Friday, January 19, 2007

The Dating Game, Part I

The lab, of which I am currently a student, is undergoing a faculty search. We, as students, get to actively participate in the hiring process which includes having lunch and our own interview with the candidates to writing up a recommendation and presenting our rankings to the search committee. In contributing to this experience and in observing my sister and brother-in-law go through the process, I am struck at the similarity between faculty searches and dating.

Dating? Why dating? In both scenarios, you have a general idea of what you are looking for: tall, dark, and handsome with an interdisciplinary approach to science and skills in stable isotope chemistry. On paper, a person can look really good, sexy, everything you ever wanted and more. Yet, meeting them in person and interacting with them seals the deal. Either they further impress you with their sophisticated power point presentation, their answers to probing scientific questions, their people skills, good kissing ability, and a love of Jane Austen; or they turn you off with their flippancy, lack of preparation, and bad B.O. The process isn’t as black and white as you think, because every person and every department will react differently to the same person—one person’s garbage is another man’s treasure. It is all about finding the right fit. There are two stories in my life about this very subject. Rather painful stories from my perspective as they bring up memories that I would like to repress but cannot. I will relate the first below and follow up with the second in a later post.

Most women have an idea of their perfect date, and I am no exception. My perfect date might include among other things: going to a Mozart opera, eating at an excellent restaurant, dancing, and strolling through a picturesque area. Oddly enough, such a date actually occurred and without prior coaching from me. There was a guy that I knew in college, known to my friends and I as Bufflehead Boy (BB). BB and I had become good friends over the course of my junior year. He was a nice guy, and I must admit that I briefly had a crush on him. (But perhaps it was just because he was the first guy ever to show me any sort of attention?) However, like most situations in my life, we were on different trajectories. At the point when I wanted to declare friendship, he wanted to declare something else. He knew I liked opera and he himself had never been. He asked if I would go with him to the opera, couching it in language to ease any apprehension about it being a “date”--if I didn’t go with him, he would ask his sister to go etc. I agreed, because I really did want to go to the opera. We dressed up, we went…….and then…….he paid for my ticket--my first clue that we had different ideas about the actual intent of the evening (however, in retaliation, I paid for the pre-opera lecture).

The opera, thankfully, was not Mozart (that would have been too cruel), but entertaining and enjoyable for the most part. Afterwards we had a lively discussion about whether we were classical or romantic romantics-a topic introduced in the pre-opera lecture. For the record: I am classical, he was romantic. Our path (predetermined?) led us to the Seattle Center where there was dancing and live music. We danced. He led. I was pleasantly surprised and admittedly, slightly swoony. After all, most guys my age don’t know how to ballroom dance, nor can they lead and to find both……well, a girl can only be so strong. Afterwards, he suggested we go stargazing on one of the many hilltops in the area where a group of locals meet with their telescopes on a weekly basis. The path to the hill top was just that, a wooded path. It was dark. I was wearing inappropriate footwear. I have horrible night vision. Out of necessity, I had to rely physically on BB to lead the way. Perhaps this gave him hope, I don’t know. We arrived at the hill top to see the people packing up shop, but decided to stay and to admire the view and talk. At this point in my life, I don’t remember what we talked about. What I do remember is that on the way back, he put his arm around my shoulder.

What should be entered at this point is a scream. The silent scream that was raging in my mind. Why was it so horrible? I don’t know. Only, what would under ideal circumstances would be a highly romantic, lovely summer evening stroll became an embarrassing situation. Not due to the actions of either of us but due unnaturalness of it all. He was shorter than I, which made me walk sort of lopsided. My arm pinned against his side felt awkward and after thinking for two to three minutes what in heaven’s name I should do with it, finally decided to wrap it around his waist, the only available option. Yet, it didn’t feel right there either. In fact, the whole situation felt horribly wrong and warped, hence the silent scream. We walked back to the car, I ended up leaving the next day, and we didn’t really interact much after that.

Dating, Faculty career searches: they are one and the same. What can be perfect on paper, can in actuality, be a nightmare. I, myself, could not have planned a more perfect date. Yet because there was no spark, no rightness in fit, it was a bad dream and continues to be a horrible, but slightly entertaining memory. The best one can hope for is that the perfect applicant and the perfect fit coincide to bring relationship and academic felicity.

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