The Rosie Project Page 66

\I\m going to construct an objective statement followed by a request for clarification, and preface it with a platitude: ’’Excuse me. I ordered a rare steak. Do you have a different definition of rare?’’ \

\Good start, but the question\s a bit aggressive.\

\Not acceptable?\

\In New York maybe. Don\ blame the waiter.\

I modified the question. \Excuse me. I ordered a rare steak. Could you check that my order was processed correctly?\

Claudia nodded. But she did not look entirely happy. I was paying great attention to expressions of emotion and I had diagnosed hers correctly.

\Don. I\m impressed, but ... changing to meet someone else\s expectations may not be a good idea. You may end up resenting it.\

I didn\ think this was likely. I was learning some new protocols, that was all.

\If you really love someone,\ Claudia continued, \you have to be prepared to accept them as they are. Maybe you hope that one day they get a wake-up call and make the changes for their own reasons.\

This last statement connected with the fidelity rule that I had in my mind at the beginning of the discussion. I did not need to raise the subject now. I had the answer to my question. Claudia was surely talking about Gene.

I organised a run with Gene for the following morning. I needed to speak to him in private, somewhere he could not escape. I started my personal lecture as soon as we were moving. My key point was that infidelity was totally unacceptable. Any benefits were outweighed by the risk of total disaster. Gene had been divorced once already. Eugenie and Carl -

Gene interrupted, breathing heavily. In my effort to get the message across unambiguously and forcefully, I had been running faster than normal. Gene is significantly less fit than I am and my fat-burning low-heart-rate jogs are major cardiovascular workouts for him.

\I hear you,\ said Gene. \What\ve you been reading?\

I told him about the movies I had been watching, and their idealised representation of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If Gene and Claudia had owned a rabbit, it would have been in serious danger from a disgruntled lover. Gene disagreed, not about the rabbit, but about the impact of his behaviour on his marriage.

\We\ e psychologists,\ he said. \We can handle an open marriage.\

I ignored his incorrect categorisation of himself as a real psychologist, and focused on the critical issue: all authorities and moral codes consider fidelity critical. Even theories of evolutionary psychology concede that if a person discovers that their partner is unfaithful they will have strong reasons for rejecting them.

\You\ e talking about men there,\ said Gene. \Because they can\ afford the risk of raising a child who doesn\ have their genes. Anyway, I thought you were all about overcoming instinct.\

\Correct. The male instinct is to cheat. You need to overcome it.\

\Women accept it as long as you don\ embarrass them with it. Look at France.\

I cited a counter-example from a popular book and film.

\Bridget Jones\s Diary?\ said Gene. \Since when are we expected to behave like characters in chick flicks?\ He stopped and doubled over, gasping for breath. It gave me the opportunity to present him with the evidence without interruption. I finished by pointing out that he loved Claudia and that he should therefore be prepared to make all necessary sacrifices.

\I\ll think about it when I see you changing the habits of a lifetime,\ he said.

I had thought that eliminating my schedule would be relatively straightforward. I had just spent eight days without it and while I had faced numerous problems they were not related to inefficiency or unstructured time. But I had not factored in the impact of the enormous amount of turmoil in my life. As well as the uncertainty around Rosie, the social-skills project and the fear that my best friends were on the path to domestic disintegration, I was about to lose my job. The schedule of activities felt like the only stable thing in my life.

In the end, I made a compromise that would surely be acceptable to Rosie. Everyone keeps a timetable of their regular commitments, in my case lectures, meetings and martial-arts classes. I would allow myself these. I would put appointments in my diary, as other people did, but reduce standardisation. Things could change week by week. Reviewing my decision, I could see that the abandonment of the Standardised Meal System, the aspect of my schedule that provoked the most comment, was the only item requiring immediate attention.

My next market visit was predictably strange. I arrived at the seafood stall and the proprietor turned to pull a lobster from the tank.

\Change of plan,\ I said. \What\s good today?\

\Lobster,\ he said, in his heavily accented English. \Lobster good every Tuesday for you.\ He laughed, and waved his hand at his other customers. He was making a joke about me. Rosie had a facial expression that she used when she said, \Don\ f*k with me.\ I tried the expression. It seemed to work by itself.

\I\m joking,\ he said. \Swordfish is beautiful. Oysters. You eat oysters?\

I ate oysters, though I had never prepared them at home. I ordered them unshucked as quality restaurants promoted their oysters as being freshly shucked.

I arrived home with a selection of food not associated with any particular recipe. The oysters proved challenging. I could not get a knife in to open them without risking injury to my hand through slippage. I could have looked up the technique on the internet, but it would have taken time. This was why I had a schedule based around familiar items. I could remove the meat from a lobster with my eyes closed while my brain worked on a genetics problem. What was wrong with standardisation? Another oyster failed to provide an opening for my knife. I was getting annoyed and about to throw the full dozen in the bin when I had an idea.

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