Monday, February 26, 2024

“What’s the craziest thing you ever did for love?”

This is Jahad Chris Carter’s favorite question to ask strangers he meets, usually in Washington Square Park in Manhattan, or as he likes to call it, his office. As the creator and host of “Hopeless Romantic Society,” a man-on-the-street-style series on social media and YouTube, he’s on a quest to reveal people’s personal dating tales, no matter how chaotic, and he actually gets them to spill.

One woman confessed to slashing tires and taking bank information. One man said that he was almost charged with home invasion. Another woman admitted to paying to save a man’s mother’s home from foreclosure. And one person said that his ex ran him over with a car and that he continued to talk to him afterward.

Mr. Carter, 25, who goes by J.C., said that he doesn’t come at the interviews with the sole aim of going viral. “I’m approaching it in a way where I genuinely care, and I think people can sense that,” he said.

“I’m a total stranger, so I’m not going to judge them,” he added.

The internet has never been more saturated with videos of people brandishing microphones and cameras in strangers’ faces, recording guerrilla interviews on the street. In cities across the world, creators are asking to tour strangers’ apartments, see their bank accounts, or reveal information about their dating lives and relationship issues.

On Instagram and TikTok, Mr. Carter’s video interviews are reduced down to the seconds of the most shocking and personal anecdotes. But on YouTube, his gleeful style of production is unleashed, with some videos stretching to 20 minutes and showcasing a variety of conversations. His editing relies on quick pacing and jump cuts to meme and GIF reactions, with his subjects revealing an even more wild thing about their dating history as the video progresses. All together, he’s amassed over a million followers and subscribers across the three platforms.

“It’s gotten to the point where I’ll stand somewhere with a tripod and people will start recognizing me, and then a line will start forming,” Mr. Carter said.

Mr. Carter moved to Brooklyn from North Carolina in 2021, a year after graduating from East Carolina University, where he studied political science and communications. After scratching plans to go to law school, he began working at a public-relations company in the financial district.

In his downtime, he was going on dates every weekend that first summer and fall in the city, he said, but wasn’t making real connections. He said it was his experience dating after graduation that sparked his interest in other people’s love lives.

“I was coming from a really, really lonely place,” Mr. Carter, who lives in Bushwick, recalled. A run of rotten dates left him asking whether he should “stop dating terrible men” and instead “start talking about this issue in general.”

As for his own views on love and relationships, Mr. Carter, who is gay, said that the show had made him more open, but that he was still a work in progress as he gets over some of his own hangups.

“I hold back in a way where it’s like I’m not bringing my full self everywhere, especially with people I’m dating,” he said. “I’m very curated and I’m trying to break that down, but it’s really, really hard.”

When he started filming “Hopeless Romantic Society,” in February 2022, he thought of the series as a way to meet others with dating woes, while also highlighting queer people and people of color.

“I wasn’t really super open,” Mr. Carter said of his days before the series, when he was still getting used to being a queer person and dating publicly. “So it’s kind of new.”

His first interview was with a man in his 50s or 60s who shared that he was previously married but that his wife left him 10 years earlier because he had “a little side piece.” The man said he was still holding on to that grief.

“I was just kind of surprised,” he said. “Like, he actually told me all that.”

When he hits the streets, Mr. Carter often wears a fitted crop top or tank top, colorful bomber jackets, jeans, and a variety of wigs and hats. Sometimes the roles switch in his interactions, and his subjects interview him. Last fall, a clip took off on social media in which he revealed to the actor Kalen Allen that he was “lollygagging” and “kissing girls” during Pride Month, which resulted in him catching strep and Covid. Mr. Carter said now people approached him all the time shouting “lollygagging” at him.

“When I posted that video it really felt like, Oh, wow, like you can be queer, you can be yourself and people really want to know about it,” he said.

A few months ago, Mr. Carter was able to quit his day job to produce the series full time, supported by brand partnerships. He has also taken his one-man production on the road, conducting interviews in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington.

Still, when it comes to his work, he doesn’t like to be too far away from his office: The hopeless romantics in Washington Square Park are always down to talk.


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