Leigh, a willowy blonde with high cheekbones, is a lot like me—neurotic and Jewish—and she’s dated a lot of jerks. But Leigh is older than I am, 39, and single, and after almost a decade of meeting the wrong guys, she’s getting artificially inseminated, or “shplurted,” as she calls it, so she can have a baby on her own. In the process, she’s discovered a new sense of power. “Finding a sperm donor has been the most outstanding, empowering experience I have had,” she tells me over lunch at Yaffa’s Tea Room in Tribeca. “I look through these files and say, ‘Brown hair, blonde hair, curly hair.’ ‘Oh, his mother was a little fat. I don’t think so.’ ‘He’s tall. That’s good, but he’s really bad at math.’ Any insecurity that I ever felt with men in the process of dating gets thrown away. It’s all in my hands now.”
Leigh is not sure exactly how she got in this situation. She had lots of good boyfriends in her twenties, long-term boyfriends, but when she hit 30 she started meeting schmucks. She thinks it might be because she started showing her anxiety more. “I had all these back-to-back monogamous relationships in my twenties, and it was really easy. And all those guys I broke up with. I was never hurt, really. In my thirties, I opened myself up a little bit. I thought, It’s time, and left and right was dumped.”
Of course, she also did some dumping of her own. There was one almost Mr. Right, and she wound up getting pregnant. But she knew it wouldn’t last. And anguished about keeping the baby, she chose to have an abortion.
As she tells me this, I find myself thinking of the role of luck in love. Nearly every time I speak publicly, I get approached by a forlorn bachelorette nearing 35 who wants to know what she’s doing wrong. Sometimes I can tell immediately. She’s not having fun, she only wants to date rich guys, she could lose twenty pounds, she’s not that bright. But then I look around at all the un-fun, materialistic, overweight dumb people I know who are married, and I get a little confused.
Romantic happiness is not a meritocracy; otherwise, everyone married would be placid, enlightened, and totally together. I am living proof that this is not the case. So why are some crazy people coupled and some totally sane people still single? Mainly because of chance. All those smug marrieds didn’t have breakthroughs in therapy or suddenly change their patterns: They just went to the right party, or agreed to that one final blind date.
That’s what Leigh believes. “A lot of it is luck and timing,” she says. “When I was 30, the man I was dating wanted to marry me, but I said, ‘No way. You’re not who I want to be with.’ He’s in a happy relationship now.” So, does she think she’s too picky, that she’s passed up the right guy? “Sure, I’m guilty of not giving guys a chance, of falling prey to that New York attitude of ‘I can do better.’ But I have 40 years to work on my intimacy issues, and I have one year to have a baby. It just doesn’t make sense to put it off.”
Last year, she started changing her lifestyle. She switched from a high-powered corporate job to a home business with more flexibility, got an apartment big enough to hold a baby, and found a fertility clinic that offers artificial insemination. The whole process, if all goes well, will cost about a grand—less than two pairs of Robert Clergeries.
She’s told her sister, who was supportive, but not her parents, because she wants to wait until she’s actually pregnant. One girlfriend told her, “Once you have a child of your own, it’s going to be very difficult to meet men.” I laugh when I hear this—even when she’s doing something for herself, some can’t help seeing it in terms of how it will affect her dating life. “I just can’t think about the men anymore,” she says. “They really have taken way too much nonproductive creative energy from me already.”
A few weeks ago, she picked her donor. She considered only Jewish guys, and almost all of the donors on file at her clinic are young, 18 to 26. “The guy that I’m looking at—baruch HaShem [blessed be the name], if it actually works—comes from an Orthodox family and is in med school,” she says. “He says he’s introspective and shy, which I love.” Her first shplurt appointment is next week, and from there, she’ll have to wait and see. If it doesn’t work, she may consider adoption.
She finishes her salad and sips her peppermint tea. “I understand that once I do this, I might be single for the rest of my life,” she says. “I’ve thought about it a lot, but I may still be thinking about it as a pair of new shoes. Once I get pregnant and I know for sure it’s viable, things are going to change a great deal. And I know that I might be consistently scared. But I have to find the glamour in being a single mom, too. You just have to grab the hat that you want and find a way to wear it well.”