Magazine article The Spectator

St Valentine's Day Massacre

Magazine article The Spectator

St Valentine's Day Massacre

Article excerpt

I SHOULD have felt like a rock star and instead I felt like crawling under a rock. I was sitting at the top of a skyscraper in the most glamorous city in the world and for the previous two hours six beautiful women had been giving me their undivided attention. But it was one of the worst experiences of my life.

The fact that I wasn't in the same room as them might have had something to do with it. I was stationed behind a two-way mirror at a market research company in New York, trying out the latest technique Americans have come up with to improve their 'dating' prospects. It's called being `focus grouped'.

The idea is to treat yourself like a product that's not doing as well as it should and get a market research company to `rebrand' you. You assemble a representative sample of the 'market' you're aiming at in my case, good-looking single women between the ages of 23 and 38 - and hire a market research consultant to find out where you're going wrong.

The low point came when Hazel Kahan, the consultant I'd hired, asked a gorgeous 38-year-old woman called Candace if she'd ever consider going out with me.

'I can't really imagine being with Toby,' she replied. 'I just can't imagine it at all. He's just, you know, so much like someone I would be friends with and I would never, I could never.... '

`You don't think of him as sexual, is what I'm hearing, as a sex person, sexual?" asked Hazel.

'I don't,' said Candace.

'I don't think anybody does,' said Hazel, summing up. `Would anyone like some more wine?'

Forget the wine, Hazel. How about some hemlock?

My ordeal had begun when I'd read in the New York Times that American men had become so desperate to make themselves more appealing they'd started seeking the help of market research professionals. New York is supposed to be a bachelor's paradise, with hundreds of thousands of single women pursuing a handful of single men, but the reality is somewhat different.

When single women complain that there's a shortage of men in New York, what they mean is there's a shortage of tall, good-looking, unattached rich men who still have their own hair. As a short, bald, 34-year-old with no visible means of support, I've never found it particularly easy to pick up women here.

I approached a market research company called Focus Suites on Lexington Avenue who put me in touch with Hazel Kahan. She had already helped one thirtysomething man rebrand himself and she agreed to do the same for me. My job was to find six women who were prepared to sit down and talk about me for two hours. No easy task.

I decided to ask women I knew rather than six complete strangers. This was partly because I thought they'd offer more valuable advice, but mainly because I hoped they wouldn't be too hard on me. I also decided to tell them I'd be watching them from behind a two-way mirror, again in the hope that they wouldn't be too mean.

Hazel began by asking them how they knew me. The first person to answer was Claire Silverman, a 23-year-old illustrator. She was one of only two English girls present, so I thought I could rely on her to be sympathetic.

'I met him years ago in London and he was very drunk,' she said. `He was just an idiot.' Strike one.

Next up was Jane Caldwell, a 27-yearold American actress. I quite fancied her, so I was particularly interested in what she had to say. …

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