In a city that loves striving, the romance of the single girl in New York has always been about her quest – the identifying characteristic of her situation is her perky struggle to get out of it. The married may be mired in boredom, parenthood, pajamas, but the single girl’s only groom is her ideal (if imaginary) other half: While others sit at home in the comfort and dullness of reality, she is forever out on the town, searching the New York night for true love. But the single girl has more to show for her troubles than the honor of holding out. Fortunately for her, the lows of her lifestyle have become just as romanticized as the highs. (Since the advent of Sex and the City, it is well nigh impossible for the single girl to do anything – brunch, e-mail, sob – unglamorously.) Heading home alone high-heeled from a bad date to indulge in phone reports, smoking, and toenail-painting is almost as crucial to the fantasy of the lone colt in the city as heading home plus one from a good date to indulge in nightcaps, smoking, and creative positions.
Throughout the history of New York, the reigning single girl has been literary (Dorothy Parker, Candace Bushnell), comedic-neurotic (Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, Marsha Mason in The Goodbye Girl, Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Seinfeld), cinematic (Clara Bow, Audrey Hepburn, Melanie Griffith), and broadly iconic (the Shop Girl, the New Woman, the Flapper, the Career Girl). She has sipped from a martini, a Cosmo, a flute of champagne. She has worn a bob (circa 1920) or a Rachel (circa 1998). She has been Bianca Jagger, riding into Studio 54 in a white dress on a white horse, and she has been Carrie Bradshaw, bumping into (a married) Mr. Big onboard a ship at a magazine launch. She has traded her beauty and company for dinner and baubles (Holly Golightly, Lily Bart), or she has been determined and self-reliant (working as a stenographer at Collier’s, a D-girl at Miramax). She has been a sexual opportunist (Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jessica Stein) or a reluctant celibate (Miranda on SATC) cheered by the camaraderie of similarly attractive-witty-resilient single-girl friends. The role is too crucial to evaporate; it simply shifts shape to fit the urban moment. But no matter her incarnation, the allure of the single girl is in her lonely nights as much as in her happy days. In our city, in our fantasy, even when she loses, she wins.