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Married to the Market

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I tell her I spoke with two women that morning, both of whom sounded short of breath and as if they were taking my call on their treadmills. “Because that’s all they are, and it’s a losing battle, and they know it,” Sarah insists. “There’s a kind of desperation. If he threw her over for you, he’ll throw you over for the next one -- unless you get one old enough to bury him.

Susan sits on the staircase at Lotte Berk Method, an exercise studio in a 67th Street brownstone that is the first stop on many an Upper East Side socialite’s daily rounds, waiting for the start of the 8:30 a.m. beginner class. Demand for the classes -- known for a combination of stretching and strengthening exercises that devotees say guarantees one a gravity-defying butt and sleek, rock-solid thighs -- is so great that clients who fail to cancel their reservations 24 hours in advance are charged for the class anyway.

“You’d be amazed what these women can do with their bodies,” says Barbara, a Lotte Berk regular before the move to Darien. “Women who are doing it five days a week can touch their toes with their noses and curl up into all these pretzely positions.”

One suspects that Susan will never become one of those leotarded ladies dangling from “the Rack” on the floor above, a warm-up exercise that would pass for torture in an Iraqi prison.

“I came this close to getting a disgusting jelly doughnut, but I was afraid I’d get kicked out,” Susan confesses, explaining that even though she’s already rail-thin, she joined to prevent developing “fluffy arms.”

The women offer various explanations for making the daily pilgrimage to Lotte Berk. Besides the documented benefits of exercise, these include the sense of empowerment you feel flexing your biceps in public in a strapless Armani; the luxury of spending an hour that belongs wholly to you rather than to your husband, children, or charities; and, not insignificantly, the fact that Lotte Berk has a satellite studio in the Hamptons, where everybody seems to have a weekend house.

“Mine is less than a mile from the Bridgehampton studio,” boasts a flat-tummied new mom who says she felt like exercising “about three hours after the baby came out” but that her doctor forbade her from returning for six weeks.

“I’m on Halsey Lane,” chimes in another stick figure.

“I’m on Ocean Road,” reports a third.

Of all the reasons for their devotion to the Lotte Berk Method, perhaps the most compelling is the one least mentioned -- that it may persuade their testosterone-oozing husbands that, despite the sexual opportunities their power and money confer, the best takeover target remains the one at home.

“They see the change in their wives’ bodies and in their sexual performance,” instructor Elizabeth Halfpapp states clinically. “You’re more confident about yourself. You can control the muscles that control your pelvis and move it in ways you’ve never moved it before. We have husbands thanking us -- ‘I can’t believe how you lifted her seat.’”

Dana doesn’t go to Lotte Berk. As a ballet dancer, she couldn’t possibly have a seat any higher or legs any harder than they already are. And she already has all the male attention she can handle. In fact, once Mark announced he wanted a divorce, Dana started walking their dog around the block at night a little more slowly and no longer changed her route to confound her admirers.

“I’ve had more sex since September than in the last ten years of my marriage,” she reveals.

In the fall, Dana started living the dream -- she’s dating a tennis instructor. And even though she has no illusions about the relationship’s long-term potential, she says it feels good to be free.

“I’d never go out with another investment banker,” she states flatly. “I don’t want anybody controlling my life.”

Dana says Mark knows about her romance but is less jealous than disappointed in his wife’s taste in men: “At least,” he told her, “you could go out with someone who has the potential of making more money.”

Certain names and identifying details in this piece have been changed.


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