The Rosie Project Page 65

\All this because of a woman?\ said Gene.

\Apparently. It\s totally irrational.\ I felt embarrassed. It was one thing to make a social error, another to admit that rationality had deserted me.

\It\s only irrational if you believe in your questionnaire.\

\The EPDS is highly -\

\I\m talking about your ’’Do you eat kidneys?’’ questionnaire. I\d say genetics one, questionnaire nil.\

\You consider the situation with Rosie to be the result of genetic compatibility?\

\You have such a way with words,\ Gene said. \If you want to be a bit more romantic about it, I\d say you were in love.\

This was an extraordinary statement. It also made absolute sense. I had assumed that romantic love would always be outside my realm of experience. But it perfectly accounted for my current situation. I wanted to be sure.

\This is your professional opinion? As an expert on human attraction?\

Gene nodded.

\Excellent.\ Gene\s insight had transformed my mental state.

\Not sure how that helps,\ said Gene.

\Rosie identified three faults. Fault number one was the inability to feel love. There are only two left to rectify.\

\And they would be?\

\Social protocols and adherence to schedules. Trivial.\

30

I booked a meeting with Claudia at the usual caféto discuss social behaviour. I realised that improving my ability to interact with other humans would require some effort and that my best attempts might not convince Rosie. But the skills would be useful in their own right.

I had, to some extent, become comfortable with being socially odd. At school, I had been the unintentional class clown, and eventually the intentional one. It was time to grow up.

The server approached our table. \You order,\ said Claudia.

\What would you like?\

\A skinny decaf latte.\

This is a ridiculous form of coffee, but I did not point it out. Claudia would surely have received the message from previous occasions and would not want it repeated. It would be annoying to her.

\I\d like a double espresso,\ I said to the server, \and my friend will have a skinny decaf latte, no sugar, please.\

\Well,\ said Claudia. \Something\s changed.\

I pointed out that I had been successfully and politely ordering coffee all my life, but Claudia insisted that my mode of interaction had changed in subtle ways.

\I wouldn\ have picked New York City as the place to learn to be genteel,\ she said, \ut there you go.\

I told her that, on the contrary, people had been extremely friendly, citing my experience with Dave the Baseball Fan, Mary the bipolar-disorder researcher, David Borenstein the Dean of Medicine at Columbia, and the chef and weird guy at Momofuku Ko. I mentioned that we had dined with the Eslers, describing them as friends of Rosie\s family. Claudia\s conclusion was simple. All this unaccustomed social interaction, plus that with Rosie, had dramatically improved my skills.

\You don\ need to try with Gene and me, because you\ e not out to impress us or make friends with us.\

While Claudia was right about the value of practice, I learn better from reading and observation. My next task was to download some educational material.

I decided to begin with romantic films specifically mentioned by Rosie. There were four: Casablanca, The Bridges of Madison County, When Harry Met Sally and An Affair to Remember. I added To Kill a Mockingbird and The Big Country for Gregory Peck, whom Rosie had cited as the se*iest man ever.

It took a full week to watch all six, including time for pausing the DVD player and taking notes. The films were incredibly useful, but also highly challenging. The emotional dynamics were so complex! I persevered, drawing on movies recommended by Claudia about male-female relationships with both happy and unhappy outcomes. I watched Hitch, Gone with the Wind, Bridget Jones\s Diary, Annie Hall, Notting Hill, Love Actually and Fatal Attraction.

Claudia also suggested I watch As Good as It Gets, \just for fun\. Although her advice was to use it as an example of what not to do, I was impressed that the Jack Nicholson character handled a jacket problem with more finesse than I had. It was also encouraging that, despite serious social incompetence, a significant difference in age between him and the Helen Hunt character, probable multiple psychiatric disorders and a level of intolerance far more severe than mine, he succeeded in winning the love of the woman in the end. An excellent choice by Claudia.

Slowly I began to make sense of it all. There were certain consistent principles of behaviour in male-female romantic relationships, including the prohibition of infidelity. That rule was in my mind when I met with Claudia again for social practice.

We worked through some scenarios.

\This meal has a fault,\ I said. The situation was hypothetical. We were only drinking coffee. \That would be too confrontational, correct?\

Claudia agreed. \And don\ say fault, or error. That\s computer talk.\

\But I can say ’’I\m sorry, it was an error of judgement, entirely my fault’’, correct? That use of ’’fault’’ is acceptable?\

\Correct,\ said Claudia, and then laughed. \I mean yes. Don, this takes years to learn.\

I didn\ have years. But I am a quick learner and was in human-sponge mode. I demonstrated.


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