One Person Trend Stories

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New York Man Dates Less Attractive Woman

Nate Thompson and his girlfriend Victoria Bridges* are, in many ways, a typical New York couple in their late 20s: He’s a banker; she works a nonprofit that helps the homeless; they share a garden apartment in Boerum Hill; they have a puppy named Skip; they met through friends at a holiday party three years ago; they slept together on the fourth date.

But Victoria is noticeably, well, uglier than Nate—and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by their friends. (The couple did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

"Look, Nate’s a catch," said one friend we’ll call Jill. "He’s got that whole, ‘I work in finance but I know who Titus Andronicus are, and I like them’ thing going on. Plus, he wears cute glasses."

This friend added: “I love Victoria, but she’s just not in his league. She’s kind of mousy looking, and she really has the worst style. Whenever we go out with them everyone assumes that she’s his cousin from out of town. You should see people’s face when they start making out!”

Another friend, Greg, was even more blunt: “Nate got a lot of really hot girls in college,” he said. “Victoria’s sweet, but so are a lot of women in this city who are much more attractive than she is.”

See a couple where the man is noticeably less attractive than the woman, and everyone assumes she’s in it for the money. But the other way around is a head-scratcher, especially since, as another friend put it, “It’s not like [Victoria] has a trust fund.”

The blatant imbalance has led to a parlor game of speculation among their group of friends regarding what Victoria’s secret weapon might be. “Anal” is a popular guess, as is “bondage,” “amazing blow jobs” and even “nightly foot massages.” One friend even went so far as to suggest that Nate suffers from previously undiagnosed beauty myopia, leading him to believe Victoria to be much more attractive than she actually is.

To be sure, it’s not uncommon in other cities—Cleveland, Portland, Asheville—to see men dating uglier women. But in those locales, either due to a lack of availability or a “hippie”-ish “inner beauty” stance, these types of situations raise fewer eyebrows.

So in New York, where it’s long been accepted that women are not in the proverbial driver’s seat when it comes to dating, Nate and Victoria remain an anomaly. “I just worry about their children, if it does come to that,” said another friend who asked to remain anonymous. “All the other moms will be total MILFs, and Victoria’s going to be really out of place on the playground.”

* Names have been changed.

Brooklyn Woman Takes a Stand Against Elaborate Parties

Last Wednesday, Nick Halloran, a 26-year-old copywriter at the advertising agency JWT, sent out an email about his upcoming farewell party. He didn’t think twice about giving his invitees—a carefully cultivated list of co-workers, college buddies, ex-girlfriends, women he’d slept with two or more times, bassists, and writers with whom he’d corresponded but never actually met in person—detailed instructions on just how the day would go.

"I’m saying farewell to one Hill (Cobble) and hello to another (Chapel, where I’ll be starting a grad program in folklore at UNC). So it’s your last chance to hang out with me! (Sniff!) We’ll start in the Long Meadow in Prospect Park," he wrote. "If anyone has a petanque set, please bring it! Frisbees, dogs, kickballs, whiffleballs, badminton, &c also welcome! And of course, please bring something to throw on the grill, and some beer (Brooklyn Lager if you want me to get sentimental!).

"Later that evening, we’ll make our way over to Frankie’s on Court Street. We’ll probably have to wait, so I suggest you DEFINITELY bring something to eat at the park!

"Lastly, we’ll end the evening at either Brooklyn Social or the Brooklyn Inn—please text me to find out exactly where we are if you’ll just be joining us then!"

When Mindy Miller opened the email, she rolled her eyes. “I’ve met this guy Nick a few times—he’s friends with my friends Matt and Jen,” she told a reporter. “I think we smoked pot together once or twice? But he’s not, like, my best friend! Also he was totally rude to my friend Meredith—he just totally stopped calling her after they hooked up a few times.”

But it wasn’t the degree of Mr. Halloran’s friendship that really bothered Ms. Miller.

"To be honest, the real reason why I don’t think I’ll go to his party is that I just don’t think I have the energy," said the 28-year-old nonprofit development coordinator. "I mean, petanque, then dinner, then drinks? That’s asking a lot.”

Ms. Miller said that lately, she’s been invited to more and more events where the party-thrower expects their guests’ attention for hours and hours. “I just find it all very narcissistic,” said Ms. Miller. “What ever happened to just having people over to your apartment for a couple beers?”

Certainly, multi-stage parties are hardly the exclusive purview of the young urban bourgeois; wealthy parents on the East and West coasts have been throwing elaborate events for their children for years. (Witness the influence of television shows such as My Super Sweet Sixteen, in which the birthday girl or boy can have three or more costume changes in one evening.) But this particular brand of party-throwing—in which the attendees are asked to, in effect, pay their own way through hours of honoring their friends—seems to be uniquely “Millenial” phenomenon.

"Generation Y, or Millenials, are an incredibly self-absorbed population," said Robert E. Jenkins, professor of sociology at the University of South Calgary. Dr. Jenkins is currently working on a book about the party habits of people under 30. "In my research, I have found that most young people expect their friends to spend an average of $47 and five hours on them for each Milestone Occasion—birthday, going-away party, et cetera. Perhaps surprisingly, most of their friends comply, perhaps because they expect reciprocity when their turn comes along."

But don’t try telling that to Ms. Miller. “I think I might just stay home for awhile,” she said.

Testing her Patience: Aging Intellectual Defies Barnes & Noble Cashier

Against all advice to the contrary, Kate Callahan bought the Princeton Review GRE practice book.

“So there,” said the 34-year-old, who currently works for a non-profit, with a nervous laugh.

It was on a recent Wednesday that Ms. Callahan, who hasn’t taken a test in almost 15 years, went to her local Barnes & Noble to pick up a book on how to crack the Graduate Record Examination, better known as the GRE.

“I wanted to get the Kaplan one, because it had a pretty cover,” said Ms. Callahan, who dreams of ditching her work helping the homeless for office hours, a leafy quad, and affairs with 19-year-olds. “But then I started looking at the Princeton Review one, and it had a DVD that came with it, and I don’t know. It just felt right.”

So Ms. Callahan took it to the cashier while her boyfriend looked at the new Heath Ledger book—especially the pictures of Michelle Williams in a bikini—on the New Releases table. But she was shocked when, after the cashier asked her if she had a super savings card, he told her she was buying the wrong book.

“You don’t want this,” Ms. Callahan remembers him saying. “What do you need a DVD for? You want the Kaplan book. That’s the best one. That’s the one I used.”

Ms. Callahan said she walked back over to the testing books to make the exchange, but then thought better of it.

To be sure, Ms. Callahan is not the first wannabe-academic who has chosen the Princeton Review book over the Kaplan book. But in an age when viral marketing is of the utmost importance and the need for overeducated Gender and Sexuality studies is, perhaps, at an all-time low, her refusal to take the B&N cashier’s word is particularly notable.

And yet, Ms. Callahan said, her decision makes sense.

“I mean, if he used the Kaplan book and he’s now a cashier at Barnes & Noble, what does that say about the Kaplan book,” she asked rhetorically, her cheeks turning bright red.

She said she stalked up to counter and insisted on the Princeton Review book.

“Have fun as an adjunct at a community college in Ohio,” she reported the cashier saying, meanly. 

Drunk Woman Mistakes Authentic Preppy for Ironic Preppy

Nate Orosco’s “Dirty Thirty” birthday party was, by all accounts, a success. Not least of all for Monica Dehner, who met a cute boy somewhere in the vicinity of her fourth glass of limoncello. “It was a party, so it’s not like we went that deep,” says the 29-year-old graphic designer of Clay Walker, a 27-year-old law school student. “But I think we talked about Casper, my French bulldog, and how much we both think the butterfly stroke sucks.” Mostly, she admits, she was attracted to his style: he was tall and tan and wore seersucker shorts, a blue oxford shirt, and a pair of Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes. “I guess I was probably reading too much into his clothes, but I just assumed that he would be into certain things. Like, maybe he would like Whit Stillman and the Dirty Projectors, or, at the very least, Wes Anderson and Vampire Weekend.”

The following Monday, Mr. Walker called Ms. Dehner to ask her out on a date. “That’s what he called it, ‘a date,’” she says, shaking her head and sipping a lemon verbena iced tea. “I should have listened to my gut instincts then and there and realized that was a red flag. Who, like, gets my number, calls me, and asks me on a date? Is this Mad Men? But I guess I was kinda flattered, so I said yes.” They met, per Mr. Walker’s suggestion, at Corner Bistro. (“I knew the burgers there weren’t organic or anything, but I didn’t want to be that person on a first date, so I didn’t say anything,” Ms. Dehner notes.)

The problems began immediately. While locking up her Jorg & Olif bike, Ms. Dehner saw her date approaching from a distance. “At first I thought Clay was wearing khakis. I thought there was no way that would be possible, but as he got closer and closer, I realized he was definitely wearing khakis. Khakis with pleats! And one of those Polo shirts with the giant logo the size of your hand,” she says, shaking her head. “I told myself that maybe he was making some kind of weird, meta statement about how much first dates resemble job interviews, so I just kissed his cheek and we went inside.”

Once seated, the talk turned to what they had done the night before. “I told him I had gone to this Todd P show at Death By Audio and he asked me who Todd P was and then—oh my God, this is so bananas—he told me he had gone to some Murray Hill bar with his old teammates from the Middlebury lacrosse team! That’s when I knew this was never going to work.”

Ms. Dehner struggles to identify the kind of men she normally becomes romantically involved with but points out that she met her college boyfriend at the Situationist food coop they both belonged to at Antioch College, that her next boyfriend was a DJ who primarily played Italo Disco, and that the last boy she went out with wooed her via VHS recordings of Dave Kendall-era episodes of MTV’s 120 Minutes. “Look, I don’t want to call them hipsters, she says, trailing off. “But they are all kind of hipsters. I just thought Clay was one too, since that’s how they’re all dressing this summer.”

To be sure, men and women who live in urban environments and consider themselves creative have appropriated a variety of fashionable totems over the years, from Vans checkered slip-ons and trucker hats in 2003, to keffiyehs in 2006, and more recently, Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses and moccasins in 2008. The danger in the recent upsurge in classic preppy styles is that, while Ms. Dehner has relatively little contact with professional dancers who might have worn the Repetto jazz shoes that were so popular in 2007, she apparently has authentic preppies—Mr. Walker emailed this reporter only to confirm that he is, in fact, a graduate of Choate Rosemary Hall—in her social midst.

The rest of the date went by in a blur of awkward conversation about the latest Batman movie. Three days later, Mr. Walker called Ms. Dehner to ask her to dinner at a restaurant on Park Avenue South, but she declined, explaining that she had recently gotten back together with an ex. 

It’s All In Her Head! Twentysomething Troubled By Tune

Something strange started happening to Carolyn Murphy soon after she began working at the New York City law firm of Kurklestern and Branz. Every day at 6p.m., the 25-year-old junior associate would begin her walk to the subway, and every day, midway through her journey, she would find herself humming a tune. The song was “It’s a Shame About Ray,” by the now-defunct band The Lemonheads, and Ms. Murphy, a petite brunette whose adolescent yen for  grunge is evidenced only by the small lizard tattooed on her right ankle, was puzzled—she hadn’t heard that song since high school.  ”I couldn’t figure it out,” she said, several months after the first incident occurred. “How did the song get in my head? It wasn’t playing anywhere I could think of. Certainly not at work.”

In the past, Ms. Murphy relayed, she’d only ever had a tune creep into her head after hearing it in passing—over the radio in the deli, perhaps, or from a car with a particularly boisterous sound system. But “It’s a Shame About Ray” seemed to come out of nowhere.

For several months, she remained mystified. Even tortured: “I would ask my roommate, ‘Did you play it while I was sleeping?’” she said, with bashful grin.

Then, on a recent Wednesday, Ms. Murphy had her “Aha!” moment. “I finally realized that I was passing Famous Original Ray’s Pizza every day on the way home,” she said. “It was only because this one day I skipped lunch—Kurklestern had unloaded the McCarsey file on me—and since I was hungry, I noticed the smell of melting cheese wafting down 8th avenue.” While waiting in line for a slice, she began idly singing the opening lines, (“I’ve never been too good with names”) That’s when it dawned on her. “I was like, ‘Doh!’” she said, using an expression familiar to watchers of the animated television series “The Simpsons.”

Since then, Ms. Murphy has opted to take a different route home. With it comes a clearer mind. “I never realized it, but that song is really kind of droney,” she said.

To be sure, The Ray Incident, as Ms. Murphy’s friends refer to it now, was not the only time in recent memory that a song has come, unbidden, into Ms. Murphy’s mind and caused her discomfort. Last week, when she passed by the desk of Julio Gonzalez, a paralegal at her firm, the percussive sounds that herald the opening of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” started up inside her brain. However, she never told anyone, fearing she might seem racist. She has since altered her route.

Cheers to That! Woman and Colleague Make Drink Date. Actually Keep It.

On a recent Monday, in the garden of Flatbush Farm in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Sonya Swartz and Jena Lorenzo did something they never do with colleagues: sit down, order a glass of lambrusco and a mojito, and drink them. Also: They talked.

“Normally, when I make plans to have drinks with someone in my industry, the day we’re supposed to get together arrives and we both just blow it off,” said Ms. Swartz, a 32-year-old freelance copywriter.

Of her time with Ms. Lorenzo, the 38-year New York City-based advertising director at Wieden & Kennedy, she said, “It felt really different to actually follow through on our plan though, of course, we had rescheduled it 4 times.”

Needless to say, Ms. Swartz and Ms. Lorenzo are hardly the first people to follow through on a business lunch, cocktail, or cup of coffee. But it’s particularly remarkable these days, when texting someone to tell them you’re working late, you’ve been delayed at an Opening Ceremony sample sale, or the G doesn’t seem to be running, are all perfectly acceptable ways of getting out of a social obligation.

Ms. Swartz noted that there are many ways to “neutralize networking,” her term for stopping a work date before it ever takes place. Besides not emailing the person to finalize a plan, Ms. Swartz said that she sometimes emails a colleague an hour before their agreed-upon time, when it was likely the other person already thought—or hoped—they had been blown off and had already made—or said they made—other plans. Sometimes, she cancels, apologizes profusely, and plans to reschedule—without ever doing so.

“The options are really endless,” said Ms. Swartz, who admitted she’d rather smoke pot with her boyfriend after work than drink with someone she doesn’t know, and who considers herself something of a connoisseur of the after-work engagement blow-off.

Afterwards, Ms. Lorenzo admitted that the best thing about the meeting was that she felt like she got out of having to spend time with Ms. Swartz for another 6 months to a year. “It’s true, I enjoyed my mojito,” she said. “But I wanted another and felt like I couldn’t order it, because she’d tell everyone I was a lush. And honestly, I think Sonya is kind of boring and her work is bad, so I probably won’t hire her to do any work for us anyway. Also, I’m friends with her ex-boyfriend and I’m definitely going to let him know she’s looking a little heavy.”

Ms. Swartz agreed. “Jena’s okay, but I just don’t think we’re going to be good friends,” she said. “Still, I’ll be sure to Facebook friend her in a few days because it will make me look more popular and because that way, my ex-boyfriend, who I know she knows, will see my new picture, which is waaaaaaaay cute.”

More Workers Opting Out of Holiday Parties Early, Study Shows

It may be only July, but Kevin Masterson has decided he’s not going to his company’s holiday party this year. “Every year they have a theme,” Mr. Masterson, who is 32, said via telephone from his cubicle at a marketing consulting firm in Boulder, Colo. “Last year was Tiki. The year before was Paparazzi, and they had a red carpet and people taking photos and everything. I was talking to my friend Heather in HR—we take smoke breaks together—and she was saying that they’ve started planning this year’s party and the theme is either going to be Sex and the City or Mad Men. And at that point I just decided, no. Just, no. I’m not going.”

Mr. Masterson, it turns out, is not alone. A new Pew Research Center study has shown that 37 percent of Americans employed full-time say they’re staying home from their job’s holiday festivities this year. Like Mr. Masterson, these workers are going to forego the punch and the awkward conversations with their managers in favor of a quiet night with the wife watching Arrested Development on DVD.

To be sure, every year some employees stay home from the holiday party. And this is, in fact, the first study to ask so early in the season whether people are planning on shaking their moneymaker with their co-workers this holiday season.

"It’s not that I’m antisocial," said Mr. Masterson. "It’s just that I always feel so awkward. That woman from sales who I slept with three years ago—before I met my wife—always gets really wasted and starts crying when she sees me. And this one time, my buddy Paul, who sits next to me, decided we should play a prank on our boss, so we were in his office moving everything around—but subtly, you know? So he wouldn’t notice at first, but then he’d see that everything was in a slightly different place?—and he stumbles in with his secretary, who’s in the midst of taking off her shirt. Awk-ward!”

East Coast Native Does Not Find Big Sur Magical

In his first year of dating a native Californian, Oliver Goodstein found that there were many perks. When he and his girlfriend, Rachel Offerman-Simms, went to visit her family in Aptos last December, Goodstein was pleased to find out that the temperature was in the seventies, tomatoes grew year-round, and backyard pools were not uncommon. “And, it was so cool, Amy and Jeff”—those would be the first names of parents Amy Offerman and Jeff Simms—“just assumed that Rachel and I would share a bed. We didn’t have to do that whole sleep in separate bedrooms and sneak around at two am thing we had to do at my mom’s house over Thanksgiving.”

The visit was going so well, in fact, that Offerman-Simms planned a trip for the two of them to posh countercultural resort town Big Sur. “You’re going to love it,” she said to him. “The place is just so magical.” Offerman-Simms made reservations at Ventana (Post Ranch, a nearby hotel, she noted was “way too commercial”), appointments for side-by-side couples massages at Esalen, and an afternoon workshop on Zen and the Art of Bread Kneading at Tassajara. She even remembered to pack a book of poetry by Robinson Jeffers to, perhaps, recite by candlelight and to make a mix CD of music about the region from the Beach Boys, Beachwood Sparks, and Mason Jennings for the drive down. “I feel like if Oliver gets Big Sur, he will really get me.”

To be sure, Big Sur has long been a destination for the artistically inclined, but for every Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, or Anthony Kiedis who remain forever changed by the rugged terrain, there is a first-time visitor who beholds the fog, hot springs, and cyprus trees and comes away unmoved. Goodstein counts himself as one of the latter. “The views were pretty, I guess,” Goodstein said. “And I had this really good roasted carrot soup at Nepenthe. But I wasn’t talking about how much I want to move to a cabin here when I’m fifty or anything. It was, frankly, kind of boring and hippieish.”

Offerman-Simms is disappointed but undaunted by her boyfriend’s ambivalence. “I told Ollie I would take him to Joshua Tree next year and we could stay in the room where Gram Parsons died,” she said, her eyes lighting up with excitement. “I mean, you know, if we’re still seeing each other next year.”

Enough is Enough! One Woman Takes a Stand Against Coffee Shops That Play Really Loud Music

For Susie Atkinson, July 8th had gotten off to an auspicious start. That morning, her Nike + told her she had run her fastest mile yet around Prospect Park, her Rogan jeans didn’t feel tight, and the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion was really working wonders on her complexion. In other words: all was in place for her big meeting. Atkinson, a 25-year-old Park Slope resident, had a meeting with a Neiman Marcus jewelry buyer who was interested in her line of jewelry, which is described on her website as “bracelets and lockets engraved with passages from such noted poets as W.H. Auden and K. Cobain featuring conflict-free raw diamonds and available in both 18-karat gold and platinum.”

Kitty Ingram, the jewelry buyer, had requested to meet with Atkinson in person. “With such young, edgy designers, we really like to get a feel for where they come from—the streets they walk on, the people who inspire them,” she said, while lighting a Merit menthol cigarette. But for Atkinson, her apartment was out of the question. “I don’t really have a living room and to get to the kitchen to sit down, Kitty’d have to walk through my roommate’s room and she has black sheets, so that’s out.” So Atkinson asked Ingram to meet her at her local coffee shop, Gorilla Coffee. 

There was only one problem. The new album, Nude With Boots, by Seattle band The Melvins had come out that same day and Matt Irwin, a Gorilla employee, had downloaded it that morning via a particularly well seeded torrent found on Mininova. Atkinson walked into the 5th Avenue coffee shop just as a song called “Suicide in Progress” was playing. “It was loud and, like, really weird,” she says. “It would not do for 10 in the morning. It would definitely not do for Neiman Marcus.” 

To be sure, coffee shops in Brooklyn and beyond have long been known for the lively and unpredictable music played—an idiosyncratic soundtrack that may run contrary to the time of day or personal tastes of many of its clientele. But Atkinson decided the day was too important to her and she needed to take measures into her own hands. “I wasn’t even thinking about it. I just walked over to the guy behind the counter with the plaid shirt and discs in his ears,” she says, referring to Irwin. “And I asked him if I could give him $20 to turn it off.”

"Yeah, I took it. I didn’t want to listen to Donna Martin harshing me out and whining about the music all morning," says Irwin, comparing Atkinson to a virginal character played by Tori Spelling on the popular 1990s drama Beverly Hills, 90210. "She offered me another 20 bucks if I’d put on MGMT, but I was all, ‘No way, Lady, you can buy me, but you can’t buy my musical standards.’ So I put on Architecture in Helsinki and called it a day." 

In the end, everyone was victorious: Atkinson was pleased with the upbeat music, Ingram was pleased with the line, and Irwin was pleased when they both left, so he could resume listening to his favorite band.

In the Hamptons, It’s a Normal Summer—With a French Twist

After her Saturday morning workout, Melissa Nardone was picking up her usual Buff Monkey smoothie at the Soup Man restaurant in Hampton Bays. As the counter girl, Jessica Russo, 15, handed over the frothy strawberry-and-banana concoction, Ms. Nardone said brightly, “Enchanté!” With that she swiveled on her flamingo-tinted Nike’s and walked out to her silver Hyundai Santa Fe. Ms. Russo watched her go, shrugged her shoulders, and started to rinse the blender.

One can’t blame Ms. Russo for being puzzled over this eruption of French in the middle of her work day. But she might want to upload Yahoo!Babelfish (a free on-line translation service) before too long, as la jolie langue de Paris (“the pretty language of Paris”) has clearly arrived to stay among the well-heeled habitués of the Hamptons.

Of course the Hamptons have never been completely free of French influence. Ever since the potato fields were ploughed back to make room for the power-brokers, Europeans, including the French, have visited and found much to like in the wide, sandy beaches, vegetable stands and exclusive nightspots. And when a Syosset woman was fined for topless sunbathing on Westhampton Beach in 1981, it’s very possible she was simply doing as she heard the French have done for generations. And the Beatles, of course, wrote and sang their 1966 hit song “Michelle” almost entirely in French. But this summer in the Hamptons, it seems one cannot even pick up a smoothie without hearing the mother tongue of Matisse.

Tracked down a few blocks away at a stop-light, Ms. Nardone pulled off the side of the road to discuss the trend.

"At first I thought you were a cop," she said, pushing her long raven hair from her eyes.

She was asked when she had begun seasoning her conversation with Gallic spice.

"Well the other night my friend Cameron and I Netflixed that Ethan Hawke movie, Before Sunset – that’s the one that’s like a sequel to Before Sunrise, with that blonde cute  French actress, Julie Delpy, in it,” she said as the traffic on Montauk Highway whizzed past. “And they were in Paris and so she meets this other guy at a fancy party she says `Enchanté!’" (pronounced ON-SHANT-AY).

Had Ms. Nardone noticed if the approach of Bastille Day on July 14 had further plumped the saucisson (editor’s note: a large, cured French sausage of ground pork flavored with garlic) of Summer 2008?

"I’m a vegan," she said, glancing nervously at her car. "I mean, mostly  — I still like chicken."

Ms. Nardone said she was late for something and slid back behind the wheel, the back tires spinning a bit in the roadside gravel as she gunned the engine. At least one observer could have sworn he heard a jaunty “A bientot!” (“See you soon!”) as she sped away.