I’ve been wondering whether there’s any point to living in a big city like New York when you’re in a relationship. Here are the kinds of things that happen, mostly, but not necessarily, at night, in the springtime in a big city such as New York. A group of good-looking thirty-something men yells BEAUTIFUL LEGS! at one of us as we walk by them, alone, wearing bike shorts at 10 o’clock at night (so the attention is not entirely unprovoked, but if a person can’t do and dress as they please in this city, where can they?) Another one of us is approached left and right by males and females of varying ages. Bartenders have quite routinely, since April or so, been writing their phone numbers on her bills. She shows us a photo taken at brunch the previous day, in which she has, for whatever reason, unzipped the front of her dress to lower-sternum level and has her arm around a gentleman that she met an hour previously.
Spring fever. But there seems to be a fundamental difference between how the straight females and straight males among us operate at this time of year, during which the phenomenon of courtship gets put under a microscope. For the men — and I realize this is a generalization, so I’m just speaking of the men in my life — each woman in his life just seems to be one of many. The men are juggling, trying very hard to keep a certain number of women in the air at all times (the higher the number, the better). They seem to like the challenge — the inherent difficulty of juggling. This is a luxury that seems specifically bestowed to New York City men; there are three women to every man in this city.
And it means, I think, that none of the women in these guys’ lives are ever sure of where they stand. They’re never really let in. It’s as if the men are looking for all the incipient relationships (or rather, “relations”) they have with these women to last for the entire summer, at which point, around Labor Day weekend, if they’re enormously lucky, they’ll hook up with each woman for seven consecutive days and then, probably, never speak to any of them again. At least that seems to be the hope.
The women are up to something completely different, though I’m sure the men are interpreting the women’s behavior in a completely different way than the women are intending (and same goes for the men). The women are enjoying themselves on a very low-stakes and practically solitary (or at least same-sex) level. They’re probably drinking too much, but they’re enjoying themselves: partially unzipping their dresses at brunch, talking to middle-aged married men at bars, sexting with their exes, occasionally hooking up with random people.
But they’re not going out of their way to meet men. They’re not going on many dates. They’re not spending much time analyzing text messages, perusing dating profiles, letting themselves be set up by their friends, or scanning the room for the cutest guys. I would argue that they don’t actually care that it’s spring. They don’t feel some sense of urgency the way the guys seem to. They appreciate all the attention they seem to be getting from men. But they don’t do much more than appreciate it.
This has caused me to utterly rethink the way the sexes deal with one another. I feel as if I’m in a Woody Allen movie, or maybe an Ed Burns movie. I’m enjoying it, but I’m not exactly on the hunt right now, so I enjoy it vicariously, and sometimes on a harmless surface level. I’m just curiously and sometimes hopelessly watching the single and semi-single people around me try to connect with other single and semi-single people.
But they’re all so tentative about it. They may appear to do things on a more sexual level, but they don’t actually engage each other. Yelling at a woman about her legs as you pass by her, probably drunk, on the street is quite different from calling her (or, I guess, friending her on Facebook, which seems to be the 2013 equivalent of calling someone). The men seem to have these short bursts of enthusiasm for various women, but they aren’t taking any of their actions too far, for fear that any definitive action will upset the balance, causing them to drop one of the other women they’re trying to keep in the air.
A male friend recently told me that he didn’t want to look at a prospective date’s blog because she probably had a traffic counter on her blog and he didn’t want her to know that he had been looking at it. This was so strange to me.
But I suspect there’s more to his statement: this man, who is 31 (a baby, by modern standards), probably gets off on mystery. He doesn’t actually want to know what’s on the woman’s blog for fear he’ll be disappointed, for fear he’ll find out that this woman is real, breathes, has thoughts, and isn’t just a pretty face and body falling nicely under the banner of P—-Y written in big pink balloon writing, to borrow Louis C.K.’s description. I taunted him with this. He partly agreed with me. I asked him if he was saving up women for Labor Day weekend, as my theory goes. “Absolutely not,” he claimed. “I’m just not really looking for a relationship right now.” Right. Because it’s spring, and the city seems to be piled high with beautiful women. Relationships are for winter, when it’s cold and nobody goes outside.
But what about the future? What about giving it all up — the game, the chase, the Ed Burns storyline — for a nice, pretty girl from Ohio who, I don’t know, works in advertising? I joke that this friend is a “baby” at 31, but it’s pretty strange that it’s now the norm for 30-something men to keep trawling through the women of New York until they find “the one,” which they apparently are not even looking for anyway. Don’t bother asking whether this friend actually dates women his own age. You know the answer to that.
Another male friend, age 32: “Am I really ready to move in with her? No, not really. Do I want to break up? Nah. Do I want to get married? No.” The “her” in question is his girlfriend of two and a half years. I actually applaud his caution. Moving in together changes a relationship, and it seems that couples do it too readily, possibly for financial reasons. I told him he should be financially stable before he starts sharing expenses with her (something I’ve learned the hard way). He agreed. In his case, I think the economy has added to his cautiousness. But his attitude, at least at face value, is similar to the other early-30-something men I know: they still have some urge to wander, whether with their eyes or with their entire bodies.
Being single appears to be a celebration to the young(ish) men in my life. To their exact female contemporaries, it’s just an accepted reality. There’s nothing much celebratory about it. The women may be just as tentative as the men, but it’s not because they’re keeping their options open. It’s because they can’t be bothered. A lot of them are busy: gainfully employed, successful enough to be living on their own in nice neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan. One woman keeps getting half-hearted texts from a guy she met on a dating website, who tried to kiss her within 90 minutes of meeting her by sort of triangulating her against the wall of a bar (her response was to duck out of the triangle and move to the opposite side of their table).
His most recent text: I keep trying with you because I think you’re kinda cool.
We responded that she should “kinda” never text him again. But then I felt badly for the guy. He really didn’t need that modifier. But at least he tried.
How will it all end, this movie that is the summer of 2013? I can’t help but be cynical: some of us will eventually marry, then divorce. Some of us might never marry. A couple of us will find someone and be with them forever. Maybe. But I can’t help but think that all the men will still be here next summer, surveying their shared territory, admiring its bounty of female inhabitants, not thinking much about next summer, or even next fall, or even next month.
Part of me envies them. I have never been able to view the prospects in my life in a detached, vaguely grateful way. I’ve just quickly rooted through the minds of the men who showed up on my radar, found the “best” candidate, and then entered into a relationship with him, discarding the guys who couldn’t commit, the ones who just considered me one of many, the ones who just wanted to “have fun,” a term that seemed, necessarily, to exclude me. I’ve rarely, if ever, juggled men. I’ve just sought out the one person who would get me, love me, have similar hopes and dreams as me, and help me put an end to the dating madness. But the men in my life, though they are no longer technically young, don’t think it’s madness, and they don’t want it to end.