Dear Single Women of NYC: It's Not Them, It's You.

The plight of the single lady

Everyone has to make choices. This isn't to say that if you want a successful career and to be a wife and a mom, you can't do it. Nor that you can't do it fairly well. But inevitably, you'll have to give up one thing for something else. Why should you settle? Because that's what all humans do when they make choices.

If Carrie Bradshaw were here and an actual person, she would say, "But what about the 'za-za-zoo'?" And after berating her for that corny terminology, I'd grudgingly agree that, yes, there needs to be something—call it magic, or a spark, or a connection—with regard to our romantic relationships. But the magic pales in comparison to the simplest, and yet most difficult, of things. Knowing what you want. It's timing, but it's more than that, because you dictate your own timing. You hold the cards.

If Carrie had wanted marriage and kids back in Season 4, she would have stuck with Aidan. Instead, she got panicked and neurotic and self-destructive and Carrie Bradshaw–esque, and started to have an affair with Big, who was clearly (until the unbelievable ending of the series) never going to marry her. Why do that to yourself? Because you aren't quite sure you want to get married, either. Because the grass is ever so mysteriously greener in the yard (does he even have a yard?) of the guy who doesn't want to marry you. And because it makes for good drama, or, at the very least, tragicomedy.

Still, at the end of the movie, or the TV series, everything gets wrapped up neatly and tied with a Tiffany-box bow. In the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly is eventually tamed by the love of a good man who has been there all along. In Working Girl, the girl gets her career-with-corner-office and Harrison Ford to pack her lunchbox. In The Apartment, Shirley MacLaine's character attempts suicide on account of Mr. Wrong, but in surviving finds her Mr. Right. Harry and Sally run through the relationship ropes course as enemies, friends, lovers, and enemies again, only to end up an old married couple. As do, of course, Carrie and Big. It all just seems to unfold, without anybody doing too much soul-searching or goal-plotting, much like a movie. A movie set in New York! This is what we're supposed to want.

People who have been married will tell you that it's not all butterflies and lying in the grass together clutching hands. It's actually work—not magic, and not the movies. Which means the dream we expect for ourselves drastically needs to be tempered with a dash of reality, a dose of self-reflection. As a thirtysomething New York woman said, "Ultimately, marriage has more to do with knowing what you're looking for. Sure, there are a lot of guys out there that suck, but I don't think that's a New York–specific issue. There are all of these successful, smart, workaholic women who have their shit together and strong views and senses of who they are. Their expectations are a bit higher. And in New York, there's not this worry about being the only single person; we all have friends who are married, married with kids, divorced, single."

Fewer people are getting married than ever. According to a Pew Research poll published at the end of last year, about half of all adults in the U.S. are married, down from 72 percent in 1960. Four in 10 people consider marriage obsolete. At the same time that fewer of us are getting married, more people are doing it for love—93 percent said it was the most important reason to tie the knot. Love is not something that used to factor into marriages; it's a relatively modern concept. You might say we're spoiled by even expecting it, and that it's entirely unrelated to a social "institution" that was really about property and taxes and making sure you had enough kids to work the farm or protect the homestead way back when—not to mention one of the only socially acceptable ways for women to have sex.

But if you confessed to someone today that you'd married without "being in love," because you'd simply wanted to get married or have the financial foundation to start a family (or buy more shoes), or maybe because you just didn't want to spend Sundays alone anymore, they would look at you with a horror akin to what you might bestow upon a person admitting to murder.

If there is a real and current plight of the single lady in New York City, it's not that New York men are so horrible. It's figuring out how to balance what you want and what you can get—in terms of love, marriage, and what each guy has to offer—against all of the options, including the imminent biological reality of your decreasing fertility. It's figuring out if you care about your fertility at all, and if you care about it in light of being—or not being—married. Because at some point, it will simply be too late to have kids.

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