Chapter no 4

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)

Gene opened the door with a glass of red wine in his hand. I parked my bicycle in their hallway, took off my backpack, and retrieved the Wife Project folder, pulling out Gene’s copy of the draft. I had pruned it to sixteen double-sided pages.

“Relax, Don, plenty of time,” he said. “We’re going to have a civilized dinner, and then we’ll do the questionnaire. If you’re going to be dating, you need dinner practice.”

He was, of course, right. Claudia is an excellent cook and Gene has a vast collection of wines, organized by region, vintage, and producer. We went to his “cellar,” which is not actually below ground, where he showed me his recent purchases and we selected a second bottle. We ate with Carl and Eugenie, and I was able to avoid small talk by playing a memory game with Eugenie. She noticed my folder marked “Wife Project,” which I put on the table as soon as I finished dessert.

“Are you getting married, Don?” she asked. “Correct.”

“Who to?”

I was about to explain, but Claudia sent Eugenie and Carl to their rooms

—a good decision, as they did not have the expertise to contribute.

I handed questionnaires to Claudia and Gene. Gene poured port for all of us. I explained that I had followed best practice in questionnaire design, including multiple-choice questions, Likert scales, cross-validation, dummy questions, and surrogates. Claudia asked for an example of the last of these.

“Question thirty-five: Do you eat kidneys? Correct answer is (c) occasionally. Testing for food problems. If you ask directly about food

preferences, they say, ‘I eat anything,’ and then you discover they’re vegetarian.”

I am aware that there are many arguments in favor of vegetarianism. However, as I eat meat, I considered it would be more convenient if my partner did so also. At this early stage, it seemed logical to specify the ideal solution and review the questionnaire later if necessary.

Claudia and Gene were reading.

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

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

e 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. at’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 full of herself,” said Claudia. “Just ask her if she enjoys cooking. Mention that you do too.”

is 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 dierence, but it was unreasonable to require that my potential partner share my lack of subtlety.

“No jewelry, no makeup?” said Claudia, correctly predicting the answers to two questions that had been prompted by my recent interaction with the Dean.

“Jewelry isn’t always about appearance,” she said. “If you have to have a question, drop the jewelry one and keep the makeup. But just ask if she wears it daily.”

“Height, weight, and body mass index.” Gene was skimming ahead. “Can’t you do the calculation yourself?”

at’s the purpose of the question,” I said. “Checking they can do basic arithmetic. I don’t want a partner who’s mathematically illiterate.”

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

ere’s a question on fitness,” I said. “I was thinking about sex,” said Gene.

“Just for a change,” said Claudia, an odd statement as Gene talks constantly about sex. But he had made a good point.

“I’ll add a question on HIV and herpes.”

“Stop,” said Claudia. “You’re being way too picky.”

I began to explain that an incurable sexually transmitted disease was a severe negative, but Claudia interrupted.

“About everything.”

It was an understandable response. But my strategy was to minimize 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: “Nonsmoking, fair enough. But what’s the right answer on drinking?”


“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 insuciently 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 practice 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, a commercial matchmaking organization. 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! e other three were late. It was a stunning validation of the advantages of fieldwork. ese women may well have answered (b) a little early or (c) on time, but their actual behavior 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.”

ere 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. e 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 mustache, and his teeth were poorly maintained. e 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.

e 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 sexual display. Sharon was wearing the conventional corporate uniform of pants and jacket. I guessed that they were both about my age.

Olivia resumed talking to me while the others engaged in small talk—an extraordinary waste of time when a major life decision was at stake. On Claudia’s advice, I had memorized the questionnaire. She thought that asking questions directly from the forms could create the wrong “dynamic” and that I should attempt to incorporate them subtly into conversation. Subtlety, I had reminded her, is not my strength. She suggested that I not

ask about sexually transmitted diseases and that I make my own estimates of weight, height, and body mass index. I estimated Olivia’s BMI at nineteen: slim, but no signs of anorexia. I estimated Sharon the Accountant’s at twenty-three, and Maria the Nurse’s at twenty-eight. e recommended healthy maximum is twenty-five.

Rather than ask about IQ, I decided to make an estimate based on Olivia’s responses to questions about the historical impact of variations in susceptibility to syphilis across native South American populations. We had a fascinating conversation, and I felt that the topic might even allow me to slip in the sexually transmitted diseases question. Her IQ was definitely above the required minimum. Gerry the Lawyer oered a few comments that I think were meant to be jokes, but eventually he left us to continue uninterrupted.

At this point, the missing woman arrived, twenty-eight minutes late. While Olivia was distracted, I took the opportunity to record the data I had acquired so far on three of the four questionnaires in my lap. I did not waste paper on the most recent arrival, as she announced that she was “always late.” is did not seem to concern Gerry the Lawyer, who presumably billed by the six-minute interval and should consequently have considered time to be of great value. He obviously valued sex more highly, as his conversation began to resemble that of Gene.

With the arrival of Late Woman, the waiter appeared with menus. Olivia scanned hers, then asked, “e pumpkin soup, is it made with vegetable stock?”

I did not hear the answer. e question provided the critical information. Vegetarian.

She may have noted my expression of disappointment. “I’m Hindu.”

I had previously deduced that Olivia was probably Indian from her sari and physical attributes. I was not sure whether the term Hindu was being used as a genuine statement of religious belief or as an indicator of cultural heritage. I had been reprimanded for failing to make this distinction in the past.

“Do you eat ice cream?” I asked. e question seemed appropriate after the vegetarian statement. Very neat.

“Oh yes, I am not vegan. As long as it is not made with eggs.”

is was not getting any better. “Do you have a favorite flavor?”

“Pistachio. Very definitely pistachio.” She smiled.

Maria and Danny had stepped outside for a cigarette. With three women eliminated, including Late Woman, my task was almost complete.

My lamb’s brains arrived, and I cut one in half, exposing the internal structure. I tapped Sharon, who was engaged in conversation with Craig the Racist, and pointed it out to her. “Do you like brains?”

Four down, job complete. I continued my conversation with Olivia, who was excellent company, and even ordered an additional drink after the others had departed in the pairs that they had formed. We stayed, talking, until we were the last people in the restaurant. As I put the questionnaires in my backpack, Olivia gave me her contact information, which I wrote down in order not to be rude. en we went our separate ways.

Cycling home, I reflected on the dinner. It had been a grossly inecient method of selection, but the questionnaire had been of significant value. Without the questions it prompted, I would undoubtedly have attempted a second date with Olivia, who was an interesting and nice person. Perhaps we would have gone on a third and fourth and fifth date; then one day, when all the desserts at the restaurant contained egg, we would have crossed the road to the ice-cream parlor and discovered they had no egg-free pistachio. It was better to find out before we made an investment in the relationship.

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