A few weeks ago my father said, “I’ve got a terrific idea for your next article.”
“Great,” I replied, anxious to hear what he had in mind. “Let’s hear it.”
“I think you should write about when you go to a bar and meet a man and then go to bed with him. Write about that.”
Could he possibly be talking to me? A woman whose sex life was tame by Mouseketeer standards?
“But Dad, I’ve never done that. Not even close.”
“Are you sure? I could swear you told me you did. You sure you didn’t go to a bar and then-?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I think I’d remember that.”
“What about that guy a few years ago from Minnesota?” he said. “Didn’t you meet him at a bar?”
“No, Dad, I met him at college and I knew him for five months before we even kissed.”
“Oh then,” he shrugged. “I guess I was wrong.”
Now God knows I’m not passing judgment on women who leave Twilo with swarthy investment bankers named Gustavo who say things like, “The night, she is so beautiful.” In fact, I admire their ability to seize the moment. However, the conversation with my father-in addition to being, well, a little horrifying-reflected a trend I’ve noticed for a while: the growing perception that Manhattan women over 30 are giving Caligula a run for his money, flopping onto strange sheets with ravenous abandon. I’ve found the opposite to be true.
In fact, many of us who in their college years thought nothing of going to a boy’s room to “listen to the new Tom Waits album” now debate whether to even kiss on the first date.
I recently had dinner with three women where, over knotty pad Thai, we discussed the complexities of sex for the optimistically relationship-minded female.
“I’ll make out on the street forever,” one woman said firmly, a perky brunette who averages four dates a week. “But I never invite them up. I did once, but I don’t anymore.”
“My mother always calls to tell me not to kiss on the first date,” said a vegetarian video editor. “She never called me in my 20’s, but now she calls all the time.”
“I used to be much more relaxed about sex,” a lawyer sighed, her weary blue eyes half shut in frustration. “Not anymore.” Her voice drifted off. “Pass the curry?”
So why are so many women who’ve done their share of sleeping around returning to the dry hump? The answer is … there are many theories. “My number now will be the number of men I’ve slept with for life,” my friend from the gym whispered. She is a tall, delicate woman with a Midwestern accent, who blushed as she spoke. “I don’t want to increase my number for just anyone,” she said. “If I’m going to raise it, a guy had better be worth it.”
Some say that postponing sex extends the woo phase. “Once you get to sex, often the courtship ends,” said a smiley actress-waitress. For women in their 30’s-many of whom have cried into their Smart Puff bags over men they thought were “the one”; who have confronted gravity and emerging gray hairs that make them feel as if they’re turning into Indira Ghandi, and spent weekends with couples who say things like “I just wish you could be as happy as we are”-the woo has become more precious than ever.
Others cite good old-fashioned fear as the reason to take it slow. A chilly détente has emerged between men and women in Manhattan. Women doing covert reconnaissance missions to find out if a man has intimacy issues-and, if so, could he ever commit? Men fearing that women will ultimately attack, overthrowing their autonomy and ensnaring them in a trap of chintz upholstery swatches and Dalton pre-school applications. Given the complexities of many relationships these days, people seem to be waiting longer to dive in. “It’s not that I’m more prudish now,” a woman who counsels at-risk teens said. “I’m just more prudent.”
Even former wild girls are changing their minds. “I just think casual sex is really depressing,” a friend, a Pilates instructor who is debating whether to buy an apartment, said. “And it takes you a while-like, all of your 20’s-to realize, ‘Oh wow, casual sex is really depressing.'”
In my case, I walk around thinking, “I have so little emotional baggage. I’m strong and independent and completely over my last breakup, and I could just stow all my baggage in the overhead compartment for the duration of the flight.” But the moment I start to get even a little serious with someone, the steamer trunks arrive with the giant boxes covered in electrical tape and the duffel that’s half unzipped, and soon the airline is telling me I should have it shipped. The hope is that waiting a little longer to have sex is like having your baggage shipped instead of flown. It slows things down. Optimist that I am, I always hope that the more comfortable I become, the sooner some of my baggage will be lost in transit.
Not surprisingly, recently I’ve found myself missing the days when it was all so simple.
“Remember ‘the bases’?” I asked one of my best friends, referring to the sexual road map many of us followed so dutifully in junior high.
For those who don’t know, in my day “the bases” were as follows: “First base” was kissing; “second base” was anything above the belt; “third base” was anything below; and finally, a “home run” was what my 14-year-old friends called “doing it.”
“It was fun having a lingo,” I said.
“Yeah, but at this age a home run can mean you’re out of the game.”
“Plus, now the bases aren’t enough. You have to extend it to left field for your Marv Alberts.”
“And everyone has a base coach,” my friend added. “I mean, so many women are terrified that one misstep will ruin everything. They consult every step of the way.”
The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that women over 30 need their own system of bases. We shouldn’t be running around a dusty field in our pencil-heeled stilettos and age-defying foundation. Perhaps instead of kissing being “first base,” it could be a trip to Paris, as in: “Last night after we ate cold pizza, we went to Paris.” Or “Amsterdam” if things got really wild. The new “third” could be Tribeca. I’ll leave out any mention of the meatpacking district.
Perhaps a fun new jargon for the single set would take our minds off what many women confide: They want to get married and, while they’re not using sex as a bargaining chip, they fear making irreversible mistakes.
“Do you think if you didn’t care about getting married, you’d worry about when to have sex?” I asked my friend, the teen counselor.
“Probably not,” she said after a long pause. “But we don’t live in fantasy land.”