November 29, 2001
The Age of Reason
I thought I had exhausted every possible way to meet members of the opposite sex: blind dates and JDates, fishing for invitations to big Hollywood parties and intimate dinner gatherings. I joined art groups in the hopes of finding like-minded women while shrouding myself in a veneer of respectability.
I thought I'd tried everything until I was in Chicago last year and my friend Doug introduced me to his beautiful new bride, Sara. "How did you two meet?" I asked. It's always a good icebreaker and you tend to get a lot of juicy details out of one seemingly innocent question.
Sara was a statuesque redhead with miles of corkscrew curls and warm brown eyes who taught science at a public high school. She said she was fed up with the random nature of dating, and decided to impose some scientific controls on the process -- much as she instructed her students to do in their laboratory assignments. "There's nothing scientific about going out to certain places -- a gym or a bar -- and hoping that Mr. Right happens into the same place at the same time and happens to notice you," she explained. She wanted to level the playing field and, in so doing, take more control of the results herself.
The grand experiment began when she took out an ad in the personals section of the local free weekly, describing herself and the kind of man she'd like to meet in broad, poetic terms. The gentlemen were to call a voice-mail box and leave a message. By the end of the week, she received almost 100 replies. Half of those guys didn't merit a call back for one reason or another -- didn't like the sound of their voice, they were calling from prison, whatever. She cut another 50 percent of the remaining contestants after a five-minute conversation, which she diligently clocked with an egg timer.
If the fellow made it past the phone interview, he was to meet her at a certain coffee place near the high school. She always arrived a little early, grabbed the same table, ordered the same drink (grande skinny no foam decaf caramel latté), and proceeded to ask each of the applicants the same list of questions. By creating a constant environment, she reasoned, the guy's personality was isolated and could be compared, apples to apples, with the other candidates.
"What's the worst question you asked?"
She thought for a minute, going over the printed list of questions in her mind and said, "What is the worst thing your ex-girlfriends would say about you?"
"That's easy," I said. "I didn't marry them."
Clearly, Doug had succeeded where I just failed.
"So far this sounds pretty much like a job interview or a casting call," I said.
"Exactly. You only want one person to get the part, but you have to start with as large a field as possible, then whittle it down on the basis of their qualifications and sensibilities. Some of these guys don't show too well on first look, so you've got to keep an open mind. You have to think: Who could stretch to play the role? I mean, John Travolta as a hit man?"
A good "audition" merited a "callback" for an evening date; also-rans got a firm handshake and a casting director's icy "thank you." Either way, Sara was back in class for seventh period and inconvenienced to the very reasonable tune of $3.25.
Doug had never answered a personal ad before, but he and Sara really hit it off. They ran away together, got engaged and got married in short order. It was a storybook romance on the one hand, and a testament to the rigors of empirical scientific experimentation on the other. They split up six months later. In Hollywood speak, they had "creative differences."
Unfortunately for old Doug, he was so blinded by the sexy scientist routine, he never thought to turn the tables and make her fill out a questionnaire. If he had, he would've known the worst thing her ex-husband and every one of her ex-boyfriends would say about her is that she's plumb crazy. Loco en la cabeza. If the courtship was with Dr. Jekyll, the marriage was to Mrs. Hyde.
I bring all of this up because it now becomes clear that science doesn't necessarily work for everything -- especially in the field of personal chemistry.
The last time I spoke with Doug, I asked him what he was planning on doing now that he's given up his interest in the scientific method. "What's the opposite of science?" he asked.
"Faith?" I offered.
"No," he said. "Voodoo."