Here’s a Valentine’s Day tale. Prepare yourself.
An English journalist came to New York. She was attractive and witty, and right away she hooked up with one of New York’s typically eligible bachelors. Tim was 42, an investment banker who made about $5 million a year. For two weeks, they kissed, held hands—and then on a warm fall day he drove her to the house he was building in the Hamptons. They looked at the plans with the architect. “I wanted to tell the architect to fill in the railings on the second floor, so the children wouldn’t fall through,” said the journalist. “I expected Tim was going to ask me to marry him.” On Sunday night, Tim dropped her off at her apartment and reminded her that they had dinner plans for Tuesday. On Tuesday, he called and said he’d have to take a rain check. When she still hadn’t heard from him after two weeks, she called and told him, “That’s an awfully long rain check.” He said he would call her later in the week.
HE NEVER DID CALL, OF COURSE. But what interested me was that she couldn’t understand what had happened. In England, she explained, meeting the architect meant something. Then I realized, Of course: She’s from London. No one’s told her about the End of Love in Manhattan. Then I thought: She’ll learn.
Welcome to the Age of Un-Innocence. The glittering lights of Manhattan that served as backdrops for Edith Wharton’s bodice-heaving trysts are still glowing—but the stage is empty. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember—instead, we have breakfast at 7 A.M. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. How did we get into this mess?
Truman Capote understood our 90’s dilemma—the dilemma of Love vs. the Deal—all too well. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s Holly Golightly and Paul Varjak were faced with restrictions—he was a kept man, she was a kept woman—but in the end they surmounted them and chose love over money. That doesn’t happen much in Manhattan these days. We are all kept men and women—by our jobs, by our apartment, and then some of us by the pecking order at the Waverly Inn and the Four Seasons, by Hamptons beach front, by front-row Garden tickets—and we like it that way. Self-protection and closing the deal are paramount. Cupid has flown the co-op.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “I love you!” without tagging on the inevitable (if unspoken) “…as a friend.” When was the last time you saw a couple gazing into each other’s eyes, without thinking, “Yeah, right”? When was the last time you heard someone announce, “I am truly, madly in love,” without thinking, “Just wait until Monday morning”? And what turned out to be the hot non-Tim Allen Christmas movie? Disclosure—for which 10 million or 15 million moviegoers went to see unwanted, unaffectionate sex between corporate erotomaniacs—hardly the stuff we like to think about when we think about love, but very much the stuff of the modern Manhattan relationship.
There’s still plenty of sex to be had in Manhattan, but the kind of sex that results in friendship and business deals, not romance. These days, everyone has friends and colleagues; no one really has lovers—even if they have slept together.
Back to the English journalist: After six months, some more “relationships” and a brief affair with a man who used to call her from out of town to tell her that he’d be calling her when he got back into town (and never did), she got smart. “Relationships in New York are about detachment,” she said. “But how do you get attached when you decide you want to?”
Honey, you leave town.