This is PART 2 in a series. Read PART 1 here.
The Manhattan Man plunges head first into the life of a white collar bachelor in the city. Since his last dip in the party pool, he has become bolder, more authoritative, and infinitely better at understanding the wants and wiles of women. They say that behind every successful man is a great woman, but did you also know that before every successful man is a long-term relationship?
Now pay attention as Manhattan Man makes one of the biggest discoveries a man in his position will ever make: younger women. Before, younger women were either illegally young, or overshadowed by their older compatriots, who were alluring to Man-man because they knew things that he didn’t know. Now that Man-man is older and wiser, he realizes that he can satisfy his need for depth separately from his need for women. He prefers younger women not just because they have smaller pores and firmer asses, but because older women reek of desperation. Well, enough of them did that he could no longer look at any of them without suspecting that they do. That niggling suspicion that they see him as a sperm bank, a necessary ingredient in their life dish. He doesn’t appreciate the objectification.
Also, women his age (late twenties, early thirties) have just stumbled upon and are still reeling and dealing with the fact that despite it being the 21st century and all, the world kind of still sucks for girls. And this reeling and dealing is, to Man-man and all bystanders, ugly, unpleasurable, and boring. In contrast, it is so much sweeter to sup from the fountains of more youthful paramours, whose realizations have only pitched them further forward on the positive slope towards imaginary roads.
Man-man wants to take one of these young fawns, these cocksure colts, these bold young bucks, and protect her from anything that might sully her glowing ignorance, her beautiful immaturity, her childish toes and stupid tiny tattoo. In this way, he hopes, he will keep her young forever. Maybe it is he that is the fountain of youth.
But Man-man is not having success in finding a young girl for keeps. He goes to the meatpacking district, he goes to fancy lounges, he goes to dingy hidden bars, he goes to mirrored hotel bars in the middle of a swimming pool lit up with neon lights. He is spending a lot of money buying pretty girls drinks and they are, yes, sparkling with the attention and returning his banter, and tilting their heads towards him when he says stupid clever filler shit to them. Sure, all that is happening. He has a ton of awesome profile pictures.
But nothing is sticking. These Princeton-educated girls with tawny colored eyes, these willowy creatures from the Czech republic who are not afraid to speak their minds. They aren’t sticking. It’s like Garfield sticking his paws into an aquarium of goldfish –for one shining moment he has a handful of lively colorful slivers in his paw, but in the next second they are all gone, slipping back to a swimming life. It dawns on him that he has mistaken the looks they give him as looks of kindness, when actually they are a kind of pity. These pretty young things know from the first introduction that they will be breaking his heart, ignoring his texts, moving on to collect experiences and compliments from new sources.
And just when Man-man is sadly nursing a drink by himself at the bar in Pegu Club, lookng around sullenly, feeling old and shitty and sorry, and thinking about texting The One, just to say hi, tell her that he finally saw that movie she had once hounded him to see, and that he had loved it. Just when his eyes were glistening with nostalgia for the wholesomeness of College Girlfriend, the way they held hands and walked on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach during Spring Break, and squinted at the sun in unison. Just when our Man-man was visited by these soothing images of loss, his phone vibrates one, two, three, and a buddy summons him to a house party in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn! He hasn’t been in that self-conscious backwater since he rode out of there in the middle seat of a moving truck, sitting between two sweating Bronx brothers who packed him up and moved him out of his apartment with The One lickety split. So fast that when she finally decided to come outside to say good-bye properly, for that last sad embrace, all she caught was the rumbling coarse purr of the moving truck as it rounded the corner towards the ugly Manhattan Bridge.
But it is only 10:30 PM and the Manhattan Man does not allow himself to go home before midnight on a weekend because, not that he has a biological clock or anything, but to do so makes him feel old and mortal. So, wearily, wearily, he slides off the bar stool, tucks his Centurion credit card into his wallet, and with 5 o’clock shadow, loosened tie, and one foot on the curb, he sticks his arm out for a cab. Oh Man-man, can you be any sexier! When he tells the driver that he wants to go all the way to Boreum Hill, the driver gives him a dirty look.
Anyway, the whole point of the party is that this is where Man-man meets Young Girl, who is the same age as the slippery future ex-wives he has been trying to net, but unlike them, she never goes clubbing, doesn’t really drink a lot, and already owns a cat. Don’t get me wrong –she’s cute. Sweet. Smart. She wears the uniform of her people: long straight hair, thick bangs, fast fashion with vintage aspirations –Forever 21, H&M, American Apparel. And underneath all the billowing floral suspender romper corduroy crap, solid T&A. She has a vivacious mother or Peter-Pan father –and whichever one it is often looks at her and wonders how they managed to raise such an even-keeled child.
Man-man and Young Girl hit it off immediately. He loves: her innocence, the number of things she has never done nor seen nor heard of, her slim wrists and milk moustaches, her excitement at simple pleasures, her shyness, her gaiety, the way she is so opinionated and indignant about the most obvious things, as if it was on her shoulders to promote equality, the environment, child nutrition. He loves seeing her struggle to make female friends, and her wobbly-kneed way of turning down potential suitors reminds him of a young Princess Di trying to dissuade photographers from snapping their cameras at her while she stood back-lit wearing an, unbeknownst to her, transparent skirt.
And there’s that word again: holy.
Yes there’s something holy about Young Girl, and it makes him feel holy too. With her, he feels both wonderfully young and wonderfully old. Her excitement towards life is contagious, and he finds himself standing in the front row of concerts again, swaying with his baby in his arms, listening to bands that his co-workers have never heard of. And when her excited recklessness causes her pain, he is always there to hold her and rock her and smooth down her long straight hair. Promise her that, if she’d lived as long as he has, she would realize how negligible her current setbacks really are. It’s during these moments that he would tell her what he knows. What he has seen and heard and felt and thought and concluded. He fills her with a carefully curated selection of his knowledge and experience, leaving out the ugly parts that might turn her into one of those grim women his age, make her ugly. He does this to protect her, and to also make them more compatible. To protect them. To make her stick.
He’s not manipulating her, okay? And accusations of condescension are laughably inappropriate –everyone knows that loving condescension is a major pillar of the most stable relationships.
I mean, look around at Man-man’s friends. Where only a few years ago his friends were leading interesting and vibrant lives and venturing in risky, inspiring endeavors, they are now not even good for a bit of decent conversation. Some of his friends from school are already divorced. And worse off are those stuck in bad marriages –zombified bowling pins who aren’t even allowed to pee in the shower, arguably the most innocent thing a man can do with his penis. Someone better stick a hand between their legs and catch their balls before they completely fall off.
If Man-man can circumvent that lukewarm bath of a life with its petty turbulences by meeting a woman while she is still young and moldable and telling her what to think and expect from the world so that she doesn’t get too disappointed and adversarial, then Man-man’s doing both Young Girl and himself a favor. And so, like the generations of Manhattan Men before him, Man-man makes one of the most important conclusions a man in his position could make: that men should be with younger women.
They get married. Why not? He’s figured out the Holy Grail of relationships already. What’s to be gained by putting it off? They move into a one-bedroom apartment in an age-appropriate neighborhood –neither too crazy nor too sedate. Even still, on his morning walks to the subway, he passes exactly four locations that remind him of of a more debaucherous, bygone era. An era that he genuinely does not miss (anymore) (finally).
Ahem, public announcement. Just so you know, one slight disadvantage of a wife that you treat like a pet is that you think you know everything that she is made of. After all, you raised her. She’s a known quantity. As domestic as apple pie. This condescending assumption is, of course, erroneous, but the Manhattan Man doesn’t know that yet.
At the office or on the street, Man-man meets a woman. She’s his age or older and mysterious, so mysterious! She’s self-made! She knows her way around a humidor! She has an authoritative but feminine strut! She’s so cosmopolitan, so New York! He admires her. He is intimidated by her. He doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s around her. The Manhattan Man has worked out an extensive list of pet peeves about women that he can’t stand, a list that he loves to go over with Young Girl, lecturing on and on about visible bra straps and insanely high heels. The Mystery Woman seems to possess all of these pet peeves but through the prism of his admiration for her, they only make her more seductive and alluring.
She doesn’t seem to need him. It’s he that seeks her approach.
He asks her to get coffee. She says yes, but just coffee, no time to sit. He feels like he just scored a touchdown. Waiting in line together, he catches her taking in his wedding ring, but misses the look of pity she gives him. He’s always missing those looks of pity!
They bump into each other a few more times, and to his delight become de facto coffee buddies. He loves: her shockingly cold fingers, the deliberateness of her details –the monogrammed jewellery and throaty laugh, the way she talks so easily and confidently about her work, like a man, really. The way she owns herself and has already travelled the world over twice: first as a romantic backpacker and once again as a first class passenger. The way she disagrees with him in such an agreeable, good-natured, but authoritative manner. The woman has lived! Screw compatibility, this is who he wants.
Just having these thoughts makes Man-man feel guilty. When he and Young Girl are cuddled on the couch watching a movie together and a character says that old refrain about men not being monogamous creatures, that the idea of a traditional marriage is against nature, he fears that his hand will tremble or his face will flinch and betray him to Young Girl. To deal with his guilt, he buys her gifts or gets fat or works out extra hard or suggests that they have a baby.
Meanwhile where he had once been scared and excited by his work, the Manhattan Man has been, for the last couple of years, fairly confident and bored about his job. In order to force himself to give a shit about maintaining good work product, he has become increasingly dependent on external feedback: positive reviews, promotions, and bonuses. When these external stimuli taper-off, as they eventually do for most workers, Man-man starts to feel worthless, ashamed, and bitter. He comes in to the office later and later everyday because he keeps missing his subway stop. One time he ends up at the end of the line at 205th street and instead of riding back to work, calls in sick and spends the rest of the day walking around the Bronx Zoo with his hands in his pockets. He begins to feel jealous of homeless people because “they’re free.” He also sometimes wishes that he were in jail; it would be a kind of relief.
A new nadir for the Manhattan Man!
To climb out of his predicament, Man-man decides to ask management for a raise. More specifically, he asks to join management. He’s been so well-liked, you know? All those intramural basketball championships and that skit at the Christmas party a few years back, everybody still remembers. A meeting is granted, Outlook calendars are updated, and on the big day, Man-man wears his lucky belt. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. Behind frosted glass doors, management wraps up the meeting with the following consolation: “Yes, I suppose you have been on a kind of plateau, but you have to admit… it’s a comfortable kind of plateau.”
That night, in the back of a cab on a gridlocked Avenue of the Americas, the Manhattan Man repeats these words to himself: a comfortable kind of plateau, a comfortable kind of plateau, a comfortable kind of plateau. When he had bawled in front of all the guests at his sixth birthday party because his Curious George cake wasn’t made out of ice cream, his dad had taken him to the next room and said, “Don’t be an ungrateful little brat. Do you know how many kids out there would love to have a Curious George birthday cake, but never will?”
Is he being an ungrateful little brat again? He has a comfortable plateau of a life –the compatible young wife, the downtown apartment, the well-paying job. Yet all he wants to do is to escape. To run along the level plane that is his life, faster and faster, until he gathers enough speed that he can burst out of it, like a phoenix rising from the glowing embers of his old life.
What kind of a man wants that?
Why does the life he painstakingly built for himself feel so stupid?
When his father was his age.
There were no video games for men back then.
Industries geared towards keeping boys from becoming men.
So much time in front of the TV!
He’s watched every season of that reality show where those girls live in a house.
Everyone is estranged from each other though.
All the guys are doing it. Playing video games and watching TV and married and having crushes and getting their balls pinched at work.
He’s never done a triathlon.
Or a black girl.
He has nothing to show for the last ten years!
Picking a major, getting a job in Manhattan, breaking up with College Girlfriend, meeting The One, moving to Brooklyn, finding Young Girl, moving back to Manhattan. What was all that about? And what the hell happens next?
A rapping on the window of his stalled taxi.
He can tell who it is by the sound of her bracelets jangling against each other.
Man-man peers up through the dirty window at his unexpected visitor, the midtown Manhattan skyline looming behind her like giant ghouls.
Ah, so this is what happens next.
He takes a deep breath, and opens the door.