“I want you to investigate my love life,” he said.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“What do you mean? Be specific.”
He opened his mouth but didn’t say anything, so I went on.
“Here’s why I’m asking: a couple years ago I had a client come in with basically the same request. ‘Investigate my love life; it sucks.’ So, I spent a week doing intensive surveillance of his life, watching his interactions. Turns out the guy is afraid to talk to women. No big mystery there. I’m not so hard up for billable time that I need to follow you around for a week watching you sit in restaurants silently pining for waitresses.”
I thought he might be offended but, from his slight pout, I could see he was disappointed to learn he was not the first person to come to me with this kind of request. When you’re a private detective who routinely focuses on the mundane and quotidian (my active cases at the moment included helping one client find her keys) it’s to be expected that clients struggling with matters of with heart will come through the door.
“Do you get a lot of cases like this?” He asked.
I forget sometimes that, while most women who come in to see me feel better knowing their situation isn’t unusual, many male clients need to feel their case is one-of-a-kind. I suppose it makes them feel better about asking for help.
“Do I get a lot of requests to investigate a client’s love life?”
“You could say I investigate little else.”
He became openly disappointed, deflated. I had to admit I was enjoying myself. A little too much. I decided to give him a break.
“Infidelity—real or imagined—is the bread and butter of most private detective agencies.”
Love cases have more dark corners than any other kind of investigation and adultery is one of the darkest of these but everyone thinks of adultery as tawdry and unoriginal. I would have bet $23.80 that he wasn’t an adultery case: no ring and none of the rumpled clothes and bloodshot eyes that are tell-tale signs of a jealous lover. And I was right. He lightened visibly, his body raised back up like time-lapse footage of a wilting plant played in reverse.
Life is a mystery and these are the clues: now that he felt unique again he leaned back in his chair and spent the next few minutes being a pompous ass.
His speech fell into a four-part structure that will be familiar to anyone who has ever been asked for a favor by someone who tries to mask their embarrassment by making their request sound more important than it is.
Part One – Invocation of the muse. A sort of throat clearing as he pretended to give me a sketch of himself and his situation while working up the courage to ask me to do whatever it was he wanted me to do.
Part Two – Background. A clumsy but more detailed repetition of Part One that basically amounted to an (implied) admission that he’d been in a couple long-term relationships over the years but was now single again. And lonely.
Part Three – Substance of the Request. Before stating it clearly (due to some gentle guidance from me) he stated it vaguely and at length with still more repetitions, several prefatory justifications and qualifications, and even an apology or two.
Part Four – Conclusion. A messy and entirely unnecessary re-statement of everything mentioned above with one or two new details that were given undeserved significance and urgency, all in an attempt to delay hearing whatever my answer was going to be.
It all boiled down to this sentence—or would have if he had actually expressed himself this clearly: “I’ve been dating a lot lately (mostly meeting women online) and I’m struggling with the casualness of it all, so I’d like you to investigate these women and let me know if any of them are interested in something long term.”
“In general? Or with you in particular?”
“With me in particular.”
I nodded and made a note.
“Is that something you can handle?” He said.
I smiled, then said, “I think so. How many women are we talking about”
The number was a little surprising. I had expected him to say two. He seemed like a binary kind of guy. Then again, the mind is most comfortable with threes, so I suppose it made sense that he would ask for help when he hit four. Either way, I wondered what sort of man could be dating four women and say his love life was nowhere.
“Okay,” I said, “I want to begin by observing you on a date with each woman. I’ll be honest with you: while this gives me a chance to see if there is any obvious chemistry, my main reason is to ensure that these are women you actually know and are already dating.”
He nodded a bit too vaguely for my taste.
“I want to be clear,” I said slowly, pausing for emphasis. “I will not investigate any women I do not see you meet with for a date—public setting, actual conversing, at least an hour. These need to be women who know you and trust you enough to meet you on their own time.”
“I understand,” he said, looking chastened and affronted. That was a good sign. The innocent always look chastened in the face of accusations (even implied ones) because they tend to search themselves for guilt and rarely hold themselves blameless. Then they look affronted because they resent not only the false accusation but also having been forced to search themselves in this way.
Still, expressions are difficult to read.
“Maybe you do understand,” I said, hoping to send his conscience on another expedition, “but I want to be sure this gets through. In the past clients have hired me to ‘investigate their love life’ when all they really want to do is outsource their stalker tendencies. Not that I’m talking about out and out sociopaths—just shy losers who wanted me to see if any of their crushes were reciprocated by invading the privacy of the women they were interested in. It usually takes about three or four hours to figure out what’s going on and I resent the waste of my time.”
“I understand,” he said again, this time in an assuring tone that felt genuine even as it carried undertones of impatience. His conscience had already cleared him and he was ready to move on.
“Again, just to be clear: most of the information I gather I will keep to myself. In other words, I will share my conclusions with you but not much else. Don’t expect me to provide you with a dossier about each of these women. I’ll do some digging and observing but all you’ll get from me is conclusions: yes; no; maybe.”
“That’s all I care about.”
“Finally,” I said, “I should tell you that there is a much easier and cheaper way to go about this.”
“Women talk,” I said.
“To each other, you mean?”
“Well, yes,” I acknowledged, “but they also talk to you. Especially if you ask them things. You’re already dating these four women—asking them directly what they’re looking for is much easier and probably more accurate than paying me. At least one or two of them is likely to appreciate it.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said without much conviction.
“But. . .” I prompted him.
He smiled, “But I’d like to know who is interested in a long-term relationship before I start having those conversations.”