Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Seeing the signs

How much information do you need in order to figure out if you are interested in someone? One cup of coffee? Ten? Could a description ever be enough? Can you get a good sense of what a guy is like from his online profile? And when people talk about love at first sight, are they lucky...or crazy?

I haven't decided yet. I feel like I need to give the guys a fair chance before ruling them out. So when Chirpy Minion #2 calls with a new match for me, I'm ready to spend 60 minutes giving this guy my full attention. I wear something nice (like interview clothes, but cuter); I wear makeup; in the car on the way to the wine bar I play some up-tempo music to psych myself up. I am confident! I am positive! Who knows? This could be THE GUY. The hostess leads me to his table, and I'm wearing my big smile.

"Hi, Guy! I'm Jen. It's nice to meet you!" I say.
Guy shakes my hand very matter-of-factly. "Hello. You too."

Guy is all business, but I figure that he'll warm up once I figure out that one topic of conversation that he really, really wants to talk about. I run through my roster: What do you do? Do you like your job? Are you originally from Seattle? Where did you go to college? Do you have any pets? Have you read any interesting books lately?

He answers all of them, but we haven't hit our conversational stride. I try again. "So, Guy, what do you like to do in your free time?"
"This," he says.
"This?" I say.
"Yes. This. I go on dates."
"I. Oh. Uh. Well, that's interesting! Tell me more." In reality, I'm not sure I understand what he's talking about. This?
"In addition to this matchmaking service I use a second matchmaker, plus I have profiles on four online dating sites, and do speed dating with two or three organizations."

Now I really am interested. This guy is a wealth of information. Even if the date sucks, I can still get the scoop. For the next ten minutes I ask him about the pros and cons of each method. Which online dating sites are best? Which matchmaker is most expensive? Do different people try different methods?

Oh, don't look at me that way, Internet. I'm not using him. "This" is his main hobby, remember? People like to talk about their hobbies.

And then I ask: "So, in the last year, how many dates have you been on?"
"356," he says.
"356?" I reply.
"Yes," he says.
(pause, pause) "That's amazing! How did you manage to fit them all in? That's almost a date per day!"
"Well, I did a lot of speed dates, and you get 10 to 20 of them per night."
"That's very efficient," I say. "Do you feel like you really get enough time to tell what someone is like, though? Those speed dates aren't very long."
"Oh, it's plenty of time. I do this a lot. It doesn't take me long to see the signs. It only takes me...four or five minutes to decide if I'm interested in someone. If that."

I am all set to ask him if he had a standard algorithm for evaluating a date, or if he went by gut instinct, but as he says 'if that' he looks awkwardly down and towards his left.

I'll translate that for you, Internet. That look means, "And in five minutes I knew for sure I wasn't interested in you, Jen."


Recovering quickly, and giving a generous smile, I say, "You've got it all figured out, then." (Do they give awards for good manners?)
"Yeah," he says a little smugly, "I've got a good system."
Then something occurs to me. "Of those dates, how many led to second dates?" I ask.
"Two," he says.
"And third dates?" I ask.
"Well, zero," he says, a little defensively.
"That really is efficient."
"Well, it isn't really my fault."
"No, of course not," I say, without a hint of irony. "If they aren't your type, they aren't your type." (Is there an Olympic event in manners? I'm going for the gold here!)
"Exactly," he says. "Have you ever taken the Meyers-Briggs?

He's talking about a very well-known personality tests that groups people into categories on four axes. Although I first took it in a career-aptitude context, it is used in all kinds of situations.

"Yes, of course," I say.
"Do you remember what you were?"
"INTP, I think."
"Me too!" he says, sitting up in his chair, smiling, bright eyes. I've found the thing he really likes to talk about. Then he leans forward, conspiratorily: "It's harder for us, you know?"
"What is?"
"Finding someone to date. There are fewer INTPs than any other type. And I can't date just anyone."

As a knowledge-seeking, analytical INTP, my head is instantly filled with questions. I want to challenge him to substantiate his claims. Are there really fewer INTPs? Is it a statistically-significant percentage lower? And even if the number is smaller, that doesn't mean that it is harder to find an INTP. They tend to go into certain careers (like the sciences and law); if you stood in the middle of a cafeteria at a software company you could probably throw your lunch tray and hit at least three of them. Plus, he seems to feel that INTPs should date other INTPs. Is that true? Why does he feel that? Couldn't you make an argument for finding a partner whose different strengths balance your own?

But as I'm trying to decide which question to ask first, a funny thing happens. A previously invisible sign appears on the front of his shirt. It says:

"I have applied my considerable brain power to this problem, and have logically concluded that I am a better person than the rest of you."

I look at my watch: 55 minutes have passed.

Perhaps over time, I'll get faster at seeing the signs.

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