Oeuf folie a deux

Flying to New York over the weekend, I had to listen to my seatmate complain about how hard it was to meet men. This woman had tried online dating, double dating, blind dating, speed dating, slow-motion dating -- she had done it all. Still, she was single. "Why is it so hard?" she wailed.

I laughed. I did not laugh because I was bitter that she had the aisle seat, although that was true. I laughed because I had recently seen a film that made her problems look like a walk in the park.

March of the Penguins depicts a winter in the life of the Emperor penguin. These intrepid birds trek 70 miles across icy terrain to their breeding ground, which resembles an enormous frozen singles bar without Guinness on tap. Somehow they manage to pick the perfect partner out of a crowd of thousands of identical birds. How do they do this? By singing.

After mating they wait around in subzero temperatures until Mrs. P produces a single egg. She passes the egg to Mr. P in an elaborately choreographed routine in which both birds carefully shuffle their hobbit feet back and forth until the egg is on top of the male's feet, protected by his ponderous, downy belly. If the egg touches the ice, it will turn instantly into an Antarctic egg cream.

The exhausted Mrs. P then trudges 70 miles back to the sea to get some food. Meanwhile, Mr. P incubates the egg, freezing and starving through blizzards and surrounded by a few thousand of his closest friends, who are also freezing and starving and anxiously incubating their eggs. Mr. P does this FOR TWO MONTHS.

Finally the chicks hatch, but the doting Mr. P can't rest yet, because if Little P slips off his feet it will quickly become a penguin popsicle. Fortunately, Mrs. P is on the way back to take over childcare duties, so Mr. P -- stiff, cranky, and near death from starvation -- can waddle off 70 miles to get his own dinner.

I related this story to Miss Lonelyhearts. "You think you've got it tough?" I said. "When was the last time you trekked across an ice field to meet a man?" As it happens, she had once climbed a glacier in Alaska for that very purpose. "Well, try doing it in a penguin suit," I said.

"Why do they do all that?" she asked. At least the story had taken her mind off her dating dilemmas.

Some people say they do because instinct tells them to. I think they do it for love.

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