September 30, 2001
Living a single life in New
York gets a little lonelier these days
A story published today by the New York Times reports that after the aftermath
of Sept. 11, like so many single men and women in New York, Claire Smithers, a patient
coordinator for a Park Avenue plastic surgeon, has re-examined the meaning of being
"It made me realize, really for the first time in my life, that I was alone. I
truly felt alone and questioned being alone. We've all had pangs of `Oh no, what if I
never get married? What's wrong with me?' But then you call your friends and you talk and
go out and you forget about it."
"But this felt different and deeper," she continued. "I've always loved
being single, but during the crisis I pretty much hated it."
There are more than three million single men and women in New York City, which in the
world's imagination is the capital of a certain kind of unencumbered life. There are the
untold numbers of college graduates who flock each year to the city, convinced of the
boundless opportunities the city could offer them. And there are the retirees, among them
widows and widowers who enjoy easy mobility the city offers.
The reality of single life could be vastly different from television's depiction, of
course. But among the innumerable ripple effects of the terrorist attacks is a growing
reassessment of the social arrangements for which contemporary pop culture has written
such a vividly detailed press release.
Not surprisingly, the immediate aftermath of the disaster has left people who live
alone uneasy about experiencing it alone. For some, this prompted decampment to a
neighbor's for endless hours of CNN. For others, like Ms. Smithers, it meant sleeping at a
friend's to ease the panic. Ms. Smithers went home on Sept. 11 with a colleague, Olga
Valdes, who is also single and in her late 30's. They made dinner, and Ms. Smithers slept
on the couch.
For some newcomers to the city, the tragedy proved upending enough to make them
reconsider Manhattan life. Melissa Roberts, 24, who moved from Athens, Ga., in July, was
on her way to a job interview on the morning of Sept. 11. She saw the towers come down,
and after a few sleepless nights, left to find peace with her family in Atlanta.
"I've been through rough things in my life, but something like this is huge,"
Ms. Roberts said. "It basically made me want to go home and hang out with my
mom." She has temporarily lost her appetite, she said, for "drinking up the city
for all it is worth."
For those who did not necessarily seek solace in another's arms, coping meant renewing
one's ties to friends, a neighborhood and city life.
Julie Gilhart, the fashion director at Barneys New York, who lives in Chelsea,
responded to a sense of isolation by going around her neighborhood and making a list, with
names and addresses, of single people in her immediate vicinity. "What if we were all
out of water or phone service?" Ms. Gilhart said. "It seemed the
community-minded thing to do."
Countless other single people found a sense of community in the newly expanded universe
of volunteering. One early newscast about the relief effort showed a volunteer recruiting
others, saying, "Volunteer and meet the love of your life!"
But if there is one broad feature of Manhattan social life that has been most evident
during the present upheaval, it is the intensity with which single New Yorkers create
surrogate families out of friends. Carol Stacks, a Midtown psychotherapist, said somewhat
surprisingly that she had not heard anyone say they wished to be married.
"What I keep hearing about is the overriding importance of friendships," she
Time, Tim Bogardus, a 35-year-old freelance writer pointed out, is not to be
squandered. "I think there's going to be a lot less game-playing. I know I'm not
going to have a lot of tolerance for it."
Like Mr. Bogardus, others seem to believe that changing values could lead single New
Yorkers to reprioritize the rigid criteria they apply to selecting a mate. "Maybe it
won't matter to women if they are five pounds overweight," Ms. Smithers said.
"Maybe we'll date men who are bald; maybe we'll learn to take each other warts and