White-Girl Blues

Are you a 30-year-old white professional workaholic woman living in New York City? Are you aware you’re having a midlife crisis?

That’s the contention of Lia Macko and Kerry Rubin, both 32-year-old television news journalists (the latter is on staff at CNN; the former is a media consultant who’s worked for Watch It! with Laura Ingraham and Topic [A] with Tina Brown) and now the authors of Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation-and What to Do About It , published by Rodale.

“We were looking for context for our own lives,” Ms. Rubin explained the other day at Nice Matin, between bites of granola and sips of chamomile tea (she had a cold). Ms. Macko, wearing tight leather pants made demure by a bulky turtleneck sweater, was waiting impatiently for the first of many morning Diet Cokes. “I’m surprised I’m functioning,” she said.

In the middle of breakfast, a rat dashed across the restaurant floor. Grown men in suits scurried outside like scared little girls; a French waiter yelped ” Sacré bleu! “; but the two ladies remained composed.

Like so many other self-examinations, this one began soon after Sept. 11, 2001, when the two were working together on American Morning with Paula Zahn . Ms. Rubin had gotten hitched four days after the attack to Adam Leitner, a gold-options trader. There she was: 30, happily married and working in the epicenter of the most important news story of her lifetime. She was dissatisfied. She and her husband wanted children, and she worried about how she would juggle it all.

“She’d come into my office,” said Ms. Macko, who wasn’t happy 100 percent of the time either, “and we’d talk about what was going on in our lives.”

They decided they were both having midlife crises.

“We knew it was bigger than us, though,” said Ms. Rubin, who once had a gig conducting demographic research for the Vanity Fair writer at large Marie Brenner.

One day, as she was collecting data for an essay in Newsweek about Ms. Brenner’s anthology, Great Dames: What I Learned from Older Women , she remarked, almost offhandedly: “So many of my friends are having a midlife crisis at 30.”

“A light bulb went off,” said Ms. Brenner in a phone interview. “I said, ‘Kerry, you just said it-you put your finger on the Zeitgeist !'”

And so the young duo decided to address the lack of balance in their lives by researching, writing and promoting a book in their free time.

In section one, they draw from interviews with over 100 college-educated women ages 25 to 37, all one-dimensional lives. Such as “Ellen,” a 31-year-old reality-TV producer in Hollywood who admitted to having it good-“I can jump the line at Sky Bar any night of the week, and I’ve had more than a few power lunches at the Ivy”-but is concerned about finding herself burnt out and overly Botoxed by 40.

In section two, we meet a “New Girls’ Club” of boldface fiftysomething “gets,” including Mary Matalin and Chaka Khan: ladies who have successfully hurdled their crises. “The booking for the second part of the book was a major time drain,” said Ms. Macko. “We totally underestimated it a lot. Honestly, we had no summer.”

They’ve also massaged together some chick circle-jerk “sociology” from sources like Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s Why There Are No Good Men Left , Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children and Lisa Belkin’s Oct. 26, 2003 New York Times Magazine cover story, “The Opt-Out Revolution: Why Women Don’t Rule.”

Now that these journalists have found dissatisfaction among other journalists-angst that can be explained by more journalists-they need to “start the dialogue,” Ms. Rubin said. That means going on TV.

So far, they’ve been invited to chat on NBC’s Weekend Today , CNN’s American Morning -for which Ms. Rubin currently serves as a segment producer-and Paula Zahn Now . (Lookee here: Ms. Zahn is a member of the New Girls’ Club! Ditto Marie Brenner.) You can also catch the dynamic duo on MSNBC, one of Ms. Macko’s former employers. They’ll get a booking, said Erik Sorenson, the president of the channel until last month, “because this is an interesting topic.” How does he know? “I read the cover.”

Rodale’s promotional material calls this “the most important book to emerge on women’s issues since Susan Faludi’s Backlash .” Ms. Faludi didn’t appear terribly honored by the comparison. She hasn’t read Midlife Crisis , but seemed weary of the genre. “There is something so narcissistic about all these articles and books,” she said on the phone. “If anyone has a beef, it’s the woman who washes the floor of the CNN producer!”

Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who doesn’t often line up politically with Ms. Faludi, agreed. “To be a woman in your 30’s in the United States is to be blessed,” she said.

Ms. Macko acknowledged that the problems of educated, privileged women are perhaps not the worst kind of problems to have. “We recognize that this is the best possible time for women,” she said.

But Ms. Rubin didn’t seem so sure. “When a glass ceiling shatters, there are a lot of little pieces of glass on the floor,” she said. “The thing is that they’re not that easy to see, but if you step on them, they’re still going to cut your foot.”

-Katherine Rosman

Shredding Your Ex

Misery loves company, and the miserable can now get it-along with a stiff drink-every Tuesday night at the club Coda, which celebrated its first weekly meeting of the Breakup Club on March 9. For $20 at the door, the newly broken-hearted, or anyone wanting to prey on the vulnerable, can come sing “First Cut Is the Deepest” or “Layla” with a live band (“The Broken Hearts Club Band”) or tell their tale of woe to understanding ears. For a final twist, they can write their ex’s name on a piece of paper and then feed it to an onstage paper shredder. “I call that ‘the cutting edge of closure,'” said Buddy Winston, a former Tonight Show staff writer who founded the club after expertly ducking out of a dozen or so failed relationships in recent decades.

“I’m the breakup-meister! Mr. Breakup! Sir Breakup!'” said Mr. Winston, 49. “This is the most over-litigated, over-therapized town in the world. Divorce lawyers here are celebrities. What I’m trying to do is to create a place where people can meet other people like them. When you’re going through a breakup, you’re looking for that one person who will save your life, and you try to talk to your friends and family, but most people don’t know what to do for you. What you really need is to get your feet back on the ground and meet people who are going through the same thing.”

Wiry and graying and wearing a dead red rose in his jacket pocket, Mr. Winston, acting as M.C., began the evening by inviting people up to the shredder onstage. The crowd that first night had seen its share of breakups; these weren’t the goateed guys and Seven-jeans-clad gals who hopscotch their way through Nerve personals. Instead, the room was filled with about three dozen middle-aged types, grizzled veterans of New York dating wars, including a few couples who seemed to be excessively fawning over each other.

“Yeah, they’re all sexy here, but I bet they get home and are frigid,” hissed an almond-eyed 58-year-old woman over her merlot.

Onstage, Mr. Winston snagged a piece of paper from a frizzy-haired lady and read aloud: “Andrew, Tom, Brian, Gabriel …. What, did you date the whole Bible?” Next up was Harris, a swarthy 45-year-old actor who was shredding “Daniella,” a woman who dumped him after six years when he wouldn’t marry her. A relationship coach named Heide Banks was seated on a stool on the stage; she asked Harris to sit down with her to discuss the trauma of it all. He crossed his legs and hugged his knee to his chest. “Typical breakup posture,” said Ms. Banks, dark hair over one eye à la Veronica Lake. Ms. Andrew-Tom-Brian-Gabriel took the seat next to him and said she’d had five breakups in 12 years. Harris said he’d had one in six years.

“You win!” Ms. Banks told her. Ms. Andrew-Tom-Brian-Gabriel shook her head. “Not if you calculate the mean relationship.”

Two women then went up, and each shredded the word “Asshole.” A twice-divorced woman named Rhea-Linda got up and sang Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” while jiggling a gold sequin fanny pack (“I teach belly-dancing” she explained). Mr. Winston handed her a bag of “aphrodisiac coffee.”

A burly man named Jim mumbled something about a “Rhonda” and asked the band if they could do Sinatra. He sang “Summer Wind,” and a few people lifted their table candles and swayed them to the beat.

Harris, meanwhile, took his seat and nodded to Ms. Banks. “She’s kind of cute, no?” he said softly. “But I usually like a younger crowd.”

Next, a feng-shui expert took the stage and explained that a room prepped for good relationships should contain two of everything.

“Does that mean that both people should go down?” said Mr. Winston. “And what about … in … a … hotel !” The band rolled into Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The evening didn’t seem to be soothing any hurting hearts-everyone still seemed caught between the moon and New York City. Ms. Banks repeated some of the grim personal ads she’d seen lately (“If you love children, you’ll love me,” was her favorite), and then Denise Winston, a blond matchmaker often seen in the back of places like New York magazine (and no relation to Mr. Winston), stood up and talked about some of the strange pairings she’d witnessed of late. “I told one guy all about this great woman, and when I was done he said, ‘But will she spank me?'”

“What’s wrong with spanking?” someone yelled.

(Mr. Winston later said he didn’t think any spanking dates were made that evening. “I’m not encouraging getting over someone by getting under them, although it is a singles’ night,” he said. “But it’s more about friendship. When you break up with someone, suddenly your best friend is gone when you need them most. The breakup club can be your new best friend.”)

The evening ended with Marilyn, a skeletal, 50-ish redhead (“It’s natural!” she yelled) who had her a miniskirt hiked up near her chest, asking Ms. Banks if she could sing her sad song about how men were always making excuses to not speak to her at bars.

“One man? He told me he had to go find his car. And another told me had to go pee! Pee! Can you believe that?” Marilyn screeched.

Then someone asked the band to play “I Will Survive,” but no one wanted to take the mike. No one knew the words.

-Anna Jane Grossman

White-Girl Blues