By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
When asked what he thought about the "plight of the single lady"—and women who blame men for the state of dating in the city, a single New Yorker in his twenties admitted, "I see where they're coming from, but, in a lot of ways, they bring it upon themselves. I think if girls were more withholding, boys would be more likely to commit, but because boys can get most of what they want without having to commit, they do. That implies that all boys want is to hook up, which I don't think is true, but I think that is a lot of it. That's why when a girl says, 'Oh, sure, we can hook up and I won't be weird about it,' they end up yelling at you a week later."
For every loser I've screamed at, there have been nice, normal single guys with perfectly acceptable ZIP codes and ages and jobs and habits who never did a thing wrong but for some reason were chucked after the first or second, or maybe even third, date for being boring, predictable, too nice, too normal, not successful enough, or . . . admitted to no one, perhaps not even myself: too available. The scariest of scary words.
If you're like me (and I think a lot of us are), you might say you can't stand drama and that all you want is a nice, stable relationship with someone who loves and treats you well, but "nice" and "stable" have hardly the appeal of words like "exciting" or "passionate" or, well, "drama." Our status as single, independent, financially solvent New York City women in the year 2011 has us sitting on a mountain of unprecedented options. Options: Those are exciting. So we want all the options, bigger and better and faster and shinier, or taller or sexier or stronger or smarter, and yet somehow also different and completely our own. We want the tippy-top of what we can get—why shouldn't we? And we want to push those boundaries.
That, to a large extent, is why we live here. It's not because we wanted to settle down with the patient and reliable plod-along schmo, and have babies and live in a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage where we peaceably grill in the summer and make casseroles in winter until we die. It's not because we wanted our lives charted out before we lived them.
My high school boyfriend was probably the best man I've ever dated. One time, for no reason whatsoever, he printed out a dictionary definition of "beautiful," circled the word, drew an arrow to it, and wrote "THIS IS YOU." He left it for me somewhere I would find it, as a surprise. He told me he loved me. But at the end of high school, when I knew I was going away to bigger, brighter things while he stayed in town and continued at the local community college, I tried to dump him over and over again, eventually making out with a random guy in a band on high school graduation night and telling the would-be ex about it the next day. The ex has a little boy, a dog, and a wife now; I don't even own a cat. But I have options! I wanted them then; I still want them now.
Yet these never-ending options wreak havoc with us, as does the idea that we can dally with each of them without ever deciding on any and just hope it will all fall where it may—that someday our prince will come, and he better be fucking good. As a married friend mused, "Holding out for everything we want—maybe it's a delusional expectation. Maybe it's more about self-reflection, an exercise in goals. It's more you-centered soul-searching than about the guy, necessarily. In most relationships, there's a huge, huge focus on timing. A lot of it is just a matter of reaching the point where you've figured out what you want."
Florida, the man behind those male-female NYC dating stats, writes on his website that "one reason ladies in the prime marriage years flock to big cities is to compete for the most eligible men," and intelligent women who gravitate to "vibrant cities are more likely to stay single—for longer, at least—because they rightly refuse to settle for someone who can't keep up with them intellectually or otherwise."
"Rightly refusing to settle," especially for someone who's boring, otherwise uninspired, or just a bad choice, sounds pretty good—even empowering. Somewhere along the way, "settling" became a dirty word, evoking visceral reactions of distaste and even disgust, particularly for the strivers among us. Take the negative reactions to Lori Gottlieb's book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which suggests that women who are still single after 35 are just too damn picky.
But I'd argue that it's not about being picky. It's about having all of these options, and not knowing how to choose from among them, or whether we even want to. It's about the years of being told we can have it all, and suddenly being deeply afraid to admit that that house of cards has been a sham all along because no one really gets to have it all. (And so, the self-professed adamantly anti-marriage Elizabeth Gilbert—who ate, prayed, and loved her options into a bestseller and a Julia Roberts movie—ultimately "caved" to marrying her foreign-born partner so that he could live in the U.S.)