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Each client paid five dollars and answered more than a hundred multiple-choice questions. (A previous installment had been about a singles bar—Maxwell’s Plum, on the Upper East Side, one of the first that so-called “respectable” single women could patronize on their own.) She had planned to interview Altfest, but he was out of the office, and she ended up talking to Ross.

If your herd is larger, your top choice is likely to be better, in theory, anyway. When there is something better out there, you can’t help trying to find it.Ross had hoped that The process of selecting and securing a partner, whether for conceiving and rearing children, or for enhancing one’s socioeconomic standing, or for attempting motel-room acrobatics, or merely for finding companionship in a cold and lonely universe, is as consequential as it can be inefficient or irresolute.Lives hang in the balance, and yet we have typically relied for our choices on happenstance—offhand referrals, late nights at the office, or the dream of meeting cute.Civilization, in its various guises, had it pretty much worked out.Society—family, tribe, caste, church, village, probate court—established and enforced its connubial protocols for the presumed good of everyone, except maybe for the couples themselves.

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