Modern Love: The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

Set II

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

16. What do you value most in a friendship?

17. What is your most treasured memory?

18. What is your most terrible memory?

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

20. What does friendship mean to you?

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?

22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?

Set III

25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … “

26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.

28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.

29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.

30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?

33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?

34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?

36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

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The Future Issue: You, Only Better

Asprey says he finally lost faith in Western medicine at 23, when a doctor told him that vitamin C could kill him. It turns out this isn’t true, but for Asprey it was the last straw. As a boy, he suffered from inexplicable rashes and alarming, recurring nosebleeds. He says he also felt a mental sluggishness that never seemed to recede. This frightened him, especially as he entered college. By the time he was 22, he weighed 300 pounds. He bought disability insurance when he was about 25 because he was worried that there would come a day when he wouldn’t have enough energy to work.

His poor health didn’t hold back his career. Asprey rose through a series of high-profile positions at several successful technology companies in the ’90s and ’00s. Still, he felt restless and unhappy. In 1995, determined to get his weight under control, he spent 18 months on a strict diet and exercised six days a week. He got stronger, but lost little fat. And the food restrictions made him even more miserable.

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Asprey built on a personal obsession with tracking his own food intake and health data to create a multimillion-dollar company selling the Bulletproof Diet, which includes coffee spiked with butter and oil. Credit Jeff Minton for The New York Times

In the ’90s, Asprey studied a form of information management called a decision support system at California State University, Stanislaus. Such systems use artificial intelligence to analyze data and present it so users can more easily make difficult business decisions. Asprey decided to apply similar tactics to his health. He began closely tracking his food intake alongside his energy levels, mood, sleep and physical activity to create a data set so he could see what patterns emerged — which inputs correlated with positive outcomes and which didn’t.

After his failed low-calorie diet, he tried others: the Zone, Atkins, raw veganism, high-protein and intermittent fasting. At the same time, he went to extreme lengths to collect additional data on his body’s performance. He had adrenal testing done to better understand how his hormones worked; extensive blood work let him monitor his glucose and albumin levels. He got DNA tests to look for genes that might cause immuno­deficiency and sent out samples of his feces to learn about the microbes in his digestive tract. He bought an electroencepha­logram, or EEG machine, to monitor his brain waves. Once, in 2006, hoping to treat gut problems, he placed an order online for a shipment of parasites called porcine whipworm. The eggs arrived from Thailand a few days later in a saline solution. He drank the whole thing hoping they would trigger an anti-inflammatory reaction in his gut. They didn’t.

In all, Asprey says, he has spent more than $300,000 over 20 years on this self-funded research. He talks about himself almost as a lab rat, or as a monkey that was shot into space and returned intact, bearing data to share. But, with his background in computer science, he also fancies himself a hacker — someone who endlessly manipulates a complex system, troubleshooting and looking for vulnerabilities to exploit.

He eventually developed his dietary guidelines, which emphasize that half the day’s calories should come from healthy fats like coconut oil and avocados. Asprey believes these provide more energy and satiation than carbohydrates. The rest is a mix of organic proteins and vegetables. It is both strict and decadent. Sugar (including fruit), grains, legumes and pasteurized dairy are to be avoided, as are many trendy health food items like raw kale and nut milks, which Asprey says contain toxins. The diet is ketogenic; it forces the body to burn fat, instead of carbohydrates and glucose, for energy.

The centerpiece of the Bulletproof Diet — and the business — is Bulletproof Coffee: a blend of freshly brewed coffee, the Brain Octane oil and grass-fed butter, consumed at the beginning of each day to boost energy and curb hunger. It comes with a remarkable patter. In 2004, as part of his campaign of self-improvement, Asprey went to Tibet to study meditation. On a trek in the Himalayas, he began to feel the effects of altitude sickness. At a local guesthouse, he was served a cup of tea mixed with yak butter, which he found to be revitalizing and energizing. After returning home, he tried to make his own version, and eventually landed on the recipe he sells today — almost.

Asprey and Bulletproof employees are fond of asking whether you’ve had ‘‘real’’ Bulletproof Coffee — meaning not made with store-bought butter and coconut oil in your kitchen, but with their branded products. Asprey insists that most American coffee is riddled with a fungus that causes a post-consumption crash. He is especially hung up on mold toxins, or mycotoxins, which he believes were responsible for the health conditions that afflicted him while growing up. The mold in American coffee, he says, leads to illnesses, inflammation and weight gain. Asprey sells his own specially treated mold-free coffee for as much as $18.95 a pound online and at the shop. Next month, he is releasing a Bulletproof cookbook.

Despite some superficial signs of age, Asprey’s face is unlined, and after a while his self-assuredness and unflinching confidence in his methodology becomes contagious. Listening to his story, I stopped questioning his logic. I found myself growing impatient as he described the benefits of his medicine cabinet of ‘‘brain nutrients,’’ and asked for some — ‘‘I feel like I need them,’’ I said. An assistant brought in freshly blended cups of Bulletproof Coffee in Bulletproof-branded stainless-steel travel mugs. The fattiness of the butter and oil lent the coffee a mouth feel similar to Guinness. After a few sips, I started to feel giddy, and almost high — as if I could run a marathon and deliver a keynote lecture and do my taxes, all at once.

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Credit Photo illustration by Andrew B. Myers. Prop styling by Sonia Rentsch.

The next morning, I arrived at the Pasadena Convention Center for the first day of the Bulletproof Biohacking conference. Inside, the crowd was almost comically Southern Californian. The bodies were firm, the jawlines sharp. The women were no strangers to cosmetic enhancement, and most of the men wore aggressively sculpted updos or low-slung man buns. Five-toe Vibram shoes and neoprene yoga pants were the popular pan-gender wardrobe choices. This was the vanguard of the quantified-consumer class — health-conscious Angelenos, the same types who were early adopters of the Master Cleanse and green juices.

The event was billed as a cutting-edge biohacking event, but it was tame compared with what goes on at the fringes of this community. Seven months earlier and about two hours away, in Tehachapi, a much more extreme clique of biohackers gathered to share the recent discoveries from their world at a gathering called GrindFest. These are the real transhumanists, the kind of people who implant magnets under their skin and embed microchips in their bodies to replace key cards. Asprey’s ethos is not so dissimilar — he wants to push humanity past its biological limits — but his sell is a little more palatable: We need only think of our bodies as hardware in order to improve upon them.

Little of the technology on display at the Bulletproof convention was new. No one was being implanted or fused with anything. They preferred to upgrade the old-fashioned way, with a miracle drug or pill or elixir that would transform them from the inside out, and there was no shortage of products that promised to do so. The Bulletproof Coffee was abundant, as were the Bulletproof-branded collagen bars, grass-fed meat jerky and small paper cups of steaming, earthy bone broth. There were samples of Fat Water, a new Bulletproof sports drink infused with a certain fatty acid that Asprey believes the body processes into energy more efficiently than it does glucose. There were Bulletproof-branded supplements, like glutathione, an antioxidant that Asprey says helps detoxify the body. I narrowly missed the cricket brownies smeared with colostrum icing — the crowd descended on them as soon as they were set out. I watched a woman drip a tincture made from deer antlers on the eager tongue of a slim and handsome attendee. I rolled my eyes at a hypnotist putting a woman into a trance, and then, hours later, the same hypnotist talked me into taking an injection of vitamins labeled simply a ‘‘shine shot.’’ (He had taken one, too.)

There are more than a few nutritionists who are dubious of Asprey’s bold claims. It’s hard not to be — there’s little research outside his own that backs them up. Asprey’s diet advises against calorie counting. It is also high in fat. Marion Nestle, an author and professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, is among those skeptical of what Asprey is selling. ‘‘I don’t know any diet, exercise or healthful-living shortcuts,’’ she wrote in an emailed exchange. ‘‘We all want to live forever, and if changing one thing in our diets can do that, we can all hope. The success of the dietary-supplement industry is best explained by wish-fulfillment fantasies.’’

On the day before the conference began, I asked Asprey about his childhood. He quickly rattled off a few sentences about his parents. They worked at Sandia National Laboratories, which taught him the value of scientific inquiry. That wasn’t what I had meant. Were his parents particularly health-oriented? Or did he grow up eating takeout and frozen meals? He gave a dismissive shrug. ‘‘My parents gave me squeeze margarine and bran muffins because that’s what the magazines said,’’ he said. He paused for a moment, reconsidering. ‘‘They did their best.’’

During the ’80s, when Asprey was a kid, eating bran muffins was the fad diet of the day — that, and a little Jazzercise, and you’d be set. Eventually, people came to recognize that the benefits of the fiber were canceled out by the heavy ca­loric load and sugars. Margarine was also peaking in popularity around that time, seen then as a sensible alternative to butter. But since then, nutritionists have questioned the wisdom of the low-fat, high-carb diet that Americans have been steered toward for years. Asprey’s diet is, for all its technological fervor, a refutation of the last generation’s hollow wisdom. In its avoidance of complex carbohydrates and its pseudoscientific rhetoric, it’s not so dissimilar from the Paleo diet — along with a bunch of supplements that would befuddle a cave man, or even a New Yorker.

My own parents were trim and active; they were also Southern, which meant that butter-and-sugar sandwiches and cheese grits were staples of our diet. I was a heavy teenager, with more acne and eczema than I’d like to remember, and it wasn’t until my 20s that I understood the role dietary habits played in that. Since then, I’ve endlessly experimented with raw diets, green juices, Paleo-inspired meal plans and various cultish boutique fitness classes, trying to figure out what works best to maintain a healthy weight. I still don’t have a definitive answer. Fad diets persist because they are seductive, and offer the promise of unlocking a better you by following a few simple rules. And Asprey’s pitch couldn’t be more epistemologically fashionable: A/B testing, hacking and data analysis have already provided us with many novel insights and conveniences.

Asprey believes that nutrition should be as effortless as everything else in our technology-enhanced existence — why shouldn’t it be? His background is in information management, and that is what he is skilled at: distilling oceanic volumes of information for easy consumption and decision-making. The allure of the Bulletproof lifestyle is that you can outsource that work. ‘‘That fundamental laziness, where I want everything to be easier, is part of what drives me,’’ he told me that first day. ‘‘I don’t want to do more work than is necessary to do great things. I don’t see why anyone should do more work than is necessary to do great things.’’

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And That’s My Opinion!

A new school sends the opposite message: that the country does care and wants public school students to succeed. A new school is also a huge morale booster, for students and teachers alike. “If you want to fix American education,” McAvoy told me, aiming her remarks at education philanthropists, “how about setting a goal of putting every kid into a state-of-the-art school by the year 2025?”

Two of the best ideas I heard as an Op-Ed columnist:

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute believes that Supreme Court justices should serve one 18-year term, and those terms should be staggered so that one expires every other year. That way, every president would be able to nominate two justices during a four-year term. What difference would this make? Few things have more poisoned our politics than battles over Supreme Court nominees, precisely because they are lifetime appointments. With term limits, the stakes would be lower when a seat is vacated, and maybe, just maybe, our political culture could start to heal.

William Wachtel, a New York lawyer and co-founder of the group Why Tuesday?, believes that elections should be held on the weekend, when most people are not working, instead of Tuesdays, when they are. Tuesday voting, he likes to note, was originally built around farmers’ schedules; today, it is nothing less than a form of discrimination. As I quoted Chris Rock when I wrote about this in 2013, “They don’t want you to vote. If they did, we wouldn’t vote on a Tuesday.”

Why, oh, why won’t the Metropolitan Opera perform “Porgy and Bess”? As I once noted in Sunday Review, it is the greatest American opera ever written, with a half-dozen of the finest songs George Gershwin ever composed. Its mostly black cast would help bring in a more diverse audience, something the Met could use. Whenever I’ve inquired whether Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, is considering “Porgy and Bess,” I’m told that he is — “in the future.” The last time the Met performed it was a quarter-century ago. How much longer are we supposed to wait?

The late South African psychiatrist Mike Russell was among the first to note that smokers “smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar.” Meaning that while nicotine addicts smokers, it is the burning tobacco, with all of the carcinogens the smoke produces, that kills them. I’ve written a lot about e-cigarettes — maybe excessively so — because I think this point is so important. In demonizing e-cigarettes, the public health community has created a false equivalency between cigarettes and e-cigarettes, a stance I believe is costing lives. E-cigarettes may not be completely safe, but there is no doubt they could save lives if adult smokers could be encouraged to make the switch. And with that, I’ve had my last word on the subject.

I’ve enjoyed writing this column and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Thank you for your many thoughtful responses, both pro and con. I’m looking forward to engaging with you again soon … from the sports page.

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