Armed with three poignant questions I was excited to pose to Gina, I gave her a call.

There are two things I have to tell you about Gina: First, unlike me, she always cares about how she looks, lockdown or not. She has a knack for casual fashion and she knows how to flawlessly accessorize. Second, she is almost always thrilled to see my face on her screen. So she answers the phone wearing a beautiful Channel scarf in her kitchen. She sits in a stool next to her kitchen island, straightens her back, and usually says, “Hello Babe, whatcha doin?” Who wouldn’t want to be greeted that way? Her long, dirty blond hair is usually tucked behind her ears and recently washed. We sometimes have an agenda, having texted one another with reminders to mention some documentary or another. However, still, this is mostly small talk; making conversation.

Gina, I wrote down three questions that would help me get to know you better, are you game?

“Sure babe, fire away.”

There have been a couple of occasions over the years when Gina said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Trust me, when this happens I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Gina is from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, you don’t mess with Gina. It’s one of the many things I love about her.

Gina was delighted to answer my three questions. After about 20 minutes of revealing conversation, I felt closer to her that day. What I found even more gratifying, was Gina’s delight in my interest in her thoughts. She thanked me several times and she said she’d like to ask me several questions as well, but that she’d like some time to prepare, another thing I love about her.

I’m certain you’re asking yourself why I don’t just marry her? Life is complicated isn’t it? The point I’m making is that getting to know someone on a deeper level is worth the effort for many reasons:

  • We all want to be appreciated
  • Being truly listened to and heard is a rare gift
  • Knowing someone better helps us to understand where they are coming from and where they are going
  • At times we spare one another the pain we are going through; this is a great way to give voice to the things that may be troubling us
  • A beautiful way to pass the time
  • It can be wonderfully disarming
  • There is a chance the effort will be reciprocated, as it was with Gina
COMO DESENHAR O SÍMBOLO YIN YANG SUPER FÁCIL - YouTube

Every yin has a yang, and my relationship with Gina is no different. There are days when I don’t want to talk to anyone and being that we are both introverts, she’s okay with that. There are days when Gina goes right into, “One quick thing before ‘we’ hang-up,” a hint she might be done, and then of course there is the occasional more than one call in a day, but I know that’s all normal stuff, we’re only human after all.

Some fun questions that might help you get started

Resources and References

36 Questions That Lead to Love, Modern Love, The New York Times, Daniel Jones, Jan. 9, 2015.

200 (Not Boring) Questions To Ask To Get To Know Someone Better, Women’s Health,

BY JASMINE GOMEZ AND LINDSAY GELLER, JUL 29, 2020

Question of the Week:

How do you prevent your empathy for the pain and suffering of others, from weighing you down?

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