My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No Lies, and Other Radical Tests

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9781439197233: My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No Lies, and Other Radical Tests

For his first hit title, Jacobs read the Encyclopedia Britannica. For his second, he followed every single rule in the Bible. Now comes a collection of his most outrageous and thought-provoking experiments yet. In The Guinea Pig Diaries, Jacobs goes undercover as a beautiful woman. He outsources everything in his life to India, from answering his emails to arguing with his wife. He spends two months saying whatever is on his mind. He lives like George Washington. Plus several other life-changing experiments—one of which involves public nudity.

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About the Author:

A.J. Jacobs is the author of two New York Times bestsellers: The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically. His most recent work is The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment--a collection of his articles, both new and previously published. He is the editor at large at Esquire magazine. He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly, and is an occasional correspondent for NPR. He lives in New York City with his wife Julie and their children. You can visit his website at ajjacobs.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
My Life as a Beautiful Woman

I’ve been a beautiful woman for fifty days, and no one has compared me to a summer’s day. No one has said my lips are like rose blossoms or my throat is as smooth as alabaster.

Men don’t have time for that anymore. We live in the age of transparency. Say what you mean and mean what you say. As in:

“You are a very pretty lady.”

“I think you are very attractive.”

“You look hot.”

I’ve been approached by more than six hundred men, and that’s one of the big themes I’ve discovered in their method: cut to the chase.

The directness has its charms, but like everything else about being a beautiful woman, it has its dark side as well. One suitor tried to seduce me with this line: “I would like to stalk you.” Another said, “I am in a committed relationship but am looking for a girl on the side.” Are these guys honest? Sure. To the point? Yes. Creepy? As hell.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up. I stumbled into this experiment as a hot woman. This one wasn’t premeditated. As a general rule, I dislike female impersonation. I have too many bad associations of men in skirts—Benny Hill, Uncle Miltie, Idi Amin. But sometimes there are good—or at least excusable—reasons to pose as a female.

The reason in this case is my two-year-old son’s nanny, Michelle. She’s a stunning woman. Before my wife and I hired her, I thought that hot nannies existed only in vintage Penthouse Forum letters and Aaron Spelling dramas. But Michelle—though I’ve changed her name for this book—is real. She’s twenty-seven and looks like a normal-lipped Angelina Jolie. She’s sweet, funny, has a smile straight out of a cruise-line commercial, and wears adorable tank tops.

No one can believe quite how beautiful my nanny is. Among our friends, my wife’s sanity is questioned about twice a week. Michelle is so enchanting, my wife has actually given me permission to have an affair with her, Á la Curb Your Enthusiasm. Of course, she made the offer only because she knew there was no chance Michelle would ever be interested. Michelle is too sweet, too Catholic, too loyal, too young. It’s like giving me permission to become a linebacker for the Dolphins.

In any case, Michelle remains bafflingly single. So my wife and I decided to help her find a boyfriend. How about Internet dating? we suggested. Michelle balked. She’s shy. She’s not a big fan of e-mail. Her Internet’s down. And aren’t all the guys on those sites the kind that have a drawerful of ball gags?

We told her that’s an outdated stereotype. We’d help her out. Or I would, since my job is editing and writing. I’d sign her up for a dating site, create a profile, sift through her suitors, and cowrite her e-mails. I’d be her online bouncer, bodyguard, censor, and Cyrano. All she’d have to do is give me some input and allow a few guys to buy her lattes.

She agreed. And even started to like the idea. She wrote her own introductory essay. (“I want someone who will make me laugh at the littlest thing.”) We clicked her preferences (fish and dogs are the best pets) and uploaded seven smiley, PG-rated photos with nothing more risquÉ than an exposed shoulder or two.

At 8 P.M. on a Wednesday, a couple of hours after Michelle had gone home, her profile was approved and popped up online. I’d been anxious about this. What if it went unnoticed for weeks, gathering dust in an obscure corner of the Internet?

No need to worry. Her profile was viewed within the first three minutes. Then again a minute later. The page-view counter shot up to eight, fourteen, twenty. Not quite Huffington Post numbers but brisk traffic. And then the e-mails started pinging in. A good dozen before I went to bed. I know that technically these guys aren’t e-mailing me. Still, it’s an exhilarating feeling to be so desired, if only by proxy. (And mind you, I did type in the essay and clean up her grammar.)

:-D

“Hey baby, tell me you’re coming to London,” reads my first e-mail, from a British guy who works in advertising. Michelle has given me permission to reject the guys who are clearly wrong. An ocean qualifies as a deal breaker. I zap him back, “Sorry guvnor, no plans to come over there.” I liked my response. Polite and firm—but a little flirty. I’m getting into character.

The next day, I show Michelle a half-dozen men with potential. The cute scientist with the Prince Charles ears, the guy from Long Island with eight siblings. We respond: “How are you?” “How was your week?” We keep it light, noncommittal—and short. That’s an early lesson. I’ve always been the chaser, so I didn’t realize quite how radically the balance of power shifts when you’re the chasee. Michelle could have responded with a random string of letters and numbers, perhaps an umlaut and a backward slash, and these guys would be encouraged enough to ask her on a date.

After forty-five minutes of boyfriend shopping, Michelle leaves with my son for a trip to the museum. I spend an hour crafting personal rejection notes to yesterday’s discard pile.


Hello sexygentleman,
Thanks for the email. I don’t think we’re quite the right match. But it was nice of you to contact me. Good luck in your search!

Then I type:

By the way—just a friendly tip: The username sexygentleman might turn some women off. Maybe too on the nose.

Perhaps it isn’t my place to say so. But, I figured, it is Michelle’s. If a beautiful woman gave me advice—solid, well-intentioned advice—I’d pay attention.

Originally, I planned to send a personal ding letter to each of the unsuitable guys. But the volume is overwhelming. By day four, we’ve gotten close to fifty approaches. I’m starting to become shockingly picky. I have a growing list of instant deal breakers:

  • If the guy uses the word lady or ladies in his opening e-mail

  • If the guy lists his best feature as “butt” (ironically or not)

  • If the guy uses more than two exclamation points in one sentence (One enthusiast wrote: “Hello there beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!”)

  • If the guy misspells the first word of his introductory essay. (“Chemestry is important.”) I don’t want to be a spelling snob, but the first word?

  • If the guy’s opening photo features a shot in which his head is tilted more than 20 degrees to the left or right

  • If the guy has a photo of his Jet-Ski or snowmobile on his page

  • If the guy is wearing sunglasses, any hat besides a baseball cap, or is bare-chested in his main photo

  • If the guy refers to female anatomy anywhere in his initial correspondence (e.g., “I’m not a professional gynecologist, but, uh, I’d be happy to take a look”)

Never in my life have I had such power. It’s tremendous. Yes, at first I feel guilty about failing to respond to 70 percent of these guys. But it’s just not possible. And in a way, it makes me feel better about my life as a single man. Maybe when my calls to beautiful women went unreturned, it wasn’t because I was hideous or the women were evil. It was just a matter of time management.

;-)

I am rooting for one guy. He’s got a warm, unforced smile, and he’s humble, but not falsely humble. “I’m a geek, but a cool geek because I use a Mac,” he writes. Unfortunately, Michelle rejects him. He’s a drummer and music teacher. Her last boyfriend was a musician. She’s sworn off them.

Michelle and I respond to a lot of the e-mails together. But just as often, she tells me to go ahead and reply myself while she’s away. It’s an amazing ego massage, sending e-mails as a beautiful woman. It’s so easy. I type one moderately witty thing—not even moderately witty—and suddenly I’m Stephen Colbert. I told one guy that Michelle/I hang out at the Museum of Natural History, where there are “more nannies per square inch than any other place in America,” and he responded that he was laughing uncontrollably at work. He said Michelle is “funny, intelligent, caring AND gorgeous.”

It’s not always adulation, though. A few suitors take a snotty tone. One writes that he wants to know more about Michelle but adds, “I can tell from your profile that sometimes you’re a handful.”

That’s annoying.

I respond: “What gives you the idea that I’m sometimes a handful?”

He responds: “I am so right!”

Now the bastard has really pissed me off. I click on his profile. A John Turturro look-alike with a smug smile. His opening photo shows him with his arm around a pretty woman with large breasts, as if to say, “I hang around with hot, large-breasted women, so if you are a hot, large-breasted woman, you should also hang around with me.” He likes to “work hard and play harder.” He is “VERY spiritual.”

Michelle is not a handful. In her profile, she says that she’s very open and will let you know when she’s upset. That makes her a handful?

But I have a theory. I think the son of a bitch is employing an underhanded strategy. I edited an article a couple of years ago about a book called The Game, by Neil Strauss. It’s about a nebbishy guy who decides to become the world’s greatest pickup artist, and it became exceedingly popular with a certain type of single man. One major strategy Strauss talks about is to mildly insult a beautiful woman, lower her self-esteem, thus making her more vulnerable to your advances.

So I e-mail Handful Guy as Michelle: &l...

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