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Chapter 5
I stood inside the entrance of a suburban house that remindedme of my parents’ brick veneer residence in Shepparton. I hadresolved never to attend another singles party, but thequestionnaire allowed me to avoid the agony of unstructuredsocial interaction with strangers.
As the female guests arrived, I gave each a questionnaire tocomplete at their convenience and return to me either at theparty or by mail. The host, a woman, initially invited me tojoin the crowd in the living room, but I explained my strategyand she left me alone. After two hours, a woman of aboutthirty-five, estimated BMI twenty-one, returned from the livingroom, holding two glasses of sparkling wine.
In her other hand was a questionnaire.
She passed me a glass. ‘I thought you might be thirsty,’ shesaid in an attractive French accent.
I was not thirsty, but I was pleased to be offered alcohol. Ihad decided that I would not give up drinking unless I found anon-drinking partner. And, after some self-analysis, I hadconcluded that (c)40/290moderately was an acceptable answer to the drinking questionand made a note to update the questionnaire.
‘Thank you.’ I hoped she would give me the questionnaire andthat it might, improbably, signal the end of my quest. She wasextremely attractive, and her gesture with the wine indicated ahigh level of consideration not exhibited by any of the otherguests or the host.
‘You are a researcher, am I right?’ She tapped thequestionnaire.
‘Correct.’
‘Me, also,’ she said. ‘There are not many academics heretonight.’ Although it is dangerous to draw conclusions based onmanner and conversation topics, my assessment of the guestswas consistent with this observation.
‘I’m Fabienne,’ she said, and extended her free hand, which Ishook, careful to apply the recommended level of firmness.
‘This is terrible wine, no?’
I agreed. It was a carbonated sweet wine, acceptable onlybecause of its alcohol content.
‘You think we should go to a wine bar and get somethingbetter?’ she asked.
I shook my head. The poor wine quality was annoying but notcritical.
Fabienne took a deep breath. ‘Listen. I have drunk two glassesof wine, I have not had sex for six weeks, and I would ratherwait six more than try anyone else here. Now, can I buy youa drink?’
It was a very kind offer. But it was still early in the evening. Isaid,‘More guests are expected. You may find someone suitable ifyou wait.’
Fabienne gave me her questionnaire and said, ‘I presume youwill be notifying the winners in due course.’ I told her that Iwould. When she had gone, I quickly checked herquestionnaire. Predictably, she failed in a number of dimensions.
It was disappointing.
41/290My final non-internet option was speed dating, an approach Ihad 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 inthe bar to avoid aimless interaction until then. When Ireturned, 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 Francescommenced.
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 ofelimination,’ I explained. ‘I believe I can eliminate most womenin less than forty seconds. Then you can choose the topic ofdiscussion for the remaining time.’
‘But then it won’t matter,’ said Frances. ‘I’ll have beeneliminated.’
‘Only as a potential partner. We may still be able to have aninteresting 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 wasworking so well. We could have wasted time talking aboutice-cream flavours and make-up only to find that she smoked.
Needless to say, smoking was not negotiable. ‘No morequestions. What would you like to discuss?’
Disappointingly, Frances was not interested in furtherconversation after I had determined that we were notcompatible. This turned out to be the pattern for the remainderof the event.
42/290These personal interactions were, of course, secondary. I wasrelying on the internet, and completed questionnaires began toflow in shortly after my initial postings. I scheduled a reviewmeeting 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 ofresponses varied widely, with many questionnaires only partiallycompleted.
‘No photos?’
Many women had included photos, but I had suppressed themin 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 afew before double-clicking on one. The resolution wasimpressive. It seemed that he approved, but a quick check ofthe data showed that the candidate was totally unsuitable. Itook the mouse back and deleted her. Gene protested.
‘Wha wha wha? What’re you doing?’
‘She believes in astrology and homeopathy. And she calculatedher 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 thepoint.
‘So far, zero. The questionnaire is an excellent filter.’
‘You don’t think you’re setting the bar just a tiny bit high?’
I pointed out that I was collecting data to support life’s mostcritical decision. Compromise would be totally inappropriate.
43/290‘You always have to compromise,’ Gene said. An incrediblestatement and totally untrue in his case.
‘You found the perfect wife. Highly intelligent, extremely beautifuland she lets you have sex with other women.’
Gene suggested that I not congratulate Claudia in person forher tolerance, and asked me to repeat the number ofquestionnaires that had been completed. The actual total wasgreater than the number I had told him, as I had not includedthe 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 Oliviathe Indian Anthropologist, and considered the implications ofliving with a Hindu vegetarian with a strong ice-creampreference. Only reminding myself that I should wait until anexact match turned up had stopped me from contacting her. Ihad even rechecked the questionnaire from Fabienne theSex-Deprived Researcher.
I emailed the spreadsheet to Gene.
‘No smokers.’
‘Okay,’ said Gene, ‘but you have to ask them out. To dinner.
At a proper restaurant.’
Gene could probably tell that I was not excited by theprospect. He cleverly addressed the problem by proposing aneven less acceptable alternative.
‘There’s always the faculty ball.’
‘Restaurant.’
Gene smiled as if to compensate for my lack of enthusiasm.
‘It’s easy. “How about we do dinner tonight?” Say it after me.’
‘How about we do dinner tonight?’ I repeated.
44/290‘See, that wasn’t so hard. Make only positive comments abouttheir appearance. Pay for the meal. Do not mention sex.’ Genewalked to the door, then turned back. ‘What about the paperones?’
I gave him my questionnaires from Table for Eight, the singlesparty and, at his insistence, even the partially completed onesfrom the speed dating. Now it was out of my hands.
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