When one happens to be a female holed up in New York, such as, say, our beloved narrator, one must inevitably utter (or get an eardrum full of) the age-old adage, “What the hell is up with the men in New York?” The type of people who live in New York, and therefore the type of people you date in New York, really do feel particular to this city. Of course, this point has been editorialized ad nauseam. Men suck, women suck, everyone who identifies in any other way sucks as well, big whoop, what else is new, you’re thinking? Fair enough, dear reader. But this goes beyond the garbage that’s out there on gender—whether it’s bad biology (men have a cheating gene!) or cultural constructions (men will be men and men sometimes cheat!) or shareable listicles (the top 10 boyfriends who will cheat on you before you’re 30 and the 15 cats you will subsequently own before finding the love of your life due to this one secret no one is telling you about!). It feels at times like there are concentric circles billowing outwards of New York and men and my own pre-conceived notions of love and dating and (dare I write romance? Well, I for one am fine if I have to chuck that out with the patriarchal bathwater—and simultaneously, may I add, giving that proverbial baby a whole other slew of analyses to mull over).
I realize one of the worst things a New Yorker can do is talk about what makes New York so different from everywhere else. But I’m having a nugget of a worry! I fear New York is potentially de facto wrapping my wrists in invisible chains. I say this because every other human in every other city in the U.S. is tying the knot (according to my Facebook feed, at least). In NYC, that pressure just doesn’t exist for 20-somethings in the same way. The only reason marriage has even come up on my radar is because of Facebook, which leads me to the conclusion that everyone else in the country must look at New York like a playground for people delaying adulthood to perverted extremes and throwing Monopoly money around. It feels like that sometimes! Which is why it’s shocking to me that my peers have apparently gotten their lives together. Or, at least, together to the point that they’ve found it a feasible and even desirable prospect to join their own lives with another person’s life. Marriage is for people who understand how credit scores work and have an interest in learning seasonally-inspired pancake recipes and things of that nature. Truly another echelon of existence from the typical New Yorker I associate with, people who say things like, “I will be Seamlessing burritos for the next three days and also I don’t have a 401K and also I just puked on the steps of Trash and Vaudeville.”
If I had to guess, I’d say that the rest of the country’s wedding bells hit a sonic peak around age 25, then crescendo to bachelor parties in Montreal at age 28, and on and on until the last cacophony of hashtags (#HappilyEverSteinenberg), maybe around age 32, are finally put to bed (somewhere in Bali or Croatia, according to the honeymoon Instagrams). Meanwhile, back in New York, we tend to go out not with a bang or a whimper but rather a middle finger, and not until age 45+ for men and unknown if ever for women (shout out to the UES facelift and the male-female ratio imbalance, respectively).
But who gives a shit if someone in Wichita got hitched last Saturday? Good for them! Go Wichita. Well, I agree! None of this would actually be a problem for me, esteemed reader, if I didn’t think that someday, maybe, I’d like to try living in a different city. I love it here, of course, the way one loves a mole you can’t seem to save up enough money of to remove. But sometimes I think life is too short to not try a few metropolises on for size. And anyway, as should be obvious, living in NYC is basically just forking over your entire life’s savings to go to a continuous party that other people are writing about and profiting off of while you’re simultaneously developing a panic disorder on a G train that’s stuck underground.
So if I ever do go to a different city, let’s say when I’m 37 and single and doing grown woman things, well, I might arrive only to find myself an insta-leper. Mid-30s seems to be around the the time in the average New Yorker’s life cycle when a person such as myself might start to think about marriage. But it is not so in other cities. Men in Chicago will have punched out a few kids who are old enough to rattle off the Cubs’ lineup by that point. Men in LA will be well into Holy Matrimony Round 2, and already seeing returns off their children’s robust probiotic yogurt commercial reels. And I can only imagine what grandfatherly state men anywhere below the Mason-Dixon line will be in. Thus, I may find myself having to return, by default, to New York, just so I can continue to go on dates with single men who, too, would be considered boorish or alien in any other setting. For all the festering cesspools of garbage one has to deal with while living here, and believe me, there are many (garbage here is a metaphor for piles and piles of more actual piles of garbage on the sidewalk), it is kind of nice to be reminded that no matter what, you aren’t a freak.
Let’s be real: it’s pretty damn hard to be a leper in New York. The other day I saw a man in a Wall Street suit and a clown wig with a gigantic flute in one hand and a book on Nietzsche in the other, and he was blasting Naughty By Nature, and his face was totally deadpan, and no one even looked twice at him!! It was awesome! Even this man blends! Why I think that bodes well for the dating scene is probably how I wound up here in the first place.
A related thought: It’s unfortunate that a byproduct of dating men here is that one has to resist the urge to categorize the ridiculous people you find yourself going out with (the digital strategist who’s into Sun Tzu, caffeine, and feet; the RoR developer with a penchant for fair trade turkey jerky and barbiturates, etc.)—the kind of groups I’d be quick to deem as misogynistic if the gender roles were reversed, and that is a place I don’t want to go to. Even for humor! Of course, humor is a natural impulse when dealing with the dating world, as humor often serves as our attempt to one-up the horrors of the human condition (among which is the dating world). But you know, it is also what makes living and dating in New York as a (relatively) young person so fun. There are so many ridiculous people and wonderful nights and stories to have while single here—like a man on the C train drawing your portrait on a napkin, or going to a 5-course dinner in Meatpacking with a banker one night and eating tuna from the can with a Bushwick painter the next, or having a first kiss on the bridge from Greenpoint to Long Island City, or having a first kiss anywhere— it’s kind of hard to imagine giving all of that up. Particularly when you still don’t care about making seasonal pancakes for someone else.
I don’t want my love life to read as a bad Elite Daily article, though as a writer, the impulse is at times to sell one’s love life. The fodder is deep and rich in New York, and internet blogging vacuums tend to pay a few pennies for “women’s lifestyle” drivel. I’m ashamed that there have been times that I’ve thought of my experiences with men as packageable article headlines. Because as a writer, I’m supposed to be good at making headlines out of life. And because it’s easier to make sense of “likes” than love. But I like to think well of people, and people includes men, and when I tell stories about them I want them to be stories that conclude with how terrific they are, because I want men to think women are terrific, too, and I want to consider holistically the good and bad in humanity, and come out on the side of it being alright. Maybe it sounds extreme to go from dating to your stance on the human race, but if you want to commit “til death do you part” to someone else, it seems to me that you should have a few solid ideas about what “someone else” even means to you and the kinds of things you want out of life. Of course, this isn’t the first thing you want to probe about when you’ve had seven vodka sodas and you’re dancing with a dude you just met to “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
When you live here, even for a year, you get good at the New York dating thing (or the, he’s not my boyfriend but we’re kind of together but it’s also open millenial thing). I’m good at meeting the men of New York where they’re at, even if where they’re at is a place that seems insane to the rest of the world, or if they’re workaholics, or if they’re wonderful but they want to travel the world to build a yoga startup, or if they have the tendency to swallow up as many women as they can until one sticks in their baleen, despite their most aggressive filtering, despite the fact that they were only able to do so by casting out as many women as possible to always be floating nearby.
I’m less good at finding men who can meet me where I’m at. Maybe it’s because it’s hard in life to really know where you’re at. And when you’re on Facebook and you see people in Wichita get married and that feels so foreign from where you are, and when you read about people’s impressive promotions, and see an e-map of their staggering 5am long-distance runs, and their impossibly free and soulful decision to give up their day job and travel around South America to learn about coffee farming—well, it’s hard to be a univocal protagonist, knowing what you want and where you’re going and even just where you stand. But you suspect your friends are going through it, too. And you see all your friends on these dating apps, and it’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Love and Boning. Tinder at the bottom, a date for oysters in the East Village in the middle, and at the top I don’t know if it’s marriage and kids or just being able to afford your apartment and look at yourself in the mirror and know that you are trying to be a good person.