They is mostly Candace Bushnell in 2000, and you are allowed to role your eyes with vigor. Go on. In fact, you’d be sort of proving a point. I rephrase: New York is a cynical place. I disclaim: I am twenty-two. My heroes are Lena Dunham and Tina Fey and Kirsten Wiig and Amy Poehler and the whole cabal of new art-comedy heroines who are bold and lovely in part because they are strong mostly solo. These women are likable in their brazen vulnerability. They are doofy and unafraid to be un-sexy and riddled with garden-variety neuroses but smart and funny and cool and sort of like your friends at dinner this way – or vice versa. As an indirect result of these independent women, I don’t think we talk about ‘love in Manhattan’ the way Nora Ephron saw it. Not anymore. I don’t think we talk about love in Manhattan the way Carrie Bradshaw saw it. Not since the recession. The most recent set-in-New York romance I’ve seen was Friends with Benefits. So the veil’s been lifted, the stats are out, the jig is up, hey all the single ladies! Who are your friends who are dating dating? Do you know smitten people? Maybe you do. Are they on fire with caution, are they anti-labels, is it “a casual thing”? You probably care about your career. You probably like going out on weekdays. You don’t need a man because you think you met one once and he was very disappointing.
You’re Earnest, It’s Sepia, I Hate It.
Everyone everywhere has high standards and is disappointed and will eventually have to learn that having some mythic ‘All’ is only attainable when you “stop expecting it to look like what you thought it would,” (I am actually quoting Murphy Brown now…this is dire straits, y’all). Sure. And the last thing I want is to go on a big rage against the other chromosome, because if I’m being straight up I do not think that every Modern Single Girl necessarily wants ye olde MRS degree and the brownstone or even to meet the boyfriend’s mom. It’s sort of unfair to expect things of people when you don’t in fact know what you want; I say this from entirely personal experience. IPSO FACT-O, it is my tentative theory that she (the MSG) is presently reckoning with what it’s like to alter the ultimate, inherited want of her mothers and grandmothers, of her body even (arguable). It might look a lot harder, but evidence exists to suggest that many of us are capable of and in fact might deep down prefer being alone, if Prince Charming does in fact miss that bus over from Fantasytown. And why not, when you can find easy sex, and your urban lady family is there to ring in the major holidays with? Here sits the cusp and the crossroads. I keep meeting people who don’t believe in marriage, and people who believe in polyamory. I once met a gay couple who were polyamorous but married. It’s not so gauche to have a ‘boyfriend’ but many friends are ‘seeing someone.’ This all looks like love, but the parameters have expanded an awful lot; if we no longer require commitment – even fidelity – from a moving-towards-serious relationship, part of me wants to say ‘what’s the point?’. What I’m wondering is what particular lack can one other person fill when other people are invited? I know monogamy doesn’t equate true love because I’m not seventy-four, but at a certain point in practice I wonder if ‘true love’ itself is a naif term to throw into this mix. Then I worry I’m being judgmental or somehow not-advanced, and at this point I go fetch the cat and we murmur the lyrics of “I Am Woman” out the fire escape window.
But still, how did this all get started? If our new slang is not in fact just an urban crisis fueled by much temptation on every corner and people living too close to one another? My parents were married when they were twenty-six and are still together now! Perhaps it’s women, making their incredible and constant strides. Each year we get closer and closer to making the same money for the same work as a man, and Hill 2016, viva viva. Perhaps then it’s the almost-equal footing that has shifted the end goals for the dating game: people (cough-men) are finding new ways to compete with and be intimidated by a rising race of uber-strong dominatrices. Do you want to go out to dinner sometime, baby or play at HAND TO HAND COMBAT ON THE ROOF OF A TALL BUILDING? WHO SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH? I WILL BLUDGEON YOU WITH (emotional) BRASS KNUCKLES BECAUSE I HAVE A BIOLOGICAL INSECURITY TO PROTECT!
Yet that doesn’t seem quite right, either…
Man-hating woman-keepers club…man-loving woman-haters club…what’s it called again?
I swear I don’t personally hate men. The jolly opposite! I’ll just say I’ve met very few I seem to understand, and vice versa. Explain yourselves, boys! You make me angry and confused often, and while I wouldn’t call this the “explanation” for why me or anyone around me is perennially single (written down, this begins to seem psychotic), I can speak to the disconnect. It’s all about uncertain footing. If you don’t think you want a baby but you know you want your freedom and you don’t mind being alone, not really, why bother ‘giving it a go’ with any of the murky disasters who “really dig you” because you’ve got “great lips”? Sometimes I think, if it happens, it happens. Sometimes I think, if I ever get the feeling that I’m dating someone to prove a point or because I should, that is charity and in this case it is disgusting. Back to the cat and the fire escape. Does this make me sad? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I did choose it. Sometimes I get lonely.
I have walked around and been in love in this city, too. Not that kind of love, but I was wearing the right shoes and it was Tribeca and it was the latest I’d ever been out back then. While we were speaking, my lover and I, I felt that I’d never met another person I could talk to so well, and while I was younger then I remember looking up at bright signage and down at racing yellow cabs and thinking of the grand life I might begin to build in this place. I heard the music, and then I heard the sirens. I set a bar.
And to reiterate, since this time I haven’t been explicitly hunting for The One. I’ve been going to housewarming parties and going away parties and Brooklyn speakeasies and Paris and work. I’ve been writing and acting and visiting and eating, I’ve been pretty busy being pretty goshdarned lucky. I’ve been to the movies, for better or worse. I think about what is the harm in the lucid dream that is this gauche culture, is it an experiment or is it a lifestyle, madness or method. What I want to know is: is this what people do, is this how they lie and stand and seduce, is this what I want. And to confound my quest more is any and all magic I’ve personally felt with men in this city, yes that kind of magic, which has always found its way to defy any expectations I thought I had. The best night was when we talked on the phone and he called me a ‘duck,’ that’s all I remember. Another time (another we) there was the malicious ridiculing of child soccer players in Prospect Park. Love in pan flashes, by itself, is scarcely at the cocktail party or even the bar. I cannot explain it to my friends, who I explain everything to, my friends who have loved me more and better than any of the bozos at any of the speakeasies!
These shadows and props and gelatin molds, these emigmas! I am woman hear me roar yet for some reason I keep thinking I’ll tell them all my secrets and disprove the recipes I’ve seen everyone else follow and eventually find gross. Some of the men I’ve known in this city have been curious people, with good intentions and gifts and good haircuts, some of them have been pretty neat, but what me personally Brittany might be landing on is I am in a city where there is a square that looks like noon at five in the morning. I am in a city that has canyons of canon written for it and to it, for instance this: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame/ with conquering limbs astride from land to land/ here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall stand/ a mighty woman whose flame is the imprisoned lightning!”
Why, I am she! I want everything that I want. I deserve the things I want. The world is bright and all for us, in a land where the rivers runs free, and if I wanted to settle for anything, anytime, it would be 1900 and I’d be in Topeka and I’d be a governess, or something. She cried to the hills. Joan Didion responded, “Was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was.”
But they say there’s no more love in Manhattan. We get up too early or too late. The numbers are against us. The desk is stacked in all the tragic ways a deck might be stacked when neuroses lives on top of and next door to neuroses and there’s not even a way to escape, unless you take, like, a boat. Infinite options occlude specific choices. They say there’s no more love in Manhattan, still I’ve felt it’s murmurings in what’s unexpected in the city that says its immune to shock. We are changing Love’s name but the pulse abides. The rules and the game connive and twist and seem unable to be mastered by anyone I know. We are wiser and stronger but I’m still totally clueless. Yet I can have ice cream at at 5am, ta-da. I recently had ice cream at 5am with a gelatin mold. I guess it was better with two people, with this particular other person, but I want you to know I don’t know for sure what it all means (or where it’s going or how I feel about it or if I even WANT to be your…)
The lady on her island calling you here with lightning in her fist says, “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!…Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me!”
All I can say is, be very careful what you wish for, ladies – and gentlemen— in your boundless liberty. Wish anyway. Duh.