Dear Ms. Pengelly:
First I want to thank you for your patience during the last few weeks as we finished scoring your exam. It’s over now and you can relax. I hope the end of the day finds you in a big leather armchair surrounded by pillows, feasting on a slice of your favorite cake (orange-gingerbread, as I recall).
Since you applied to this position over a year ago, your commitment has been tireless and impressive. Regardless of my final decision, you’ve joined the elite rank of applicants. Over 50 percent of potential romantic interests are eliminated before the examination round, whether because of a poorly written essay or failure to disclose their complete medical history.
Second, I invite all applicants to meditate on the words of ee cummings: “nobody loses all the time.” Life is random and arbitrary, and at any given moment most of us are losing at something. Tomorrow’s victories nip at the heels of today’s defeats, and vice versa.
Still, it is with great sadness that I inform you I must reject your application to be my dating partner.
As Miriam explained to you when you started the application process, the examination is graded according to five criteria: Professionalism; Recitation and Delivery; Knowledge of Culture; Opinions; and Survival in a Harsh Environment.
With respect to the first criteria, you acquitted yourself admirably. No applicant makes it this far into the process without demonstrating a marked level of professionalism, and your choice of attire—earth tones, non-garish nail polish, a splash of body spray—served you well during the oral portion of the exam.
The pieces you chose for the Recitation and Delivery portion of the exam were similarly impressive. I won’t pretend I wasn’t flattered when you recited the entirety of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” from memory, as I believe I have been careful to mention (more than once) in your presence that it is my favorite poem.
I was equally pleased when you recited, with great vigor, the “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V—although I would have preferred “Once More Unto the Breech,” the enthusiasm with which you grabbed hold of that tree limb and raised yourself into the air as you shouted, “And hold their manhoods cheap!” etc. won me over completely, and any complaints about delivery (the occasionally shrill timber of your voice, for example) feel like nitpicking.
(Though, for future reference, the correct line reading is “when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,” NOT “when I am writhing,” which any self-respecting seventh-grader might have told you).
Unsurprisingly, your knowledge of culture was impressive, but it’s when we come to Opinions that your responses really begin to raise red flags:
– you mentioned liking the Beach Boys “about as well” as Pink Floyd, when the Beach Boys are demonstrably better
– your assessment of Sufjan’s early works paid scant attention to “Illinois,” his finest album to date
– you (correctly) listed Poirot among your favorite detectives, but lavished far too much praise on Ms. Lemon (when Hastings is the real glue that holds the show together).
– you cited Harry Potter as “one of the great fantasy series of our time” when it is, in fact, the greatest, bar none
– most worryingly of all, near the end of the oral portion when I asked whether you preferred cats or dogs, you broke down in tears and said, “Dogs, I guess,” when the correct answer was obviously “cats.”
Overall, it pains me to say, your conduct during the exam was exemplary. Although the interviews and tests were grueling, you never wavered in your devotion. I can’t tell you how moved I was when you woke up in that replica of Regency England—how you spent two weeks searching for another human soul—how you taught yourself to make butter and sew and store meats… and at the end of it, when your resolve was breaking down, when you didn’t think you could go on living, you took out the photo of me that you keep in your wallet and whispered, “No matter what happens, I will always love him.” And you held on to that conviction, even when you found out it was a simulation.
So it’s only with the greatest regret that I’m rejecting your application, because of the concerns mentioned.
But at least the exam is over now! You should reward yourself, maybe by going some place where the weather is warm and you can eat paella all day in the sun. And remember that if you are unhappy with the results of this exam, you are welcome to re-apply at any time.