A new slant on speed dating

Professor Jonathan Stanley took the aisle seat in row 22 of Delta flight 322. Another man sat at the window. He had finally settled his carry-on bag under the seat and buckled-in when a pair of woman’s strap sandals stopped next to him. A quick glance took in trim, stretch-jean covered calves straining to place a bag in the overhead bin. He sighed before unbuckling and sliding his legs out to let the woman in a paisley poncho sidle into the middle seat.

Observing standard elevator non-communication silence, all three seat mates kept to themselves until the hostess passed out pretzels and drinks.

“Can’t stand pretzels,” the woman muttered.

Jonathan nodded, caught her eye, smiled. Struck by her open good looks and the loose-leaf binder in her lap, she reminded him of one of his graduate students. “What else don’t you like?” he asked. The woman paused, eyes aslant, for a momentary assessment, then tilted her head in a ‘what the hell’ shrug.

“Uhm, let me think. Food? Cucumbers. They give me indigestion. And sweet peppers. And anchovie pizza. Shrimp. Can’t stand shrimp. And I’m lactose intolerant and gluten too. Is that enough?”

“How about drink?” Jonathan asked.

“Huh,” the woman huffed. “You’re going to play 20 questions all the way to Atlanta. Okay.” She shrugged again. “Why not?” She pursed her lips. “No soda…diet or otherwise. Red wine tastes bitter to me. Can’t stand Tequila except in a mix…with salt. Milk…no. Espresso and latte junk.”

“Exercise?”

“I hate classes—pilate, yoga, stair-steps. Swimming. You know, official work-outs.” The woman looked up and said, “Oh, the restroom is open. Would you excuse me?”

As she eased along the aisle, the man at the window seat, folded his laptop and leaned over. “I couldn’t help overhear your questions. Could I ask what that was all about?”

Jonathan rested an elbow on the arm rest and replied, “I’m a professor of psychology at BU and I’m always looking for new research projects.”

The man half-raised his chin, asking for more.

“Well, lately I’ve been fascinated by internet dating and the dynamics of arranged encounters. From what I can tell, each party, in effect, brings a kind of resume of their accomplishments and interests and strengths to share. But I wonder what it would be like if potential couples would share their dislikes instead.”

“What you just did with that lady.”

“Uh-huh. The way I see it, if you list all the negatives at the outset, only positive traits would be left. Just think how much time and feeling is wasted in discovering what a partner can’t tolerate…that’s the task of early marriage, right?”

“This way, you know all that going in,” the man conceded. “Maybe.”

“Well, that’s it exactly. I want to conduct a formal study on the hypothesis. But before I write-up a proposal, design the study, engage my students, conduct the experiments and publish an article, I thought I might just try a trial run or two on an unofficial basis.”

“Pardon my saying so, but doesn’t that feel kind of manipulative? You know, taking advantage of that woman. And besides, if people kept going and had an exhaustive list of intolerances, might they not get turned off, never see any good in each other?”

“Beyond honesty and self-awareness in a partner? I mean, that would be the whole point to find out, wouldn’t it?”

“But this poor woman has no idea…”

At that point, the woman paused at the end of their row listening to a baby crying in the rear of the plane. After she sat back down, she mentioned, “I hope my husband is doing okay with our child. I really miss him…them.”

“Ah, you’re married.”

“Well, not just yet. Maybe soon. But, you know, I was just thinking about those questions you were asking me. That was kind of fun. Reminds me of being in relationship…what you gradually find over time. I mean, what if you could just get it all out there early. All at once. So there’s no surprises or disappointment. Wouldn’t we all be that much better?”

Jonathan forward a bit to catch the other guy’s eye as if to say, Am I onto something or not?

“Hey, you know what?” the woman asked, “I’m a writer for a sit-com…just back from a brainstorming session for a fall pilot.” She paused, her expression lost in excited, first-discovery thought.

“A sit-com?” the professor asked.

“Huh?” The woman jolted back to the present. “Yeah, like Friends or Seinfeld, you know, only more like thirty-somethings.”

“Oh,” the professor muttered.

“This idea would make a great premise. Just lay it all out there right from the first.”

The man at the window added, ‘Call it, Two Negatives Make a Positive.”

The woman reached over to hand-slap the window man and back to Jonathan adding. I’ve got to get this down to a 22-minute script and get it right back to the producer. Great idea. Hope you don’t mind. You know, we might even want to invite you to sit in on the story sessions to, you know, give some input…the content expert.”

5 thoughts on “Two Negatives Make a Positive

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