Manhattan Wedlock! Never-Married Women, Toxic Bachelors

Originally published on December 26, 1994.

Lunch the other day. Vicious gossip with a man I’d just met. We were discussing mutual friends, a couple. He knew the husband, I knew the wife. I’d never met the husband and I hadn’t seen the wife in years (except to run into her occasionally on the street), but as usual, I knew everything about the situation.

“It’s going to end badly,” I said. “He was naïve. A stool pigeon. He came in from Boston and he didn’t know anything about her and she jumped at the opportunity. She’d already gone through a reputation. No guy in New York would have married her.”

I attacked my fried chicken, warming up to the subject. “Women in New York know. They know when they have to get married, and that’s when they do it. Maybe they’ve slept with too many guys or they know nothing’s ever going to really happen with their career, or maybe they really do want kids. Until then, they put it off for as long as they can. Then they have that moment, and if they don’t take it…” I shrugged. “That’s it. Chances are, they’ll never get married.”

The other guy at the table, a corporate, doting dad type who lives in Westchester, was looking at us in horror. “But what about love?” he asked.

I looked at him pityingly. “I don’t think so.”

When it comes to finding a marriage partner, New York has its own particularly cruel mating rituals, as complicated and sophisticated as an Edith Wharton novel. Everyone knows the rules—but no one wants to talk about them. The result is that New York has bred a particular type of single woman—smart, attractive, successful and… never-married. She is in her late 30’s or early 40’s, and, if empirical knowledge is good for anything, she will probably never get married.

This is not about statistics. Or exceptions. We all know about the successful playwright who married the beautiful fashion designer a couple of years older than he is. But when you’re beautiful and successful and rich and “know everyone,” the normal rules don’t apply.

What if, on the other hand, you’re 40 and pretty and you’re a television producer or have your own P.R. company, but you still live in a studio and sleep on a fold-out couch—the 90’s equivalent of Mary Tyler Moore? Except, unlike Mary Tyler Moore, you’ve actually gone to bed with all those guys instead of demurely kicking them out at 12:02 A.M.? What happens to those women?

There are thousands, maybe tens of thousands of women like this in the city. We all know lots of them, and we all agree they’re great. They travel, they pay taxes, they’ll spend $400 on a pair of Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals.

“There is nothing wrong with these women,” said Jerry, 39, an entertainment lawyer who happened to marry one of these smart women, three years older than he is. “They’re not crazy or neurotic. They’re not Fatal Attraction.” Jerry paused. “Why do I know so many great women who aren’t married, and no great guys? Let’s face it, the unmarried guys in New York suck.”

Manhattan Wedlock! Never-Married Women, Toxic Bachelors