According to common wisdom (as well as urban myth), New York women are strongly advised not to date guys they meet on the street. And yet attraction is an important component of love, and just because someone picks you up on the street doesn’t mean he lives on the street. Local-bar pickups and selective Internet dating provide only the illusion of safety—just ask anyone who’s found herself dating a married guy, or a felon. Which is why some New York couples have found that street pickups work better than bar passes or even Internet dating. They’re spontaneous, day-lit, and usually sober, all good preconditions for gauging genuine attraction.
Renee, a 29-year-old model and personal trainer from Sierra Leone, met her now-husband, Ben, 39, two years ago in front of Eli’s restaurant on Third Avenue. “I was coming home and he ran up next to me,” she recalls. “I had just broken up with my ex-boyfriend, so I wasn’t even looking for a guy. He introduced himself by his full name, asked if I lived in the neighborhood and if I wanted to go to tea some time.”
(“Tea works,” says Ben. “There’s no pressure. Dinner is too much for someone you meet on the street, no one can do a spontaneous lunch, drinks involve too much judgment about the place and the drink, and coffee is too clichéd.”)
She said maybe, he gave her his card, and she did what any typical New York woman would do: went home and threw it in the trash. A few weeks later, they passed on the street; she rolled her eyes and he reminded her to call him. A few more weeks later, she was walking toward the park and saw a handsome blond guy approaching. When he got closer, she recognized him—and this time she thought he was cute. She said she’d misplaced his card but if he gave it to her again she’d call that night. She did.
They bought a bottle of wine and went to his rooftop on East 90th. She talked incessantly about her ex-boyfriend and got so drunk she threw up in the apartment. “He cleaned up my vomit, put me in the bedroom, and slept on the living-room couch. The next morning I said to myself, What a wonderful guy.” They dated a few months without sleeping together—she was still bruised from her breakup—and then one day, “I took off his clothing and threw him on the bed.”
Renee had been approached by men on the street all the time (she’s five-ten, striking, and used to it), and had become cynical. Once, in Central Park, she saw a man with his wife and daughter, obviously checking her out. He followed her down a path and told her she was beautiful. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that your wife and daughter?’ He said, ‘Yes. I told her I was getting some water.’ And he gave me his card. I thought it was so disgusting.”
But Ben was different, she says, and not only because he was single. She felt the way he approached her was classy, introducing himself before asking her name. “We built a friendship and developed feelings for each other. But he says what he saw first was my ass. He saw it a block away and followed it.”
He says it’s his “narcissism and arrogance” that let him approach Renee, and other women before her. And it helped that he works with the homeless and mentally ill. “In New York you’re one of millions. She doesn’t know who I am, and she’s not going to remember me a day later if I make an ass of myself. If she thinks I’m a freak, so what? But what if I get lucky?”
Brooke, a 31-year-old broker, dated a guy for six months whom she met on the street, and still stays in touch with him. She was leaving Opia, on East 57th, after drinking with some girlfriends, and when they got to the corner she saw a handsome guy in a suit waiting for the light to change. They exchanged a look. “I thought, If I don’t say something, I will never see this person again. I wasn’t drunk. I’d just been having a good time with my friends and I didn’t expect to meet anyone.” She asked him his name and invited him to come get a drink. He was talking on his cell phone and he said, “Can I call you right back?”
Her friends were laughing, but he came along, and she wound up taking him home. She wasn’t nervous, since he was her type: preppy. “I felt like I could trust my instincts,” she says. “Besides, he was about my height and I knew I could probably take him if I wanted to.”
It didn’t work out, because he was so busy with work (the perils of dating a yuppie), but she has no regrets about how it started. “People should bite the bullet and say hi. You only live once.”
Though that relationship didn’t work, Renee and Ben’s did, which is why she sees their meeting as destiny. One woman’s heckler is another’s husband material. As for Ben, he thinks it was destiny, too, but for a different reason: “Even as a kid, I knew I was going to be with a black woman. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, and we had one flavor. I came to New York and discovered there were 31.”