The Rosie Effect Page 2

In contrast, Rosie added to her vast collection of possessions by purchasing decorative objects within weeks of our arrival. The result was evident in the chaotic condition of our apartment: pot plants, surplus chairs and an impractical wine rack.

It was not merely the quantity of items: there was also a problem of organisation. The refrigerator was crowded with half-empty containers of bread toppings, dips and decaying dairy products. Rosie had even suggested sourcing a second refrigerator from my friend Dave. One fridge each! Never had the advantages of the Standardised Meal System, with its fully specified meal for each day of the week, standard shopping list and optimised inventory, been so obvious.

There was exactly one exception to Rosie’s disorganised approach. That exception was a variable. By default it was her medical studies, but currently it was her PhD thesis on environmental risks for the early onset of bipolar disorder. She had been granted advanced status in the Columbia MD program on the proviso that her thesis would be completed during the summer vacation. The deadline was now only two months and five days away.

‘How can you be so organised at one thing and so disorganised at everything else?’ I’d asked Rosie, following her installation of the incorrect driver for her printer.

‘It’s because I’m concentrating on my thesis, I don’t worry about other stuff. Nobody asks if Freud checked the use-by date on the milk.’

‘They didn’t have use-by dates in the early twentieth century.’

It was incredible that two such dissimilar people had become a successful couple.


The Orange Juice Problem occurred at the end of an already-disrupted week. Another occupant of our apartment complex had destroyed both of my ‘respectable’ shirts by piggybacking on our washing load in the shared laundry facilities. I understood his desire for efficiency, but an item of his clothing had dyed our light-coloured washing a permanent and uneven shade of purple.

From my perspective there was no problem: I was established as a visiting professor in the Columbia medical school and no longer needed to worry about ‘creating a good first impression’. Nor could I imagine being refused service in a restaurant because of the colour of my shirt. Rosie’s outer clothing, which was largely black, had not been affected. The problem was restricted to her underwear.

I argued that I had no objection to the new shade and that no one else should be seeing her undressed, except perhaps a doctor, whose professionalism should prevent him or her from being concerned with aesthetics. But Rosie had already tried to discuss the problem with Jerome, the neighbour whom she had identified as the offender, to prevent a recurrence. This seemed a reasonable course of action, but Jerome had told Rosie to go screw herself.

I was not surprised that she had encountered resistance. Rosie habitually took a direct approach to communication. In speaking to me, it was effective, indeed necessary, but others frequently interpreted her directness as confrontational. Jerome did not convey an impression of wanting to explore win-win solutions.

Now Rosie wanted me to ‘stand up to him’ and demonstrate that we ‘wouldn’t be pushed around’. This was exactly the sort of behaviour that I instruct my martial-arts students to avoid. If both parties have the goal of establishing dominance and hence apply the algorithm of ‘respond with greater force’, the ultimate result will be the disablement or death of one party. Over laundry.

But the laundry situation was minor in the context of the week as a whole. Because there had been a disaster.

I am often accused of overusing that word, but any reasonable person would accept that it was an appropriate term to describe the failure of my closest friends’ marriage, involving two dependent children. Gene and Claudia were in Australia, but the situation was about to cause further disruption to my schedule.

Gene and I had conversed over a Skype link, and the communication quality had been poor. Gene may also have been drunk. He seemed reluctant to divulge the details, probably because:

1. People are generally unwilling to talk openly about sexual activity involving themselves.

2. He had behaved extremely stupidly.

After promising Claudia that he would abandon his project to have sex with a woman from each country of the world, he had failed to honour his commitment. The violation had occurred at a conference in Göteborg, Sweden.

‘Don, show a bit of compassion,’ he said. ‘What were the odds of her living in Melbourne? She was Icelandic.’

I pointed out that I was Australian and living in the United States. Simple disproof by counter-example of Gene’s ludicrous proposition that people remain in their own countries.

‘Okay, but Melbourne. And knowing Claudia. What are the odds of that?’

‘Difficult to calculate.’ I pointed out that Gene should have asked this question before adding to his tally of nationalities. If he wanted a reasonable estimate of the probability, I would need information about migration patterns and the size of Claudia’s social and professional network.

There was another factor. ‘In calculating the risk, I need to know how many women you’ve seduced since you agreed not to. Obviously the risk increases proportionately.’

‘Does it matter?’

‘If you want an estimate. I’m presuming the answer is not zero,’ I said.

‘Don, conferences—overseas conferences—don’t count. That’s why people go to conferences. Everyone understands that.’

‘If Claudia understands, why is there a problem?’

Prev page Next page