How to choose a wife

When I was a child, I read a parable of sorts that described a classic situation — a man aspired to take a wife and he had narrowed it down to three comely women but alas! They were all equally attractive. However would he be able to choose among them?

Luckily for him, his wise old father was around to give him the advice that would change his life forever:

“Son, invite the women over to your house and watch them eat cheese.”

The young man was confused, but he followed this sage advice and invited the women over for a cheese feast. Now when I say he invited them around for a cheese feast, don’t for a minute think that this means anything more than exactly what it says. He literally bought a wheel of hard cheese, sliced off a few head-sized wedges and put each wedge on a plate with a knife and fork for the ladies to enjoy. Then he just stood there and watched them expectantly.

A normal person might think it odd to be seated at a table with equally attractive rivals and asked to consume an entire half kilo of cheese while a man watches you intensely. But no, not these women. And thus, the trap was set and soon the young man understood why watching the women eat cheese was indeed the premium method for arranging matrimony.

The first woman picked up the cheese with her hands and started chowing it down like like her life depended on it. The second woman took her knife and fork and cut the cheese from the rind, but left half the creamy cheese still attached to the rind and ate the rest. The last woman cut the cheese from the rind like a freaking boss, leaving no cheese wastage on her plate and consumed the entire cheese.

From this, the young man deduced the following:

  1. The first woman was not wife material. She was too greedy.
  2. The second woman was also a dud. She had table manners but she was clearly careless.
  3. Ah, but the third woman! What a magnificent creature. Not only was she careful and patient, but she wasted nothing on her plate.

So of course he married the third woman, the one with the careful cheese-eating ability.

This story stuck with me for a long time. I was pretty young when I read the story, and I remember being really irritated by it. It wasn’t the oddly sexist overtones or the implication that I needed to practice cheese-cutting to win a husband that bothered me, but the flawed logic and the implication that this was a tried-and-true method. I could almost understand if this man had discovered this information by coincidence, but the way it was presented was as if this was a family secret that was passed down among the menfolk for generations. Time to get married? Get the cheese out, son. We know how to do behavioural analysis testing properly in this family!

There’s an implication in this story that not only did this work flawlessly for the young man, but it had worked flawlessly for his father too, and perhaps even for his father before him. 100% success rate, would feed cheese to the ladies again. But how can this be, when the logic is so terrible and the quoted evidence is so subjective with so many variables?

This analysis probably gives you an idea of the sort of child I was.

Anyway, for instance, imagine you are the first woman. Some guy invites you around to his place for dinner and when you arrive you work out that you’re competing against two other women in some kind of cheese-eating competition. The logical thing to do is to pick up the cheese and eat it as fast as you can. That’s how most eating competitions work! This woman was in it to win it. This woman is ambitious and efficient. She is fighting to win his heart!

But nooooo, apparently that woman is too greedy, which makes no sense to me at all. If she were greedy, she would have eaten that slice of cheese and asked for the rest of the wheel. She would have taken the half cheese off the second woman’s plate and eaten that too.

Or maybe she was just hungry? Whatever way you slice it, this guy has messed up. Woman number one is probably full of passion and fire, not just for cheese but for life itself. This guy might have missed out on the best wedding night ever.

Now, woman number two. I remember that the book distinctly specified she left “half of the creamy cheese” on the plate. Yes, it specified “creamy”, as if to drive home the point that this was quality cheese which makes this even more of a crime. Half the cheese. Half. That’s more than careless. If someone was really trying to separate the rind from the cheese and they left a full half of the cheese there, either they really don’t give a damn or they only want to eat half a cheese. Let’s be clear here as well — it was a LOT of cheese. There was an illustration in the book of the women eating the cheese and this slice was as big as any of their heads.

How does he know that this woman doesn’t just intend to eat half the cheese and save the rest for later? That makes her really thoughtful. Again, this guy misses out on a great wife.

The issue I had with the last woman was mainly that the book didn’t just stop at describing her as “careful”, but went on to draw all kinds of other conclusions from her cheese consumption. I can’t remember them all but it was like she was thoughtful, kind-hearted, punctual — whatever. It was like this guy got a LOT of value after watching this lady eat her cheese. Like suddenly he could see into her very soul.

I think that the best lesson we can take from this is that we need more data. Men, next time you are trying to woo several ladies at the same time and can’t quite decide which one to marry, invite them all around to your house to each eat half a kilo of cheese. Watch them. Watch them like a hawk. Write notes. Then marry one of them and let me know how it turns out.

I await your results.

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