“Sex and the City” writer Liz Tuccillo makes her fiction debut with “How to Be Single,” a story about a group of single women on a quest to find the men of their dreams. An excerpt.
Rule one: Make sure you have friends
How Georgia is single
"I just want to have fun! Now that I'm single I just want to have fun! You single people are always having fun!! When are we going to go out and have fun?!!!"
She is screaming, screaming at me on the phone. "I want to kill myself, Julie. I don't want to live with this much pain. Really. I want to die. You have to make me feel like everything is going to be okay! You have to take me out and remind me that I'm young and alive and can have lots and lots of fun! Or god knows what I might do!!!" Dale, Georgia's husband, had left her for another woman two weeks ago and she was obviously a tad upset.
The call came at 8:45 in the morning. I was at the Starbucks on Forty-fourth and Eighth, balancing a cardboard tray of coffees in one hand, my cell phone and this conversation in the other, my hair in my face, grande mochaccinos tilting toward my left breast, all while paying the nice young twentysomething at the cash register. I'm a multitasker.
I had already been up for four hours. As a publicist for a large New York publishing house, part of my job is to cart our writers around from interview to interview as they promote their books. On this morning I was responsible for thirty-one-year-old writer Jennifer Baldwin. Her book, How to Keep Your Husband Attracted to You During Pregnancy, became an instant bestseller. Women all around the country couldn't buy the book fast enough. Because, of course, how to keep your husband attracted to you during your pregnancy should be the main concern for a woman during that very special time in her life. So this week we were making the prestigious morning show rounds. Today, The View, Regis and Kelly. WPIX, NBC, and CNN, so far that day, ate it up. How could you not love a segment showing eight-months-pregnant women how to strip for their men? Now the author, her personal publicist, her literary agent, and the agent's assistant were all anxiously waiting for me in the Town Car that was parked outside. I held the lifeline to their caffeine fix.
"Do you really feel like you want to kill yourself, Georgia? Because if you do, I'll call 911 right now and get an ambulance over there." I'd read somewhere that you should take all suicide talk seriously, even though I think all she was really doing was making sure I would take her out drinking.
"Forget the ambulance, Julie, you're the organizer, the one who makes things happen -- call those single friends of yours, the ones you are always having fun with -- and let's go out and have fun!"
As I continued my balancing act toward the car, I thought about how tired that thought made me. But I knew Georgia was going through a difficult period and it would probably get much worse before it got better.
It's a tale as old as time. Dale and Georgia had kids, stopped having regular sex, and began fighting. They became distant, and then Dale told Georgia he was in love with a twenty-seven-year-old whore gutter trash samba teacher, that he met at Equinox. Call me crazy, but I'm thinking hot sex might have had something to do with this. Also, and I don't want to be disloyal, and I would never even suggest Georgia was at fault in any way because Dale is an asshole, and we hate him now, but I can't resist saying, Georgia completely took Dale for granted.
Now, to be fair, I am particularly judgmental about the Married
Women Who Take Their Husbands for Granted Syndrome. When I see a very wet man hold an umbrella out to his wife after he has just walked five blocks to pick up the car and drive it back to the restaurant and she doesn't even say thank you, honestly, it makes me very cranky. So I noticed that Georgia took Dale for granted, particularly when she would talk to him in that tone. The tone that you can dress up and call what you want, but the truth is it's plain old-fashioned contempt. The tone is disgust. The tone is impatience. The tone is a vocal eye roll. It is the undeniable proof that marriage is a horribly flawed institution let out in a single "I told you, the popcorn popper is on the shelf over the refrigerator." If you were able to fly around the world, collecting the tone as it is let out of all the disgruntled married men's and women's mouths, cart it back to some desert in Nevada, and release it -- the earth would literally sink into itself, imploding in sheer global irritation.
Georgia talked to Dale in that tone. And of course that wasn't the only reason for their split. People are irritating and that's what marriage is: good days and bad days. And, really, what do I know? I'm thirty-eight years old and I have been single for six years. (Yes, I said six.) Not celibate, not out of commission, but definitely, fully, officially, here-goes-another-holiday-season-alone single. So in my imaginings, I would always treat my man right. I would never speak harshly to him. I would always let him know that he was desired and respected and my number one priority. And I would always look hot and I'd always be sweet, and if he asked, I would grow a long fishtail and gills and swim with him in the ocean topless.
So now Georgia has gone from semicontented wife and mother to a somewhat suicidal single mother with two children. And she wants to party.
Something must happen when you become single again. A self-preservation instinct must kick in that resembles having a complete lobotomy. Because Georgia suddenly has traveled back in time to when she was twenty-eight and now just wants to go out "to some bars, you know, to meet guys," forgetting that we are actually in our late thirties and some of us have been doing that without a break for years now. And frankly, I don't want to go out and meet guys. I don't want to spend an hour using one of the many hot appliances I own to straighten my hair so I can feel attractive enough to go out drinking. I want to go to bed early so I can get up early so I can make my smoothie and go out and run in the morning. I am a marathoner. Not in the literal sense; I run only three miles a day. But as a single person. I know how to pace myself. I am aware of how long a run it can be. Georgia, of course, wants to line up the babysitters and start sprinting.
"It's your obligation to have fun with me! I don't know any other single person except you! You have to go out with me. I want to go out with your single friends! You guys are always going out!! Now that I'm single, I want to go out too!!!"
She is also forgetting that she is the same woman who would always look at me with such pity when I would talk about my single life and exclaim in one breath "OhmyGodthat'ssosadIwanttodie."
But Georgia would do something that all my other happily married or coupled friends would never even think of doing: she would pick up the phone and organize a dinner party and scrounge up some single men for me to meet. Or she'd go to her pediatrician and ask if he knew any eligible bachelors. She was actively involved in my search for the Good Man, no matter how comfortable and self-satisfied she might have felt herself. And that is a rare and beautiful quality. And that is why on that Friday morning, as I was mopping up coffee from my white shirt, I agreed to call up three of my other single friends and see if they would go out and party with my newly single, slightly hysterical friend.
How Alice is single
Georgia is right. We're having so much fun, my single friends and I. Really. Oh my God, being single is hilarious. For instance, let me tell you about the sidesplitting uproariousness that is Alice. For a living, she gets incredibly underpaid to defend the rights of the impoverished people of New York City — against callous judges, ruthless prosecutors, and an overburdened system in general. She has dedicated herself to trying to help the underdog by bucking the system, beating the man, and guarding our Constitution. Oh yeah, and every once in a while she has to defend a rapist or murderer that she knows is guilty and whom she often succeeds in putting back onto the streets. Oops. You win some, you...win some.
Alice is a Legal Aid attorney. While the Constitution guarantees the right to a lawyer, it unfortunately can't promise that you'll be defended by Alice. First of all, she is gorgeous. Which, of course, is superficial, who cares. Because those jurors sitting in that drab industrial green jury room with the fluorescent lighting, and that eighty-year-old judge presiding over the general misery of it all, well, they'll take whatever aesthetic pleasure they can find. And when redheaded, sexy Alice talks to you with her deep, soothing voice and her thick, I'm-one-of-the-people-but-much-more-adorable Staten Island-Italian accent, you would drive into Sing Sing and break out every last prisoner, if that's what she asked of you.
She was so startling in her legal acumen and plain old-fashioned charisma that she became the youngest law professor at NYU. By day Alice was saving the world, and by night she was inspiring yuppie born-and-bred law students to forget their dreams of nice Manhattan co-ops and Hampton summer shares to go into Legal Aid law and do something important. She was outrageously successful. She made insubordination and compassion cool again. She got them to actually believe that helping people was more important than making money.
She was a Goddess.
Yeah. I say was, because I'm kind of lying. The truth hurts too much. Alice is no longer a Legal Aid attorney.
"Okay, this is the only time I believe in the death penalty." Alice, being a fantastic friend, was helping me transport books from my office on Fiftieth Street and Eighth Avenue to a book signing on Seventeenth Street. (The book was The Idiot's Guide to Being an Idiot and was, of course, a big hit.)
"The only exception to the rule is any man who goes out with a thirty-three- year-old woman until she's thirty-eight and then discovers he has commitment issues; who gives that woman the impression that he has no problem with marriage and being with her for the rest of her life; who keeps telling her it's going to happen, until finally, one day he tells her that he doesn't think 'marriage is really for him.' " Alice put her fingers in her mouth and let out a whistle that could stop traffic. A cab veered over to pick us up.
"Pop the trunk, please," Alice said, forcefully grabbing a box of the Idiot books from my arms and throwing them in the trunk.
"That was sh---y," I conceded.
"It was more than sh---y. It was criminal. It was a crime against my ovaries. It was a felony against my biological time clock. He stole five of my precious childbearing years from me and that should be considered grand larceny of motherhood and be punishable by hanging." She was ripping each box out of my hands and hurling them now. I thought it best to let her finish this on her own. When she was done, we walked to opposite sides of the cab to get in and she continued talking to me over the cab roof without taking a breath.
"I'm not going to take this lying down. I'm a powerful woman, I'm in control. I can make up for lost time, I can."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I'm going to quit my job and start dating." Alice got into her side of the cab and slammed the door.
Confused, I sank into the cab. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Union Square Barnes and Noble," Alice barked to the cabdriver. Then to me, "That's right. I'm going to sign up for every online service, I'm going to send out a mass email to all my friends to set me up with any single guys they know. I'm going to go out every night and I'm going to meet someone fast."
"You're quitting your job to date?" I tried to say this with the least amount of horror and judgment in my voice.
"Exactly." She kept nodding her head vigorously, as if I knew just what she was talking about. "I'll keep teaching, I have to make some money. But basically, yeah, it's my new job. You heard me."
So now my dear do-gooder Superwoman, Xena the Warrior Princess, Erin Brockovich, friend Alice, is still spending all her time and energy trying to help the underdog. But this time the underdog is herself: a thirty-eight-year-old single woman in New York City. She's still trying to stick it to "the man." But this time the man is Trevor, who took up all that precious time of hers and has now made her feel old, unlovable, and frightened.
And when Alice is asked what she does with all her newly free time that she once used to help keep young, first-time offenders away from Rikers and imminent horrifying physical abuse, she often goes into this little speech: "Besides the Internet, and the fix-ups, I just make sure I go to everything I get invited to, every conference or luncheon or dinner party. No matter how sh---y I feel. Remember when I had that really bad flu? I got out of the house and went to a singles night at New York Theatre Workshop. The night after my hand surgery I took some Percocet and went to that huge benefit for the Central Park Conservancy. You never know what night it will be when you meet the man who's going to change your life. But then I also have hobbies. I purposely do what I love to do, because you know, when you least expect it, that could be when you meet someone."
"When you least expect it?" I asked, during one of Alice's diatribes. "Alice, you have decided to quit your job to dedicate your life to meeting someone. How can you ever, ever least expect it?"
"By staying busy. By doing interesting things. I kayak in the Hudson, rock climb at Chelsea Piers, take carpentry classes at Home Depot, which you should totally do with me, by the way, I made an amazing cabinet, and I'm also thinking about taking this sailing course at the South Street Seaport. I'm keeping busy doing things I find interesting, so that I can trick myself into forgetting that I'm really just trying to look for guys. Because you can't look desperate. That's the worst."
As she is telling people this, she often comes across as a little deranged, particularly because she's usually chain-popping Tums as she says all this. Her indigestion problems stem, I believe, from a little acid reflux condition called "I'm terrified of being alone."
So, of course, who else would I call first when I needed to go out with a bunch of girlfriends and "have fun" than Alice, who is basically a professional at it now. She now knows all the bartenders, doormen, maître d's, bars, clubs, out-of-the-way places, tourist hangouts, dives, and happening scenes in New York City. And naturally, Alice was ready to go.
"I'm on it," she said. "Don't you worry. We'll make sure tomorrow night, Georgia has the best time of her life."
I hung up the phone, relieved. I knew I could count on Alice, because no matter how Alice's life might have changed, she still loved a good cause.
How I'm single
Let's be honest. I'm not doing it any better. I date, I meet men at parties and at work, or through friends, but things never seem to "work out." I'm not crazy, I don't date crazy men. Things just don't "work out." I look at couples walking down the street and I want to shake them, to beg them to answer my question, "How did you guys figure that out?" It has become the Sphinx for me, the eternal mystery. How do two people ever find each other in this city and "work out"?
And what do I do about it? I get upset. I cry. I stop. And then I cheer up and go out and be absolutely charming and have a great time as often as I can. I try to be a good person, a good friend, and a good member of my family. I try to make sure there isn't some unconscious reason why I'm still single. I keep going.
"You're single now because you're too snobby." That's Alice's answer every time the subject comes up. Meanwhile, I don't see her married to the handsome gentleman working at the fruit stand on the corner of Twelfth and Seventh who seems to have taken quite a shine to her. She is basing this judgment on the fact that I refuse to date online. In the good old days, online dating was considered a hideous embarrassment, something that no one would be caught dead admitting to. I loved that time. Now the reaction you will get from people when they hear that you're single and not doing some form of online dating is that you must not really want it that bad. It has become the bottom line, the litmus test for how much you're willing to do for love. As if your Mr. Right is definitely, absolutely guaranteed to be online. He's waiting for you and if you're not willing to spend the 1,500 hours, 39 coffees, 47 dinners, and 432 drinks to meet him, then you just don't want to meet him badly enough and you deserve to grow old and die alone.
"I don't think you're really open to love yet. You're not ready." That's Ruby's answer. I'm not even going to dignify it with a response — except to say, I didn't know that finding love had become something equivalent to becoming a Jedi Knight. I didn't know there were years of psychic training, metaphysical trials to endure, and rings of fire to jump through before I could get a date for my cousin's wedding in May. And yet, I know women who are so out of their minds they might as well be barking like dogs, who still find men who adore them, men whom they, in their madness, feel they are in love with. But no matter.
My mother thinks I'm single because I like having my independence. But she rarely weighs in on the subject. She comes from the generation of women who didn't think they had any other option but to get married and have children. There were no other choices for her. So she thinks it's just dandy that I'm single and that I don't have to rely on a man. I don't think my mother and father had a particularly happy marriage and after my father died, she was one of those widows who finally got to come into her own — the classes, the vacations, the bridge and book clubs. When I was still just a girl, she thought she was doing me a great service, giving me this wonderful gift of reminding me that I don't need a man to be happy. I can do anything I want, be anyone I want to be, without a man.
And now...I don't have the heart to tell her that I'm not really happy being single, and if you want to be someone's girlfriend or wife, and you happen to be straight, you kind of do need a man, sorry, Mom, because then I know she'd worry. Mothers do not like to see their children sad. So I steer the conversation away from my love life and she doesn't ask, both of us not wanting to reveal or know about any pesky unhappiness.
"Oh please," Serena — who, among my friends has known me the longest — said. "It's no mystery. You dated bad boys till your mid-thirties, and now that you've finally come to your senses, the good ones are all taken."
My last boyfriend six years ago was the worst one of all. There are some guys you date who are so bad that when you tell the story about them, it reflects just as badly on you as it does on them. His name was Jeremy and we had been dating for two tumultuous years. He decided to break up with me by not showing up to my father's funeral. I never heard from him after that.
Since then, no bad boys. But no great love, either.
Georgia weighed in on this subject of why I'm single on one particularly dark, lonely, regretful night.
"Oh for God's sake, there's no reason. It's just totally f---ed. You're kind, you're beautiful, you have the best hair in New York City." (It's really long and curly but never ever frizzy, and when I want to straighten it, it looks just as great. I have to admit, it's my best feature.)
"You're hot, you're smart, you're funny, and you are one of the finest people I know. You are perfect. Stop asking yourself that awful question because there is not one g--damn reason why the sexiest, nicest, most charming man in New York City isn't madly in love with you right now."
And that was why I loved Georgia. And that's how this weekend I ended up spearheading an outing with my mismatched set of friends to make her feel like life was worth living. Because at the end of the day, it's night. And in New York, if it's night there's nightlife, and when there's life, as most optimists will be happy to tell you, there's always hope. And I guess that's a big part of how to be single. Hope. Friends. And making sure you get out of your damn apartment.
Excerpted from “How to Be Single,” by Liz Tuccillo. Copyright © 2008, reprinted with permission from Simon and Schuster.