On a recent afternoon, seven women gathered in Manhattan over wine, cheese and cigarettes, to animatedly discuss the one thing they had in common: a man. Specifically, a Young Man of Manhattan, a man we’ll call “Tom Peri.”
Tom Peri is 38 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall, with short, curly brown hair. There is nothing remarkable about his appearance, save for a penchant, a few years ago, for dressing in black clothes from Agnes B. paired with wacky socks. He comes from a wealthy banking family and grew up on Fifth Avenue and in Bedford, N.Y. He lives in a modern high-rise on Fifth Avenue.
Over the last 15 years, Mr. Peri, who is almost always referred to by his last name only, has become somewhat of a legend in New York. He’s not exactly a womanizer, because he’s always trying to get married. Mr. Peri is, rather, one of the city’s most accomplished serial daters, engaging in up to 12 “relationships” a year. But after two days or two months, the inevitable happens: Something goes wrong and, he says, “I got dumped.”
For a certain type of woman—30-ish, ambitious, well-placed socially—dating Mr. Peri, or avoiding his attentions, has become nothing less than a rite of passage, sort of like your first limo ride and your first robbery combined.
Even among the city’s other notorious ladies’ men, Mr. Peri stands out. For one thing, he appears to be holding far fewer cards. He has neither the well-bred good looks of Count Erik Wachmeister, nor the free-flowing cash of Mort Zuckerman.
I wanted to know, What’s Mr. Peri got?
Each of the women I contacted had been involved with Mr. Peri—either intimately or as an object of his ardent affections—and each said she had dumped him. None refused my request to get together for a session of Talking About Peri. Each woman, perhaps, had something unresolved about Mr. Peri. Maybe they wanted him back. Maybe they wanted him dead. Or maybe they just wanted to talk.
‘Like Daryl Van Horne’
We met at the home of Sarah, an independent film producer, a tall blonde with high cheekbones. (The women’s names have been changed.) She wore a dark pin-stripe suit. “When you look over the list of guys you’ve dated, Peri is the one guy that doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “You think, what was that about?”
But before we could even get to the juicy bits, we made a disturbing discovery. Although none of the women had heard from Mr. Peri for months, that morning he had called four of them.
“I don’t think he knows anything. I think it was just coincidence,” said Magda. A novelist with a dark pixie haircut, Magda has been friends with Mr. Peri for years—in fact most of her girlfriends are former dates of Mr. Peri’s, whom she met through him.
“He knows everything about us,” one woman said. “He’s like Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick.”
“Van Horney is more like it,” said another. We opened the wine.
“The thing with Peri is this,” said Sarah. “The reason he’s so charming is when you first meet him, he is articulate, he is funny—and, he’s available at all times, because he doesn’t work. What’s more fun than a guy who says ‘Meet me for lunch,’ then you go back to work, then he says ‘Meet me for cocktails at 6?’”
“‘Cocktails’ is such a loaded word,” said Magda. “It’s like… Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.”
Jackie, a television producer, said, “When I met him, we started seeing each other instantly—five nights a week.”
“He’s smart, because the thing that he does is, he loves the phone,” said Sarah. “Which to a woman, you think, ‘He must really be into me,’ because he calls you 10 times a day. And then you start to disregard the fact that he’s like a funny-looking little thing.”
“Then you start to look at his socks, and you think, ‘My God,’” said Chloe, an artist who is half-French.
“Then you begin to realize he’s not funny,” said Sarah. “He has a good stack of jokes, but once you’ve heard them a million times, it’s like a loop. He’s looping himself.”
Everyone jumped in.
“And then you see his apartment. Those 25 doormen—what’s that about?”
“You wonder why he doesn’t just throw out all his furniture and go to the Door Store instead.”
“Once he showed me these napkin holders he had gotten. They were in the shape of handcuffs. Like this was how he was going to seduce a girl, with napkin holders.”
First Date: Bilboquet
So how does it all start?
Jackie’s story was typical. “I was waiting for a table at Blue Ribbon,” she said. “He walked up to me and started talking. He was instantly funny. I thought, ‘Oh my god, we’re really clicking. But I’ll probably never hear from him again.’” Everyone nodded. After all, hadn’t we all been there before?
“He called at something like 8 the next morning,” Jackie said. “‘Want to go out to lunch?’ he asked. He asks you to lunch at Bilboquet the next day.”
“Then while you think he’s still funny and clever, he asks you to go away with him for the weekend,” said Jackie.
“He asked me to marry him on something like the 10th day,” said Sarah. “That was pretty quick, even for him.”
“He took me to dinner at his parents’ house on like the third date,” said Ramona, a tall, rangy brunette who works as a fashion stylist. “It was just me and his parents and the butler. The next day, I remember I was sitting on his bed, and he was showing me home movies of him as a kid. He was begging me to marry him. He was saying, ‘See, I can be a serious guy.’ And then he ordered some cheesy Chinese food. I thought, “Marry you? What, are you smoking something?”
Ramona sighed. “On the other hand, I had just broken up with someone and I was pretty upset. He was always there.”
A pattern emerged. “He’s rebound man,” Sarah said, definitively. “It’s like, ‘Excuse me, are you broken? Let’s get intimate.’”
“He’s the emotional Mayflower,” said Chloe. “He gets women from point A to point B. You arrive at Plymouth Rock feeling enormously better.”
His ability to empathize was a strong point. The phrase, “He’s just like a girl,” came up over and over again. “He reads more fashion magazines than most women,” said Sapphire, “and he’s much more willing to fight your battles than he is his own.”
“He’s extremely confident,” Chloe continued. “I think it’s a mistake when men present themselves as helpless idiots who can’t even find their socks. Peri says, ‘I’m totally secure. Lean on me.’ And you think, ‘What a relief!’ Really, it’s all that women want. Most men don’t understand that. At least Peri is clever enough to affect that.”
And then there’s the sex. “He’s awesome in bed,” said Sarah.
“He’s unbelievably great at making out,” said Sapphire.
“You thought he was awesome?” Jackie asked. “I thought he was awful. Can we please talk about his hair?”
Nevertheless, so far, Mr. Peri seemed to be the embodiment of the two things women always say they want most—a guy who can talk and be understanding like a woman but who also knows how to be a man in the sack. So what went wrong?
Mr. Peri: Size (8) Matters
“It’s like this,” said Chloe. “As long as you’re neurotic and crazy, he’s great. But once he solves all your problems, he becomes the problem.”
“He gets incredibly mean,” said one woman. The other nodded.
“Once,” said Jackie, “when I said I was a size 8, Peri said, ‘There’s no way you’re a size 8. You’re a size 10, at least. I know what a size 8 looks like and, believe me, you’re no size 8.’”
“He was always telling me to lose 15 pounds,” said Sarah.
“I think when men tell women to lose weight, it’s a diversion from their own lack of size in certain areas,” one of the women added dryly.
Chloe remembered a ski trip to Sun Valley. “Peri did everything right. He bought the tickets, he booked the condo. It was going to be great.” But they started fighting in the limo to the airport—they both wanted to sit on the same side. They fought on the slopes. On the second day, Chloe began packing her bags. “He said, ‘Ha ha ha, I’m going to take a bus.’”
A month later, Chloe went back to her husband. Many of the women ended up dumping Mr. Peri, only to go back to the men they had broken up with.
But that didn’t mean that Mr. Peri went away. “There were faxes, letters and hundreds of phone calls,” said Sapphire. “It was sort of awful.”
“I kept all his letters,” Sarah said. “They were so touching. You could practically see the streaks of his tears on the pages.” She left the room and returned seconds later holding a letter. She read aloud: “‘You don’t owe me your love, but I hope you’ll have the courage to step forward and embrace mine… I don’t send you flowers because I don’t want to share or demean your love with objects not of my creation.’”
‘We’re Getting Married’
Post-Peri, the women claimed they had uniformly done well. Jackie said she was dating her personal trainer, Magda published her first novel; Ramona was married and pregnant; Chloe was with a gallery; Sapphire rediscovered an old love; Sarah was seeing a 27-year-old “boy-toy.”
As for Mr. Peri, he recently moved abroad. One of the women heard he got dumped by an English woman who had really wanted to marry a duke. “He always dates the wrong women,” Sapphire said.
Six months ago, Mr. Peri came back for a visit and took Sarah out to dinner. “He took my hand in his,” she said, “and he was saying to his friend, ‘She’s the only woman I ever loved.’ For old time’s sake, I went back to his apartment for a drink, and he asked me to marry him so seriously, I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was lying. So I decided to torture him.
“He told me, ‘I don’t want you to see any other men, and I won’t see any other women.’
“I said, ‘O.K., Peri, that’s cool.’”
He went back to Europe, and, Sarah said, she forgot about the whole thing. One morning, she was in bed with her new boyfriend and the phone rang. It was Mr. Peri. While Sarah was talking to him, her boyfriend said, “Do you want some coffee?” Mr. Peri went nuts.
“Who’s there?” he said.
“A friend,” Sarah said.
“At 10 in the morning? You’re sleeping with another guy? We’re getting married and you’re sleeping with another guy?” He hung up, but a week later he called back.
“We’re getting married, aren’t we? You’re not still seeing someone, are you?”
“Listen, Peri, I don’t see a ring on my finger,” Sarah said. “Why don’t you send a messenger over to Harry Winston’s to pick something up, and then we’ll talk.”
Mr. Peri never called Harry Winston’s, and he didn’t call Sarah again for months. She said she sort of missed him. “I adore him,” she said. “I feel compassion for him because he’s totally fucked up.”
It was getting dark outside, but nobody wanted to leave. They all wanted to stay transfixed by a dream of a man like Tom Peri but not Tom Peri.
This article was originally published in a 1997 edition of The New York Observer.
Candace Bushnell began Sex and the City as a column in The New York Observer in 1994; it subsequently became a book and a series on HBO.