I got a glimpse of the road less traveled and am glad I didn’t take it.
I recently went to see Candace Bushnell at Café Carlyle, the New York icon’s one-woman show where she recalled the story of her life and career, and calls to mind the New York of yesteryear that was actually worth writing about.
Even though Ms. Bushnell and I are the same age, we took different paths in life and moved through Manhattan in totally different ways. I’ll be the first to admit that hers was a lot more glamorous.
Although I was a devotee of Sex And The City (mostly because I was a Sarah Jessica Parker fan, Patricia Fields fashion disciple, and NYC loyalist), I’d never read the book version or the New York Observer column (1994-96) that it sprouted from, although my husband Neil kept telling me that I should do so. Occasionally, he’d stick the peach-colored paper in my face and say, “You gotta see this one.”
Quite frankly, the exploits of the writer’s alter-ego, “Carrie Bradshaw” and her real-life friends Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha, were not who I was—a Manhattan mom of a beautiful baby boy—or whom I’d ever wanted to be; too many men, too many parties, too much heartbreak. I had been a sheltered outer borough girl who’d always wanted to live “downtown” as we Bronxites called it, but the refined, traditional socialite version of Manhattan that was the opposite of where I grew up.
Unlike me, the Connecticut native got a jump start on her adult life, leaving college at 19 to, according to her, to “run away” to NYC and started writing for national magazines like Cosmopolitan. Her first boyfriend was a 65-year-old renowned photographer-writer-director. They hung out with Gloria Vanderbilt and frequented places like The Carlyle.
I finished college and started my low-paying entry-level advertising copy job, but couldn’t afford to move here until I was 25. My first/last post-grad boyfriend was Neil, who was still in law school when we met. We frequently ate our slices off the top of the pizza box. I didn’t switch from jingle writing to essays for magazines/newspapers until the mid-aughts. By then “Carrie” had half a dozen New York Times bestsellers under her belt, which had inspired two TV shows (SATC and Lipstick Jungle.) I’ve had three novels published and go to bed each night praying that someday before I die people actually will read them.
The creator of the SATC juggernaut was married to a star ballet dancer for a decade. Neil and I will celebrate “35” this June, but we’ve been together for 42 years. We have two grown children.
In her show, Bushnell says that people’s marriages are never what they seem. I could say the same for people’s single lives, despite Instagram stories of clinking champagne glasses on manicured lawns in the Hamptons.
In fact, the latest New York magazine— “The Yesteryear Issue” which boasts the feature story “A Century of The New York IT Girl”—kind of burst my bubble when I found out that some of the ones reported on incessantly in the ‘80s and ‘90s confessed it wasn’t all that great.
Even though I don’t look at Candace and see myself, I enjoyed her show, which I went to as a treat for a dear friend in dire need of a glam New York girl’s night.
Despite our obvious differences, plus the fact that never in this lifetime will I ever again be as thin as this woman, she did say many touching and wise things about relationships that were helpful to my guest, for which I’m grateful.
I also came to grips with the understanding that perhaps one cannot have it all, or at least all at once.
Regardless, the Is There Still Sex In The City author says she’s happy with the way things have turned out for her, is proud of her accomplishments, and looks forward to “the bonus years.” I can say the same about myself.
In the end, we both got what we wanted out of New York.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of several novels, most recently The Last Single Woman in New York City (Heliotrope Books).