The Brain

“I can tell you have a beautiful brain,” he said. He’s in the brain business.

“Thank you,” I wrote back. “I’m fond of brains in general and mine in particular.”

It’s true. I like my brain. I’ve seen pictures of it. About ten years ago, I participated in a brain study that paid for my oven. Being studied was cool, but learning how utterly insane people who study brains are was better.

His is a niche market called neuro-marketing, which employs all sorts of studies to determine how best manipulate people into buying and enjoying products they don’t need and might not even want. It sounds amazing, interesting, and a little creepy. I totally wanted to meet him.

But here was my quandary: how does one remain an enigma to someone who studies human behavior and has a line on emotions, impulses, chemistry, behavioral biology, and psychology? After all, I’m merely a social anthropologist fighting my way through a digital forest of potential mates. And though I seem smart, sensitive, and intelligent, my goals are simple – to live a shallow, but happy life.

More than anything, I don’t want to be manipulated by a professional. It’s a pride thing.

“I want to learn more about you, and perhaps study your brain in particular,” he wrote. This was way of courting a potential subject.

I could see through him, but I couldn’t resist the challenge.

“Ask a question.”

“What is your passion in life?” he inquired, and quickly followed with:

“2. What do you want to have accomplished by the very end of your life?

3. What are your greatest virtues and strengths?

4. Are you a happy person?

5. Are you spiritual?

6. What are your core values?”

I dug in my heels. I was not going to be studied unless I wanted to be. And I didn’t want to be unless there were some sweet kitchen appliances waiting for me at the end of the study.

I answered the questions, but in my own order. I was ready to fight tooth and nail not to become a marketing cliché.

“3. As humans are generally more self-centered than self-aware, this questions is impossible to answer honestly. Even if I thought I knew the answer, the likelihood is that I’m somewhat skewed in my perception of myself. And thus, I’m destined to be wrong, no matter what I answer. 1. I want more than anything to be a story-teller. 5. Yes. And I have been since I was born. 4. I’m very happy. 6. I don’t know what my core values are. But I do have two most prominent core beliefs. They are these: I don’t know anything about anything and kindness is key.”

I turned the tables. “What are you trying to learn? Are you finding the information you’re seeking through this site? Why are you really here?” I called him out. I brought him to the mat. I waited for a reply, which never came. And I knew I was right.

Who does that? Who seeks to meet vulnerable people looking for mates for the purpose of scientific study? I mean, besides me.

I confess, I thought he’d rise to the challenge. He didn’t.

A day went by. A week. Two weeks.

I wondered why he didn’t respond in kind or lie or defend himself. He didn’t seem the type to walk away. Had I outsmarted him? Had I scared him with my ferocious attempt to persuade him to come clean with his intent? Did I buck too many norms by squirming through the loopholes in his questions or answering them out of order? Had I won the battle, but lost the war? Why didn’t he want to meet me? Wasn’t I fascinating?

I asked my co-workers what they thought. I called a friend. I laughed about it over drinks, trying to recall my responses.

I reread his profile, looking for a clue. I perused our short email exchange.

And I discovered…

that I never sent the message.

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