It was February 15, 1999, when film executive Daniel Rosenberg’s girlfriend, Leora, sat him down for a talk. They had been dating for three years, and he was showing no signs of proposing. “What is your plan for us?” she asked. He replied, “Can we talk about this later?” The next day, she broke up with him. He realized immediately he’d made the biggest mistake of his life, and ten months later got up the courage to ask her out again. They are now married, with a daughter.
Rosenberg, 34, and his friend Richard Kirshenbaum, 43, have transformed their life lessons on men and marriage into a new book for committed but unwed women, Closing the Deal: Two Married Guys Take You From Single Miss to Wedded Bliss, a more optimistic counterpoint to the best-selling He’s Just Not That Into You. Their thesis is that when women think about marriage, they focus on the short-term positives (romantic engagement, unforgettable wedding, gorgeous baby clothes), while men think of the long-term negatives (monogamy, financial burdens, potential divorce). In order to get a guy to pop the question, they suggest, a woman must sell marriage like a product. And if this fails, she can “bluff”—in other words, dump him with the hope that, like Rosenberg, he’ll be scared straight.
At a reading and reception for the book in Soho House’s library, the two handsome and well-coiffed authors, friends for many years, are holding court over cocktails. After they served as counselors to many female friends, and got “dozens,” they say, to close the deal, their wives suggested they write a book. “Our underlying message,” says Kirshenbaum, co-chairman of the ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, “is that women set the tone for the relationship. And a lot of women aren’t willing to assume that role.”
So why do so many smart, well-educated New York women flounder for years in ambiguous relationships? The authors blame careerism, among other contemporary trends. “There’s been a whole generation of women who have really looked for most of their self-pride in their careers,” says Kirshenbaum. “That’s great, but if you want to be successful in your personal life, you have to focus some of your time and your energy on it, and really treat it like a job.”
To do that, the book advocates taking a business-model approach. A woman needs to understand her “target audience,” and then utilize ten “Marriage Motivators” that will push her man to the altar. They include letting him know you’re a hot property, nurturing him, doing “guy” things with him, showing him you’re financially responsible, discussing children, and reminding him that he’s getting older.
I suggest to Kirshenbaum and Rosenberg that there might be an easier way to get a guy to marry you: asking him. That’s not so simple, replies Rosenberg. “In our society, men have to ask the question in 99 percent of the cases,” he says. “Women want to be able to get to say ‘Yes.’ ”
During the Soho House event, the young and tony chat eagerly about the book. Fred, 42, a wavy-haired wine seller, tells me Kirshenbaum helped him close the deal with his knockout wife, Janine, 31, a wine distributor, by helping him select a ring. Janine, beaming from ear to ear, flashes her Art Deco–style diamond.
After a brief reading and a few heated questions from both women and men, a gray-haired guy in a cable-knit sweater raises his hand. “Can you explain this phenomenon,” he asks, “where just as you’re really getting to know and like a woman, she suddenly brings up marriage and kids and says it all needs to happen within this incredibly compressed period of time?” The authors fumble out an incomplete answer, and afterward I approach the guy.
Eric Stiller, 44, founder of Manhattan Kayak Co., says he’s experienced what he calls the “full-court press” so many times that he’s frightened of women in their mid-thirties. But with the biological clock a real phenomenon, shouldn’t women cut to the chase? “I understand it,” he says, “and I’m aware that I have a biological clock, too. But women can’t lose sight of the fact that A comes before B. You have to get to know each other chemically, intellectually, socially, and romantically, before you get married and have kids.”
He looks into the distance and says, “I think I’m going to write a book.”