During a typically catty conversation in Candace Bushnell’s book Sex and the City, Carrie, Bushnell’s alter ego, schemes about how to bag a married man. “That’s why there are courses at the Learning Annex,” her friend suggests. “Yeah,” Carrie sighs, “but I don’t want to take courses with a bunch of losers.” And yet, here was the ravishing auteur herself, in the garishly lit auditorium of a midtown community church, apologizing to an audience of 150 for the flawed premise of her Annex guest lecture, “How to Meet, Mate & Marry in New York.” She held up a two-page spread in that day’s New York Post headlined why these women can’t get men. Bushnell was one of them.
“When they asked me to do this class,” she boomed into a microphone, “I said I was willing to do it, but it had to be ironic, because I have never married a man in Manhattan – though I’ve tried.” Bushnell, who just turned 40 but could pass for a waifish coed, has certainly met and mated successfully; her roster of lovers includes a Calvin Klein underwear model, former Vogue publisher Ron Galotti, and, recently, deposed Senator Al D’Amato. Many of them appeared, thinly disguised, in Bushnell’s New York Observer column about the sexual practices of Manhattan’s elite – herself included.
Whether or not she’d changed her mind about the Annex’s clientele, Bushnell had little in common with her nebbishy middle-aged students. Alternately throwing her golden head down on the lectern and waving her cashmere-clad arms, she seemed both restless and bored. Those who’d hoped for tips that might offer an entrée into the glamorous world of gossip-column dating were disappointed by Bushnell’s conventional wisdom: Don’t date people who sleep around a lot; stop dating people you constantly argue with. She described a ritual that so baffled her, she couched it in invisible quotes: “the hookup.” “A couple will go off and have sex, and the next day, there’s no obligation,” she tsk-tsked, sounding oddly unfamiliar with the concept of casual sex. The working world proved even more perplexing. Bushnell suggested that “an office is, I would imagine, a good place to meet someone,” though she’s worked from home for the past fifteen years. Upon further reflection, she compared interoffice dating to threesomes, and warned against rushing into either.
A two-hour question-and-answer session winnowed the crowd to a few dozen. Bushnell was asked her opinion of The Dating Game. “Watching TV,” she responded, “is probably the best way to ensure that you will never meet anybody.” A trade editor in his early forties complained, “I keep doing all the right things; why do I have to come to a place like this?” A sheepish woman asked for directions to Balthazar.
Having paid $39 each to attend, the audience grew increasingly skeptical of Bushnell’s qualifications – especially for the class’s third objective. Though she said she won’t date anyone longer than six months if he isn’t interested in marriage, Bushnell admitted that the last time she was engaged, she couldn’t go through with it. “Maybe her experience in the singles scene is not as broad as she thinks it is,” grumbled the editor at lecture’s end. After signing a few books, Bushnell trotted out to a waiting stretch limo across the street and handed the driver her bags. She was on her way to London – a much better place, she’d confided in her talk, to meet men.