This story appears in the New York Times:
I was 37, single, unemployed and depressed because in a couple of months I was going to be moving out of my studio apartment on East 23rd Street in Manhattan and in with my mother in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Since taking a buyout at my Wall Street firm, I had devoted myself to two activities: searching for a new job and working out. And I spent a lot of time in my apartment.
One day historians will come up with a term for the cohort of women who thought Sex and the City was a documentary providing lifestyle advice.
My 23rd Street building was near three colleges. When I signed the lease, I didn’t realize the place had so many student renters, people who understandably liked to party. Yet it was the least social time in my life. Most of my friends were married. I had no income, and rent was almost $3,000 a month. I wasn’t dating because I hadn’t figured out how to positively spin my unemployment story.
That’s why you weren’t dating? Uh-huh. Sure.
One afternoon in the elevator, I saw one of the guys from next door in jeans and a T-shirt, his dark hair slightly receding.
“How old are you guys?” I said. “Like, 23?”
“Yeah, well, I’m 23,” he said.
“I’m 37. So I hope you get a younger neighbor the next go-round.”
“I never would have guessed 37,” he said. “I thought you were, like, 26.”
Was he sweet-talking me? I looked the same age as my friends, but maybe the dormlike context had fooled him.
37-year old doesn’t know when a young shitlord is dishing out flattering comments about her age in order to see if she’d be up for a shag. Later, we’ll find out this woman worked in HR and has a Masters in Psychology.
Two weeks later, my friend Diana and I were sitting at a nearby bar, drinking vodka sodas and looking at her Tinder app, when my 23-year-old neighbor popped up.
“Swipe right!” I said. “Tell him you’re out with me.”
She swiped, they matched, and she told him I was with her. I followed up with a text, proud to be out on a Saturday night. Here was proof that I, too, was fun.
Growing old is compulsory. Growing old with dignity is very much optional.
We messaged back and forth; he was on his way home. When I asked if he wanted to join us back at my apartment, he said yes.
I bet he did.
Twenty minutes later Diana and I arrived, and he showed up with a bottle of vodka and cans of Diet Coke.
Some women get given flowers.
Soon he was laughing, saying, “My roommates can’t stand you. And I was always so confused why a 26-year-old was upset about our parties. I thought you were just an old soul.”
As if a 26-year old working in New York doesn’t need to get their head down at night.
Diana and I danced to “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters, a song he didn’t recognize. Before Diana left at 4 a.m., she whispered to me, “He likes you. Hook up.”
Ah, where would women be without the advice of their best friend?
I offered a hushed protest, insisting he was too young. But apparently the neighborly tension had been building, because he and I started kissing right after she left.
When we woke up, hung over, a few hours later, I begged him not to tell his roommates. My transformation from puritanical noise warden to Mrs. Robinson embarrassed me; my dulled brain screamed, “What just happened?”
But I won’t lie: It was also an ego boost. I may not have had a job, a husband or a boyfriend, but at least I could attract an adorable 23-year-old.
Doesn’t take much to boost the ego of a woman pushing forty in New York, does it? Flatter her by lying about her age, match with her mate on Tinder, then turn up at her door with a bottle of vodka. Frankly, most women who aren’t utterly hideous could attract a 23-year old, even an adorable one. What is more difficult is encouraging them to stick around afterwards.
Over the next few weeks, we texted constantly and kept getting together to talk about our dating and employment searches and to fool around. When I asked him if I seemed older, he said, “Not really. Mostly because you aren’t working and you’re around all of the time.”
Not only did she believe him, she recounted it in the New York Times.
I said: “When I graduated high school, you were 4.”
With him, my usual romantic anxiety disappeared. Instead of projecting my insecurities onto him…
By, for instance, constantly bringing up the age gap?
…and wondering if I was enough, I just had fun because I knew our age gap made a future impossible. And I was moving out soon.
Not that my mind was entirely free of concerns. I worried people would think we were ridiculous. But when I told my coupled-up girlfriends, they said I was living a fantasy.
The first paragraph is rather inconsistent with the first. Was she really having fun, or pouring out her anxiety to everyone she met?
“At least you’re having fun,” a soon-to-be-divorced friend said. “None of us are. I didn’t even want to touch my husband at the end.”
Can we hear from the husband?
Even so, the chasm between my new friend and me was no more glaring than when he said, “Dating is fun. I get to meet lots of people.”
Here’s a tip, ladies: trawling through Tinder looking for a shag is a lot more fun for a 23-year old man than a 37-year old woman.
Dating, for me, was about as fun as my job search. And that was because I approached both in almost exactly the same way: with a strategy, spreadsheets and a lot of anxiety about presenting my best self and hiding my weaknesses.
Including a 277 bullet-point list of requirements every partner must satisfy.
Our honest exchange was so refreshing. Dates my age disguised their fears with arrogance. Within an hour of meeting me, one had boasted about the amount of sex he’d had, and another, on our second date, gave me a heads-up that his large size had caused many of his relationships to end. How considerate of him to warn me!
This is a useful illustration of the dating pool which 37-year old New York women can expect to swim around in. What, there’s no Mr Big in his limousine?
With appropriate romantic prospects, I had been overly polished and protective. Just like the men, I spun stories broadcasting fake confidence.
Those with genuine confidence got their lives in order a decade previously.
But I confided in my neighbor about how hard the year had been and how worried I was about finding a job and a man to love.
Can we check with Manhattan hospitals whether a 23-year old male was admitted over the past year having gnawed off his own arm and survived a three-storey jump from a window?
With nothing at stake, I was charmingly vulnerable.
Or, more accurately, desperate.
One evening as we cuddled in my apartment, with me droning on about my man troubles and career fears, he said, “We get so fixated on the job we want or the person we’re dating because we don’t think there will be another. But there’s always another.”
Sounds as though he had one lined up already.
I thought that was so true. Even wise. But it’s easier to have that attitude, about jobs or love, at 23 than at 37.
I suspect the reason you’re in this predicament at 37 is because you blithely assumed “there will always be another” when you were in your 20s. Wise? Hardly.
Then one night I came home a little too drunk…
Such larks! Only she’s 37 and miserably single. Any idea why?
…and encountered him in the hallway. He was the one who almost always decided when we would hang out, and I complained it wasn’t fair that everything seemed to be on his terms. I was pressuring him, reverting to my worst dating default behavior, and he fled into his apartment.
I’d love to hear the conversation that transpired with his mates after this.
The next day he texted: “maybe we should chill with this. you’ve been a good friend … we complicated it a little though haha.”
This is what’s known as being dumped. By text. How’s that ego holding up?
I knew “haha” was just his millennial way of keeping it light, but here’s the thing: In our “light” relationship, I had let myself be fully known, revealing all of my imperfections, in a way I normally didn’t. With him I was my true self, and it was a revelation.
Is that how you’re gonna spin it? Okay, but recall that the woman who shagged her way around Europe ended her article by saying how much she’d learned from each one-night stand and how it taught her she didn’t need a partner to be happy. I’m about as convinced this time around.
And a conundrum. Because I can’t seem to be my true self when I’m seriously looking for love, when all I’m thinking about is the future. To win the person (or the job, for that matter), we think we have to be the most perfect version of ourselves. When our hearts are on the line, vulnerability can feel impossible.
No wonder sonny-boy scarpered and locked himself in his flat if this is what he had to listen to after each sweaty, drink-fuelled romp. I expect he’s using the fire escape for general egress these days.
I followed up this article by doing some research on the author, and her career history is illuminating:
– English Degree
– Masters in Clinical Psychology
– 5 years in HR, holding onto a position for a maximum of 2 years and 5 months
– 4 years Vice President Equities COO, including “Led projects in business strategy, communications, morale building, hiring, placement, and training”
In short, she’s an HR power-skirt who hopped from one job to another and somehow ended up as a VP in Equities leading projects in business strategy at a major bank. One can imagine what the real bankers thought of her elevation to this post.
What’s amusing, at least to me, is that the car-crash of an article coupled with her career history ticks just about every stereotype I can think of. All that’s missing is a few more years and a bunch of cats.