When I got out of college, I went on various job interviews, looking for a way to make my computer science degree pay off. For a couple of months, I didn't find much. But then, one day in July of 1986, I found myself sitting in the NASA office of a man named Jim Chesney. And he was telling me about the people he had working for him, telling me that they were, essentially, a bunch of characters. And in particular, he told me about a person named Kristin Wunderlich.
"Yeah, she's practically a genius," said Jim. "You know that puzzle thing, the Rubik's cube? She was on 'That's Incredible' solving that thing. She's like the fifth best in the nation, or something like that. And she dresses like a hippie, you know, doesn't wear any shoes, and stuff like that. Yeah, we got some pretty interesting people working around here."
And I squirmed in my chair, tugging at the collar of my interview suit and thinking to myself "Man! I gotta get this job!"
And I did get the job, and there were some pretty interesting people working around there. And during the years that followed, I developed quite a friendship with this "genius hippie" called Kristin.
However, it was slow in happening. Although we worked in the same section, our assignments didn't overlap at all. She designed computer chips, and I wrote software. From a working standpoint, we had absolutely no interaction. But even so, we still found opportunities for conversation, standing around in the lab, or bumping into each other in the hallway... And then of course, there was LUNCH.
We eventually developed a regular habit of having lunch together, and it was over lunch that we really got to know each other. More than anything else, it was lunch that brought us together.
It was the case at that time that I wasn't dating anyone seriously, and hadn't been for over a year, and this was a fact that I found rather annoying. Therefore, the search for a perfect soulmate was a topic of conversation that often came up when Kristin and I got together for lunch.
It actually was not difficult for me to deduce why I wasn't involved with anyone. I'm a perfectionist, and I seek perfection in all things, even in my love life. So, I wasn't looking for just anyone. I was looking for my "Dream Girl," a woman who met each of a long list of requirements. And I simply wasn't interested in short term relationships, or in dating someone imperfect while waiting for my Dream Girl to materialize.
But Dream Girls don't come along every day, and so, I languished.
I can remember sitting in Roy Rogers, polishing off a couple of pieces of fried chicken and telling Kristin, who by then had become my office mate, how difficult it was to find someone who not only met all of my various criteria but who was also unattached and furthermore was of the opinion that I met her criteria.
At this, Kristin nodded and said she knew what I meant. "So," she then asked, "What are your 'criteria'?"
I took a deep breath, and sighed heavily. "Well," I said, "first and foremost, she must have a creative spirit. So many of the women I meet are unimaginative. My Dream Girl has to do something creative, whether she paints or writes poems or composes music, I don't really care what. I just don't want someone who watches TV all day without even thinking of ways in which it could be improved.
"Second, she's also gotta be intelligent. But not just intelligent, she's also got to have a decent amount of common sense and be fairly organized and competent. Even if she's a rocket scientist, it's no good if she can't keep her checkbook balanced or think clearly when her car breaks down on the freeway.
"Third, she's got to have a good sense of humor. This is vital. And I don't mean that she should just laugh at all my jokes, she needs to be funny herself. My Dream Girl would have an offbeat, zany side, able to be goofy one minute but serious and in control the next.
"And fourth, of course, she's gotta have long hair. Why? I don't know why. I'm just nutso about long hair. But, actually, I've found that I get along better with women who have longer hair. I think they're less driven by the laws of fashion, not unlike myself. I prefer a woman who doesn't wear a lot of makeup and isn't concerned about what clothes are currently popular. And I think that women who let there hair grow long are more of this mindset than women who go to the hairdresser every time the fashion magazines tell them to.
"Those are the main requirements, but there's little stuff, too. I don't want a smoker, or a vegetarian, and she definitely can't be a sports fan. And as long as were talking dreams here, I'd want her to be a knockout, you know, a really fabulous babe. Plus of course, she's got to be unattached and looking for someone that I meet the description of. Otherwise, there's no go, even if she is my Dream Girl."
"Well," said Kristin, "That's a pretty tall order."
"Yep." And I paused, sipping Coke dregs through a straw. "But do you think I'm asking too much? I often wonder. I've met a number of girls who didn't meet all of my requirements, and I therefore quickly lost interest in them. But is lowering my standards the answer? Should I just say 'Oh, well. I can't seem to find my Ideal Woman, so I'll just settle for someone who's OK.' Would I be happy then? I keep thinking I'd be a happier man if I was dating someone, anyone, even if they weren't perfect for me and the relationship ended after 6 months. But would I be?"
Kristin shook her head. "No, it's obvious you wouldn't. You're a perfectionist, that's your problem."
"Yeah, I know. You wanna know why? It's my parents' fault. They've been together for, hmm, let's see, I think it's almost 40 years. And because they've set that example for me, I'm not interested in 6 month relationships."
"Yeah," said Kristin, "I'm the same way. My parents have been married for 30 years... and my grandparents have been together for, like, 55 years!"
"Then you know what it's like," I said. "I've just got such big expectations, you know? I keep expecting Love to be this big perfect thing, like it is in the Movies. You know the movie 'It's a Wonderful Life?'"
"You know the part where they've just gotten married but there's a bank panic, and in order to keep Potter from taking over the business they give away all of their honeymoon money? And while George is at the Building and Loan giving away the money, Mary sets up a big special dinner for them in that derelict old house? And his friends put up posters of exotic places, and serenade them and everything? And it's perfect: even though they've got nothing except their love for each other, it's still perfect. And they kiss, and Mary says 'Remember the night we threw rocks through the windows of this old house? This is what I wished for.'
"I get choked up just thinking about that scene. I think that's about the most wonderfully romantic thing I know of. And I think: That's what love is supposed to be like. But it never is, at least not for me. Why can't real life be like that?"
Kristin shrugged, and smiled an ironic smile.
"I guess I just expect too much," I said.
Kristin leaned back against the hard plastic bench. "I do know what you mean," she said. "I basically have the same problem. I look for a lot of things in the guys I date, but I just can't seem to find them all in one person, you know?"
"I mean, it's not like there's anything necessarily wrong with the guy, or with the relationship... It's just that not everything is right. But it's like you said: Can I really ask for everything?
"You see," she said, "I'm not like you. I don't have this big list of requirements that a guy hasto meet before I'll go out with him. But, in some ways I'm the same. I'm looking for a man who has a certain set of characteristics, and it's really hard to find them all in one person. One guy might be right in some ways but wrong in others. Finding everything is one package is pretty tough."
"OK," I said, "Suppose you found an order form for a mail order company that sold custom made men. You can write whatever you want on the form, and they'll send you a man that meets your description. He'd have all the characteristics you want, but none of the drawbacks. What would he be like?"
Kristin slid back in her chair and chuckled. "Wow. Hmm. Let's see." She sighed. "OK, first he'd have to be a creative person by nature. He should think of himself as an artist, even if he didn't necessarily create art.
"He'd also have to be fun and curious. He'd have to enjoy doing zany things just for the fun of it, things that other people might not even understand. Also, I'd want someone who'd think up and initiate zany things. Some guys I've gone out with have been perfectly willing to go along with whatever ridiculous projects I invented... but very few have been able to invent ridiculous projects of their own."
Kristin drummed her fingers on the table, thinking.
"OK," she continued, "He'd also have to be intelligent, and more importantly, aware of his intelligence, you know? He'd have to have some level of self confidence. I don't want someone who's uncomfortable dating me because they think I'm smarter than they are.
"Also, he should be excited about life. He'd have to want to do something with his life other than just working at some job that he doesn't really like so he earn enough money to buy a big TV, with cable, and then watch it for the rest of his life."
She paused, not wanting to be overheard, while a Roy Rogers employee cleaned up a nearby table.
"But I think what it really boils down to is this: I'd want a playmate. He should be more than just my boyfriend, he should also be my Best Friend. And he should be the kind of guy that I can hang out with and goof off with and just, play with. Basically, my ideal man should know how to play - you know, to engage in any activity as if it were a game.
"So, how big is this order form?" she asked. "I suppose I could go on and on. He should be someone with a love of science and technology... and he should hate sports as much as I do. Ideally he'd be a gourmet cook, who doesn't hate vegetables... and he should be a hopeless romantic who is madly in love with me!"
By now she was giggling. "Yeah, all right," I said, waving my hand to cut her off, "You've run out of room on your order form. No need to get silly."
At this, the conversation fell away into a lull, and we each thought for awhile. Then I broke the silence. "The strange thing is, you actually possess almost all of the characteristics on my big list of requirements. And now that you aren't dating anyone..."
She rolled her eyes and laughed. Then she got serious. "No way," she said. "I won't date someone I work with, particularly not somebody I share an office with. It would just be too intense. No way."
I shrugged, and tried to hide my disappointment by laughing it off. "It's just as well," I said, "Your hair isn't long enough anyway. But it is an interesting idea, you gotta admit."
She cocked her head and smiled. "Yeah," she said. "And I do have to admit that you meet most of my requirements, too. And it's not like I haven't thought about it. There are times when I think to myself, 'Maybe we should try it; it might really work!', and other times when I laugh at myself for even considering the idea. But I really can't date someone I work with. If we didn't work together, I'd try it in a minute - but not while we're working at the same place. Of course, if you got another job..."
I knocked this idea out of consideration with a loud guffaw, and she sighed. "Yeah," she said, "I know. We both love our jobs too much to leave 'em. But you can't blame me for suggesting it. It would simplify things."
The conversation lapsed into silence again, and we each thought our own private thoughts. For a long time we just sat there, looking across the plastic table at each other, thinking, and wondering.
It was an interesting idea. We were such good friends, we had already known each other for so long and already knew so much about each other, that the preliminary stages of dating would be omitted. We wouldn't have to go through those typical early days of a relationship, when you're perpetually friendly, trying hard to make the other person like you, hiding your dark side, and keeping your annoying habits unknown. We already knew about each other's dark sides and annoying habits, and while I did think she'd probably drive me nuts at times, I also figured I could deal with it OK.
And what a team we'd make! We had discovered that we were a great team even before any idea of romance entered the picture. Even though our work at Goddard was completely unrelated, we nevertheless found things to work on together, like the time we outfitted our entire section with T-shirts bearing a mug shot of our boss. And it was clear that we operated in much the same way; we were both perfectionists, and tackled projects in the same manner, with the same determination to do things not only well, but with style. And yet, we also worked well together. Though we both had overbearing self confidence and a desire to be in control, we nevertheless were able to work smoothly with each other.
And of course, added to all of these factors were Kristin's womanly charms, which I had a difficult time ignoring.
So, all in all it was a very interesting idea, one that I turned over and over in my head. I couldn't help but wonder if this were my Dream Girl, this person who had been right here under my nose for the previous two and a half years. But somehow, I was also apprehensive about the idea. I valued the friendship we had very much, and feared to lose that friendship if we tried romance and it didn't work. And anyway, she'd told me in no uncertain terms that she wasn't willing to try the experiment, and I wasn't ready to push it. At least not yet.
But I had a hunch that it might happen someday, and I wondered if it would work.
"Well," I said at last, "I suppose we'd better get back to the office."
Kristin nodded gravely and said "Yes, I guess so." But I could see wheels turning in her brain, and I wondered what she was thinking.
And as we drove back to work that day, I ran the question around and around in my head: Is Kristin Wunderlich my Dream Girl?