One in the morning! Tonight is tomorrow, and disbelief is suspended—or at least left outside on the curb, blocked by the velvet rope. Inside a vaguely South African–themed nightclub called Cain, a pale-skinned, blonde-haired girl named Sophie is on the dance floor. She sports a yellow blouse with a plunging neckline, white jeans that look grafted to her skin, and shimmery ice-pick heels. Yesterday, Sophie graduated from a certain all-girls private school uptown, and she is still three years shy of being legal in such an establishment, though right now that’s irrelevant. Right now, Sophie is a woman in her twenties, just like her I.D. says, and just like she told the guy in the preppie blazer with the gelled-back hair on the dance floor. He’s sort of annoying. But sort of cute too. And very likely graduated from high school right around the time Sophie was born.
“Him? Yeah, I think he’s like 35, or even 40,” observes Sophie’s friend Audrey. “She hooked up with him last week at Lotus.”
Audrey is also 18, also pale and blonde. When she imagines herself in ten years she sees a successful woman working as “a representative of some corporation. Like if I’m doing press for JPMorgan, that’s fine.” She is slouched in the banquette running alongside the dance floor, sipping her second Grey Goose and cranberry. Next to her is Lana, 17, all long brown hair and big, drowsy brown eyes. The three girls (whose names have been changed “because otherwise our parents will freak”) are jaunty, sweet-natured, sophisticated, and acutely self-aware. They know which is the dessert fork. The last time any of them looked their age, they were in elementary school. Like so many privileged New York kids, they have been taught, since they were small children, never to act like children.
“Apparently I hooked up with him last week at Lotus, but I don’t remember” is how Sophie had described the incident to her friends earlier that day over lunch at Nello, on Madison Avenue. “That was totally uncharacteristic, and you know it. I don’t just randomly hook up with people. I can count the number of guys I’ve kissed on”—Sophie did some math with her manicured fingers—“two hands. But I’d only had a sushi roll for dinner, and we drank way too much.”
Audrey rolled her eyes and mentioned another guy from the Lotus night, a man who was married.
Sophie: “I didn’t hook up with him!”
Audrey: “Oh, I thought you did.”
“The married guy kissed me, but we didn’t hook up,” Sophie clarified. At that, the girls cracked up.
Such is the secret life of a certain kind of New York girl: precocious, a touch lonely, alienated by boys her age, and eager to trade in the husk of adolescence for the façade of womanhood by spending a few nights a week in places she’s technically not allowed to go. If not Cain, then Marquee; if not Marquee, then PM; if not PM, then Bungalow 8; if not Bungalow 8, then Hiro. The lighting is dim, the music loud. Reality chips apart. Assistants become partners at the firm, married men are temporarily single, fifth-floor walk-ups morph into luxury lofts, and high-school girls become the most eligible women in the room. Being a teenager anywhere is to want, more than anything, to be old; being a teenager in the ageless playground of New York City—especially a girl, especially at night—is to be able to pull it off. And in this age of perpetual adolescence, when adults worship teenage pop deities like Lindsay Lohan—whom Audrey saw the other night in the bathroom at Bungalow 8—there are plenty of men with receding hairlines and disposable incomes who want to play 21, too.
“But it’s complicated,” Sophie explained as the waiter cleared her pasta at Nello. “It’s nice going out and meeting older guys, but at the same time it’s also kind of weird.” Until recently, Sophie was dating a guy in his twenties who lived with an older married couple in the luxury-magazine business. She’d lie to her parents (“Mom, I’m crashing at Audrey’s . . .”) only to find herself accidentally emulating her parents’ lifestyle. “It was like I was hanging out with who my parents were ten years ago,” she said. “But that’s nothing. Did you guys hear about—?” Sophie whispered the name of a classmate. “She was sleeping with this married guy in his forties. He had kids. That is just wrong.”
“Ewww, are you serious?” asked Lana.
Stories like these hover about. The girl involved with the music exec, the girl who had an affair with a Hamptons promoter, the girl who found herself skinny-dipping in a rooftop pool with some gray-haired guy. Even Audrey recently went to dinner with a lawyer the girls pegged at about 45 years old. He told her that “he got a lot of free stuff,” invitations to private parties, movie premieres, sample sales, sneak peeks, you name it—and that she and her friends were welcome to come along anytime. It was the standard older-guy pitch. Audrey went because she wanted to see, as she put it, “if he just wanted to be friends or what.” They went to Nello.