The Rosie Project Page 8

Claudia and Gene were reading.

Claudia said, \For an appointment, I\m guessing (b) a little early.\

This was patently incorrect, demonstrating that even Claudia, who was a good friend, would be unsuitable as a partner.

\The correct answer is (c) on time,\ I said. \Habitual earliness is cumulatively a major waste of time.\

\I\d allow a little early,\ said Claudia. \She might be trying hard. That\s not a bad thing.\

An interesting point. I made a note to consider it, but pointed out that (d) a little late and (e) very late were definitely unacceptable.

\I think if a woman describes herself as a brilliant cook she\s a bit up herself,\ said Claudia. \Just ask her if she enjoys cooking. Mention that you do too.\

This was exactly the sort of input I was looking for - subtle nuances of language that I am not conscious of. It struck me that if the respondent was someone like me she would not notice the difference, but it was unreasonable to require that my potential partner share my lack of subtlety.

\No jewellery, no make-up?\ said Claudia, correctly predicting the answers to two questions that had been prompted by my recent interaction with the Dean.

\Jewellery isn\ always about appearance,\ she said. \If you have to have a question, drop the jewellery one and keep the make-up. But just ask if she wears it daily.\

\Height, weight and body mass index.\ Gene was skimming ahead. \Can\ you do the calculation yourself?\

\That\s the purpose of the question,\ I said. \Checking they can do basic arithmetic. I don\ want a partner who\s mathematically illiterate.\

\I thought you might have wanted to get an idea of what they look like,\ said Gene.

\There\s a question on fitness,\ I said.

\I was thinking about se*,\ said Gene.

\Just for a change,\ said Claudia, an odd statement as Gene talks constantly about se*. But he had made a good point.

\I\ll add a question on HIV and herpes.\

\Stop,\ said Claudia. \You\ e being way too picky.\

I began to explain that an incurable se*ually transmitted disease was a severe negative but Claudia interrupted.

\About everything.\

It was an understandable response. But my strategy was to minimise the chance of making a type-one error - wasting time on an unsuitable choice. Inevitably, that increased the risk of a type-two error - rejecting a suitable person. But this was an acceptable risk as I was dealing with a very large population.

Gene\s turn: \Non-smoking, fair enough. But what\s the right answer on drinking?\

\ero.\

\Hang on. You drink.\ He pointed to my port glass, which he had topped up a few moments earlier. \You drink quite a bit.\

I explained that I was expecting some improvement for myself from the project.

We continued in this manner and I received some excellent feedback. I did feel that the questionnaire was now less discriminating, but was still confident it would eliminate most if not all of the women who had given me problems in the past. Apricot Ice-cream Woman would have failed at least five questions.

My plan was to advertise on traditional dating sites, but to provide a link to the questionnaire in addition to posting the usual insufficiently discriminating information about height, profession and whether I enjoyed long walks on the beach.

Gene and Claudia suggested that I also undertake some face-to-face dating to practise my social skills. I could see the value of validating the questionnaires in the field, so, while I waited for online responses to arrive, I printed some questionnaires and returned to the dating process that I thought I had abandoned forever.

I began by registering with Table for Eight, run by a commercial matchmaking organisation. After an undoubtedly unsound preliminary matching process, based on manifestly inadequate data, four men and four women, including me, were provided with details of a city restaurant at which a booking had been made. I packed four questionnaires and arrived precisely at 8.00 p.m. Only one woman was there! The other three were late. It was a stunning validation of the advantages of field work. These women may well have answered (b) a little early or (c) on time, but their actual behaviour demonstrated otherwise. I decided to temporarily allow (d) a little late, on the basis that a single occasion might not be representative of their overall performance. I could hear Claudia saying, \Don, everyone\s late occasionally.\

There were also two men seated at the table. We shook hands. It struck me that this was equivalent to bowing prior to a martial-arts bout.

I assessed my competition. The man who had introduced himself as Craig was about my own age, but overweight, in a white business shirt that was too tight for him. He had a moustache, and his teeth were poorly maintained. The second, Danny, was probably a few years younger than me, and appeared to be in good health. He wore a white t-shirt. He had tattoos on his arms and his black hair contained some form of cosmetic additive.

The on-time woman\s name was Olivia, and she initially (and logically) divided her attention among the three men. She told us she was an anthropologist. Danny confused it with an archaeologist and then Craig made a racist joke about pygmies. It was obvious, even to me, that Olivia was unimpressed by these responses, and I enjoyed a rare moment of not feeling like the least socially competent person in the room. Olivia turned to me, and I had just responded to her question about my job when we were interrupted by the arrival of the fourth man, who introduced himself as Gerry, a lawyer, and two women, Sharon and Maria, who were, respectively, an accountant and a nurse. It was a hot night, and Maria had chosen a dress with the twin advantages of coolness and overt se*ual display. Sharon was wearing the conventional corporate uniform of trousers and jacket. I guessed that they were both about my age.


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