Manhattan dating: a game men always win

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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEKEND was Labor Day weekend and I spent the holiday with a friend on Fire Island, a short ferry ride north of Long Island. For two days, I didn't wear shoes. I rode a bike for the first time in ten years. On Saturday night there was a big cook-out on the beach. Everyone in the neighbourhood came and sat on blankets and ate hot dogs and hamburgers and watermelon. As the sun went down, one fearsome woman with a sun visor and a megaphone organised potato sack races for the kids, with bumper packs of Reese's Pieces and M & Ms as prizes. Middle-class Americans have been complaining for some years about the decline in their living standards, but Lord knows, their quality of life still looks pretty enviable to a Brit. What typically British Bank Holiday scene can we offer the visiting American? Grim nuclear family groups eating scotch eggs in lay-bys on the M24?

The only downside to the Labor Day weekend was the intimidating preponderance of handsome twentysomething females. Looking at these women, with their rock-hard thighs and their bouncy little pony-tails, it was hard to believe I was of the same species, let alone the same sex. They were all incredibly enthusiastic and sportif. By day, they bounced around with tennis racquets, shouting 'Owl raght]' 'Wassup?' 'Waydago]' and 'Good job]' at their male companions. Come evening, they'd scurry into their bedrooms to apply make-up and blow-dry their hair before emerging all slinky and whouffed, to cook dinner. While the great lunks lounged on sofas, swigging beers and watching sports on TV, these perfectly cosmeticised cuties ran around chopping vegetables. Everyone knows it's a man's world, but in New York it's a man's Utopia.

I first realised this several months ago, when I went on a blind date with a doctor. The man wasn't just not my cup of tea, he was absolutely loathsome - smug and unctuous and given to vile sexual innuendo. He kept barking questions at me - did I like to ski? Was I a good cook? Did I work out regularly? - as if he were interviewing me for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of getting into his pants. Excuse me, I wanted to say, what makes you think you're such a prize, you complacent creep? Whatever happened to trying to win a woman over?

The answers to these questions were quite simple, I've now learnt. In Manhattan, heterosexual single women outnumber heterosexual single men. I have seen no official statistics on the subject, but all the unofficial evidence suggests that the surfeit is substantial. My doctor was really only responding to the laws of supply and demand as they pertain to the New York dating market. These dictate that women count themselves super-lucky if they bag anybody male and straight with functioning genitals, while men wander about at their lordly leisure, taking their pick of the pulchritudinous crop.

My English friend Nathan, whom I met years ago at Columbia grad school, recently got his doctorate and started work as a management consultant. He is perfectly pleasant-looking and very clever. He is an observant Jew (he keeps kosher and goes to Temple on Sabbath). He is in his early thirties, and with his new job, he is, relatively speaking, rich. Back in Golders Green, these credentials would certainly render him a good catch. But in the New York context, they are a passport to limitless sexual conquest. Every week he receives at least three phone- calls from people on the Manhattan Jewish network, asking him whether he is available to be fixed up with Cindy or Lindy or Mindy. In addition, Jewish women are constantly propositioning him, off their own bat: bankers with Cyd Charisse legs, lawyers with massive inheritances and faces like angels. Nathan is thrilled and mystified. Sometimes, over dinner, he will blink at me, from behind his slightly dweeby, aviator spectacles, and begin to giggle. 'This,' he says, 'is how it must feel to be a beautiful woman.'

The hard facts of the dating market affect relations not only between men and women but between women and women also. A certain snarling female competitiveness, I have noticed, creeps into all but the most firmly sororal New York gatherings. The other night, I was out at a bar with a male friend. On returning from a visit to the bathroom, I found him encircled by wet-mouthed, glinty- eyed females, casting me hostile glances. I figured the only dignified way to respond was to affect haughty indifference - so I just sat there with this foolish smirk, watching while one woman practically climbed into his lap. He did eventually repel her advances, but not quite as rapidly or vociferously as I would have liked. And although he pretended to be merely amused by these attentions, his head had of course been turned.

I went out an hour or so later to buy some cigarettes, and came back fully expecting to find him with another strange female wrapped around his ribs. Instead, he was in the process of being ejected from the bar. He had become so giddy with the idea of his own lovableness - so convinced of his liberty to do as he pleased with impunity - that he had taken out drugs and started consuming them publicly at his table. At this point the bartender - the only woman, it seemed to me, who hadn't been fawning over him all night - told him he'd have to leave.

'What did you think you were doing?' I asked when we were outside on the street. 'Just because some bunch of drooling sophomores want to snog you, you think you can start behaving like William Burroughs? You're lucky that bartender didn't call

the police.'

'Oh,' he said quietly, 'I don't think she would have done that.'

'And what makes you so sure, you wiseass?' I shouted.

'Well,' he said, producing a scrumpled piece of paper with a telephone number written on it, 'just before she threw me out, she gave me this and asked me to give her a call.'

Time, I think, to give up on dating and invest in some nice tropical fish.-