“Holden Caulfield Meets Margaret Thatcher”  

Issue 68

By:  Ron Brounes  

April 2004


Those of us (un) fortunate souls still in the singles world (and even those married folks who can still remember back that far), have come to dread that initial banter that accompanies first (blind) dates; that idle chit chat that serves to break the nervous tension and determine if these two people have anything remotely in common.  In college, those conversations focused on school majors, fraternity parties, and the next concerts coming to town.  Later in life, the discussions revolved around college reminiscing, work, and the latest movies each has seen.  (I’m still asking about astrology signs which helps explain a lot about my single status.)  This early dialogue helps us learn about each other, our likes and dislikes, our hopes and dreams for the future (our fears and phobias, our abnormal psychological complexes, our hidden skeletons).


Each of us is looking for certain qualities in a date, boy/girlfriend, future spouse, and these initial conversations serve as interviews of sorts as we seek out those factors most important to us.  For some, superficial qualities (like good looks and better looks) are top priorities and effective communication is really just a bonus.  Others attempt to determine whether the other person has a good personality, a nice sense of humor, a close family, a strong work ethic, a noble heart.  Some are entirely financially motivated and probe more about jobs, cars, houses, exotic travels, and trust funds.  Still others look for an intellectual quality, a well-read individual who can provide stimulating conversations about important issues of the day and current events of the world. 


I always admired (and often emulated) a friend of mine from college who placed emphasis on a girl’s intellect (of course, only after she met those certain superficial qualities).  He devised what he liked to call his “Margaret Thatcher test” to measure whether she was smart enough to continue to see.  At some point during the initial dating banter (somewhere between queries about Spring Break plans, panty raids, and Sixth Street clubs) he would throw Margaret Thatcher’s name into the course of conversation just to see her reaction.  Did his date even know of the British Prime Minister or did she think that was the full name of Maggie, her sorority sister? 




I have adapted his test to the times and used it on many occasions to learn of my dates’ views of the current local news, the war of terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, (more recent) political leaders, business issues/scandals (and the Astros starting rotation).  While I know that I am not always the most well-read of individuals in all areas (I do not subscribe to People), I would like to meet someone who is interested enough to follow the important events transpiring at home and across the globe.  After all, nothing makes for a more stimulating first date than a detailed analysis of the potential of light rail in Houston.  (And I wonder why I often don’t get that second date.)


Well, a few weeks ago, I believe I failed my own dating test.  An old (not literally) work associate called to set me up with a friend of his wife’s (actually, the daughter of a friend of his wife’s).  He thought we would hit it off because we had one main thing in common; we are both Jewish.  (He’s a gentile.)  Never mind, that she is 25 (and I am a little older than 25), just out of graduate school, and living in her first apartment.  In his mind, the Judaism commonality was enough to overcome any other minor differences.  I immediately accepted (based on his “superficial” description), knowing that I am truly young at heart and am often confused with being a college student.  (I recently got carded at a bar about 15 years ago.)  I was a tad concerned that she would decline, thinking that 30 was way too old for her (and I am actually 11 years older than that).  Always, the great salesman, my friend “closed the deal” and she agreed to go out with me. 


In preparation, I brushed up on my hip hop culture, learned about the hot bar scene in Houston, and even considered getting a tattoo (or, at least one of those temporary tattoos you find in boxes of Crackerjacks).   To my surprise, none of those topics remotely entered into that initial blind date banter as she was very well-read, interesting, and knowledgeable about the events of the day.  




And then, all at once, I fell prey to my own intelligence quiz (and failed miserably).  She asked me about my all-time favorite book and which authors I like to read.  She still loves “Catcher in the Rye” and just finished it AGAIN a few weeks back.  Immediately I panicked.  First of all, my favorite authors write for Sports Illustrated and informing her that I have been known to read John Grisham and Michael Crichton puts me smack in the mainstream.  I can’t remember if I ever even read “Catcher in the Rye” and, if so, I would have been in high school and focused more on the Cliff’s Notes version.  (Then again, she’s not that far removed from high school and could have written a book report on it just a few years ago.)   I tried to think of current authors like Ian McEwan whose award winning book, “Atonement,” was given to me by a friend a year ago or so (and has been gathering dust ever since).  I could have named Faulkner or Steinbeck, but feared she may test me on the specific books they wrote (that she had read multiple times).  I considered answering “The Bible” but couldn’t recall its author (kidding).  I skirted the question as best I could by focusing on the periodicals I subscribe to (Wall Street Journal, weekend NY Times) and redirecting the conversation back to my comfort zone (hip hop and the Astros pitching rotation).  It seemed to work (at least, for the moment). 


As the evening came to an end, I walked her up to her apartment door (as any older gentleman would) and glanced through all the books she had on the shelf.  Amidst books on religion and criminology and psychology and music (classical), I saw “Catcher in the Rye.”  Like the idiot that I am, I commented about it which gave her reason to pursue her previous line of questioning.  She asked when the last time I read it (implying I read it multiple times) and some specific questions about Holden Caulfield (whoever that is?).  I admitted that that I may have never read it, but would like to borrow her copy.  At once, she became very tired and had to wake up early the next morning (it was about 8:30 pm).  A few days (and phone messages to her) later, I received a return call from her on my answer machine.  She explained that she had a nice time and enjoyed my company, BUT is in a place in her life where she is not interested in pursuing anything further.  Perhaps I didn’t possess the superficial qualities she looks for; perhaps I am too old; but I suspect I didn’t pass her version of the Margaret Thatcher test.  Perhaps I need to remind her that we are both Jewish?  (Or, at least, let her know that I am a Capricorn?) 


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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on marketing, communications consulting, and strategic planning. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1332 for additional information. For my friend who devised the Margaret Thatcher test, please advise me of the proper way to administer it (and let me know what books I should be reading).