The Rosie Project Page 10

\I\m Fabienne,\ she said, and extended her free hand, which I shook, careful to apply the recommended level of firmness. \This is terrible wine, no?\

I agreed. It was a carbonated sweet wine, acceptable only because of its alcohol content.

\You think we should go to a wine bar and get something better?\ she asked.

I shook my head. The poor wine quality was annoying but not critical.

Fabienne took a deep breath. \Listen. I have drunk two glasses of wine, I have not had se* for six weeks, and I would rather wait six more than try anyone else here. Now, can I buy you a drink?\

It was a very kind offer. But it was still early in the evening. I said, \More guests are expected. You may find someone suitable if you wait.\

Fabienne gave me her questionnaire and said, \I presume you will be notifying the winners in due course.\ I told her that I would. When she had gone, I quickly checked her questionnaire. Predictably, she failed in a number of dimensions. It was disappointing.

My final non-internet option was speed dating, an approach I had not previously tried.

The venue was a function room in a hotel. At my insistence, the convenor disclosed the actual start time, and I waited in the bar to avoid aimless interaction until then. When I returned, I took the last remaining seat at a long table, opposite a person labelled Frances, aged approximately fifty, BMI approximately twenty-eight, not conventionally attractive.

The convenor rang a bell and my three minutes with Frances commenced.

I pulled out my questionnaire and scribbled her name on it - there was no time for subtlety under these circumstances.

\I\ve sequenced the questions for maximum speed of elimination,\ I explained. \I believe I can eliminate most women in less than forty seconds. Then you can choose the topic of discussion for the remaining time.\

\But then it won\ matter,\ said Frances. \I\ll have been eliminated.\

\Only as a potential partner. We may still be able to have an interesting discussion.\

\But I\ll have been eliminated.\

I nodded. \Do you smoke?\

\Occasionally,\ she said.

I put the questionnaire away.

\Excellent.\ I was pleased that my question sequencing was working so well. We could have wasted time talking about ice-cream flavours and make-up only to find that she smoked. Needless to say, smoking was not negotiable. \No more questions. What would you like to discuss?\

Disappointingly, Frances was not interested in further conversation after I had determined that we were not compatible. This turned out to be the pattern for the remainder of the event.

These personal interactions were, of course, secondary. I was relying on the internet, and completed questionnaires began to flow in shortly after my initial postings. I scheduled a review meeting in my office with Gene.

\How many responses?\ he asked.

\Two hundred and seventy-nine.\

He was clearly impressed. I did not tell him that the quality of responses varied widely, with many questionnaires only partially completed.

\No photos?\

Many women had included photos, but I had suppressed them in the database display to allow space for more important data.

\Let\s see the photos,\ Gene said.

I modified the settings to show photos, and Gene scanned a few before double-clicking on one. The resolution was impressive. It seemed that he approved, but a quick check of the data showed that the candidate was totally unsuitable. I took the mouse back and deleted her. Gene protested.

\Wha wha wha? What\ e you doing?\

\She believes in astrology and homeopathy. And she calculated her BMI incorrectly.\

\What was it?\

\Twenty-three point five.\

\Nice. Can you undelete her?\

\She\s totally unsuitable.\

\How many are suitable?\ asked Gene, finally getting to the point.

\So far, zero. The questionnaire is an excellent filter.\

\You don\ think you\ e setting the bar just a tiny bit high?\

I pointed out that I was collecting data to support life\s most critical decision. Compromise would be totally inappropriate.

\You always have to compromise,\ Gene said. An incredible statement and totally untrue in his case.

\You found the perfect wife. Highly intelligent, extremely beautiful and she lets you have se* with other women.\

Gene suggested that I not congratulate Claudia in person for her tolerance, and asked me to repeat the number of questionnaires that had been completed. The actual total was greater than the number I had told him, as I had not included the paper questionnaires. Three hundred and four.

\Give me your list,\ said Gene. \I\ll pick out a few out for you.\

\None of them meet the criteria. They all have some fault.\

\Treat it as practice.\

He did have a point. I had thought a few times about Olivia the Indian Anthropologist, and considered the implications of living with a Hindu vegetarian with a strong ice-cream preference. Only reminding myself that I should wait until an exact match turned up had stopped me from contacting her. I had even rechecked the questionnaire from Fabienne the se*-Deprived Researcher.

I emailed the spreadsheet to Gene.

\No smokers.\

\Okay,\ said Gene, \ut you have to ask them out. To dinner. At a proper restaurant.\

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