[Ed. note: This column was originally published on April 24, 1995.]
A 40-ish movie producer I’ll call “Samantha Jones” walked into Bowery Bar and, as usual, we all looked up to see whom she was with. Samantha was always with at least four men, and the game was to pick out which one was her lover. Of course, it wasn’t really much of a game, because the boyfriend was too easy to spot. Invariably, he was the youngest, and good-looking in the B-Hollywood actor kind of way—and he would sit there with a joyously stupid expression on his face (if he had just met Sam) or a bored stupid look on his face (if he had been out with her a few times). Because at that point it would be beginning to dawn on him that no one at the table was going to talk to him. Why should they, when he was going to be history in two weeks?
We all admired Sam. First of all, it’s not that easy to get 25-year-old guys when you’re in your early 40’s. Second, Sam is a New York inspiration. Because if you’re a successful single woman in this city, you have two choices: You can beat your head against the wall trying to find a relationship, or you can say “screw it” and just go out and have sex like a man. Thus: Sam.
This is a real question for women in New York these days. For the first time in Manhattan history, many women in their 30’s to early 40’s have as much money and power as men—or at least enough to feel like they don’t need a man, except for sex. While this paradox is the topic of many an analytic hour, recently my friend Carrie, a journalist in her mid-30’s, decided, as a group of us were having tea at the Mayfair hotel, to try it out in the real world. To give up on love, as it were, and throttle up on power, in order to find contentment. And, as we’ll see, it worked. Sort of.
Testosterone Women, Foolish Men
“I think I’m turning into a man,” said Carrie. She lit up her 20th cigarette of the day, and when the maître d’hôtel ran over and told her to put it out, she said, “Why, I wouldn’t dream of offending anyone.” Then she put the cigarette out on the carpet.
“You remember when I slept with that guy Drew?” she asked. We all nodded. We were all relieved when she had, because she hadn’t had sex for months before that. “Well, afterwards, I didn’t feel a thing. I was like, gotta go to work, babe. Keep in touch. I completely forgot about him after that.”
“Well, why the hell should you feel anything?” Sara asked. “Men don’t. I don’t feel anything after I have sex. Oh sure, I’d like to, but what’s the point?”
We all sat back smugly, sipping tea, like we were members of some special club. We were hard and proud of it, and it hadn’t been easy to get to this point—this place of complete independence where we had the luxury of treating men like sex objects. It had taken hard work, loneliness and the realization that, since there might never be anyone there for you, you had to take care of yourself in every sense of the word.
“I think it’s hormones,” said Carrie. “The other day, I was in the salon getting a deep conditioning treatment because they’re always telling me my hair is going to break off. And I read in Cosmo about male testosterone in women—this study found that women who have high levels of testosterone are more aggressive, successful, have more sex partners and are less likely to get married. There was something incredibly comforting about this information—it made you feel like you weren’t a freak.”
“The trick is getting the men to cooperate,” said Sallie Ann.
“Men in this city fail on both counts,” said Sarah. “They don’t want to have a relationship, but as soon as you only want them for sex, they don’t like it. They can’t just perform the way they’re supposed to.”
“The problem is that sex doesn’t stay done,” said Sallie Ann. Her most recent conquest was a poet who was terrific in bed, but who, she said, “kept wanting me to go to dinner with him and go through all the chat bit.” He’d recently stopped calling: “He wanted to read me his poetry, and I wouldn’t let him.”
I asked if there was realistically any way to pull off this whole “women having sex like men” thing.
“You’ve got to be a real bitch,” said Sallie Ann. “Either that, or you’ve got to be incredibly sweet and nice. We fall through the cracks. It confuses men.”
“It’s too late for sweet,” Carrie said.
“Then I guess you’re just going to have to become a bitch,” Sarah said. “But there’s one thing you forgot.”
“Falling in love.”
“I don’t think so,” Carrie said. She leaned back in her chair. She was wearing jeans and an old Yves St. Laurent jacket. She sat like a man, legs apart. “I’m going to do it—I’m going to become a real bitch.”
We looked her and laughed.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“You’re already a bitch.”
Meeting Mr. Big
As part of her research, Carrie went to see The Last Seduction at 3 in the afternoon. She had heard that the movie portrayed a woman who, in pursuit of money and hot sex and absolute control, uses and abuses every man she meets—and never has a regret or one of those expected “Oh my God, what have I done?” epiphanies.
Carrie never goes to movies—she had a WASPy mother who told her that only poor people with sick kids send their kids to the movie theater—so it was a big deal for her. She got to the theater late, and when the ticket taker told her the movie had already started, she said, “Fuck you. I’m here for research—you don’t think I’d actually go see this movie, do you?”
When she came out, she kept thinking about the scene where Linda Fiorentino picks up the man in the bar and has sex with him in the parking lot, gripping a chain-link fence.
Carrie bought two pairs of strappy sandals (there is sexual power in women’s shoes) and got her hair cut off.
On a Sunday evening, Carrie went to a cocktail party thrown by the designer Joop. Even though Carrie had to work the next day, she knew she’d go home too late. She doesn’t like to go home at night and doesn’t like to go to sleep.
Mr. Joop cleverly ran out of champagne halfway through the party, and people were banging on the kitchen door and begging the waiters for a glass of wine. A man walked by with a cigar in his mouth, and one of the men Carrie was talking to said, “Oooooh. Who is that? He looks like a younger, better-looking Ron Perelman.”
“I know who it is,” Carrie said.
“I knew that. I always get Mr. Big and Perelman mixed up.”
Carrie had seen Mr. Big once before, but she didn’t think he’d remember her. She was in this office where she works sometimes and Inside Edition was interviewing her about something she wrote about Chihuahuas. Mr. Big came in and started talking to the cameraman about how all Chihuahuas were in Paris.
At the party, Mr. Big was sitting on the radiator in the living room. “Hi,” Carrie said. “Remember me?” She could tell by his eyes that he had no idea who she was, and she wondered if he was going to panic.
He twirled the cigar around the inside of his lips and took it out of his mouth. A high-testosterone male. He looked away to flick his ash, then looked back and said, “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
Another Mr. Big (at Elaine’s)
Carrie didn’t run into Mr. Big again for several days. In the meantime, something was definitely happening. She bumped into a writer friend she hadn’t seen for two months and he said, “You look like Heather Locklear.”
“Yeah? Is that a problem?”
Then she was at Elaine’s and a big writer, a big one, someone she’d never met, gave her the finger, and then sat down next to her and said, “You’re not as tough as you think you are.”
“You walk around like you’re so fucking great in bed.”
She wanted to say, “I do?”—but instead she laughed, made a Fiorentino-esque face and said, “Well, maybe I am.”
Then she went to a party after one of those Peggy Siegal movie openings and met a big movie producer who impulsively gave her a ride in his car to Bowery Bar. Mr. Big was there.
Mr. Big slid into the banquette next her. Their sides were touching.
Mr. Big said, “So. What have you been doing lately? What do you do for work?”
“This is my work,” Carrie said. “I’m researching a story for a friend of mine about women who have sex like men. You know, that they have sex and afterwards they feel nothing.”
Mr. Big eyed her. “But you’re not like that,” he said.
“Aren’t you?” she asked.
“Not a drop. Not even half a drop,” he said.
Carrie looked at Mr. Big. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh, I get it,” said Mr. Big. “You’ve never been in love.”
“And you have?”