Fights and the City

“Notice hole no. 1,” says Max, 30, pointing to a gaping baseball-size puncture in the slate-gray bedroom wall. “And that” – he gestures across the room – “is hole No. 2.”

The fight started on the previous Saturday when Max and his girlfriend, Jessica, 28, decided to go out on the town. “It was a quintessential New York night,” says Jessica, in jeans and a black turtleneck, lying across the bed in their one-bedroom University Place apartment, which is filled with papers and computers for an Internet business they started together out of their living room. “We went to three bars, had some sushi at Yama on Carmine, went to one friend’s party, then to The Park, in Chelsea.” They ended up at Centro-Fly. When a burly bouncer blocked her from returning to the VIP room after a bathroom break, Max didn’t come to her aid and the alcohol-enhanced brawl began. “If you are out with your boyfriend and you feel threatened by the door guy, your boyfriend should do something. It made me feel like he decided it wasn’t worth it.”

The fireworks started inside the nightclub, then continued in the backseat of a cab. “At 20th Street, she gets out and slams the door, hysterical,” says Max. “The cabdriver is looking at me like I’m an idiot. So are people in other cars.”

Max is now sitting across from Jessica on a futon piled high with his clothes, his sneaker collection arranged in a grid on the floor to the right. “I go another block in the cab. But then I figure Jessica is wasted, it’s 3 a.m. I should go find her and walk her home.” They’ve lived together for the past four years of their eleven-year relationship, which began when Jessica was in high school. “Otherwise, she’s going to go missing for weeks, then they’ll find her watch somewhere.” He got out and followed her down Fifth Avenue.

“Finally, I grabbed her. And for a second, everything was funny. Then she started again. She crossed the street. This guy gives her a ‘Where you goin’, honey?’ and she gets freaked out. So she comes back to me, then starts cursing! Really loud. Meanwhile, people are looking at us like ‘Are you insane?’

“We get in the building and she runs upstairs,” Max continues as Jessica listens, giggling. “I say, ‘You sleep; I’m watching TV on the couch.’ I went to check my e-mail. My wrist was in a brace, and she came in and kicked me in the thumb. I’m thinking, This is going to be killing me for months, what the fuck? That’s when you went into the bedroom and I slammed open the door, which caused the first hole.”

The second came when he threw the cordless phone in frustration.

Jessica gives a perfunctory nod. “I think it’s interesting there are not more people crying and going crazy on the street in New York,” she says.

The non-cordless phone rings. It’s Jessica’s mom. She wants to know when they’re getting married.

New York couples are gladiators. Fighting is our favorite spectator sport, whether on the street corner or through the thin walls of a tenement (à la The Honeymooners) or on the front page of the New York Post (à la the mayor – though we didn’t need to know that much). But the city is more than a stage set for our operatic battles. It’s a living presence in most relationships – a not-so-silent third party. All of us tend to fight about the same things, dictated by the patterns the city forces us into. (What’s Rudy, after all, but another workaholic executive who grew too close to a co-worker and thereby lost his family?) We fight about: working too much, working too little, shelf space, loft space, personal space, sushi or Mexican, the Four Seasons or the coffee shop. We fight in elevators, on the sidewalks, in the middle of the kitchen with the refrigerator door open, in Central Park, on Central Park West, in the office, on the Jitney, at the dinner table, in dive bars, on the couch. “My boyfriend only fights on the 6 train,” says one New York lifer. “I think he likes the spectacle.”

Birds Do It, Bees Do It
Brooke, 31, is an impeccably groomed publicist. Dave, 38, her husband of seven and a half years, runs a sales-and-trading desk at an investment bank. They are sitting on opposite sofas in their Deco living room. Tonight the bone of contention is – as it often is – how her home office has sprawled from the guest room in their Upper East Side three-bedroom, crossed the hallway, passed the front foyer, and established a suburb in what used to be his study, backing his stereo equipment and treadmill into the corner. “When I come home, there is a full office going on,” says Dave, still in his suit and tie.

“I tell him, ‘You absolutely can’t come in and talk to me until 6:30 p.m.,’ ” says Brooke, sipping a glass of white wine.

“So I’ll go shopping,” he says. “I won’t come home. I don’t feel comfortable here.” He has to physically restrain her from answering the phone past 7 p.m. “We have four lines,” he points out. “We have ten handsets in the apartment! Plus she has a BlackBerry addiction.”

“I use it when I’m walking down the street,” she says proudly.

“She was checking her voice mail in the middle of a Seder!” he shouts.

“Under the table!” she shouts back.

Vacations are always in places with Internet access. (“She rips all the covers off my travel magazines for her clip files, but I’m the one who has to make the travel arrangements!” he laments.) Weeknights are for separate business socializing. Sunday nights, she likes to come home early from the Hamptons to do her payroll. Running her own business, she reminds him, means that she is responsible for every detail. Given her hectic schedule, she wants him to handle more of their household affairs. “He’s there the whole day doing nothing but making up jokes on Bloomberg,” she says. “Someone dies, there’s a joke 30 seconds later.”

“No, I’m talking to my clients.”

“Yeah, whatever. You’re not doing anything. So my thing is, you’re sitting there and when the market’s slow you could make some calls. You’ve got to deal with the dog grooming, call the decorator and tell her which fabric swatch we want. Our decorator and our contractor are having an affair, by the way – it’s a nightmare.”

“I can’t do that on the trading desk; it’s too embarrassing.”

“Like no one else does it.”

Everyone does it. More than the inhabitants of any other city, New Yorkers define themselves by what they do (or, in the case of waiters, what they aspire to do). With lives completely colonized by career, relationships have to eke out an existence on the margins. “We have to come up with silly-sounding compromises like making sure we sleep at each other’s house three nights a week after we’ve gone out separately,” says a thirtysomething lawyer of her managing-director boyfriend, whose job requires that he takes clients out to Le Bernardin-type meals four nights a week.

“The essential thing that New York does is, it puts financial pressure on the relationship,” says Jonathan, 51, who is on his third New York City marriage. “Not just in terms of the apartment you can’t afford but in terms of what other people can afford. You read that somebody you know just bought a $4 million apartment and you feel you’re constantly behind the eight ball.”

“I represent a lot of bankers and bankers’ wives,” says divorce lawyer Jeffrey R. Cohen. “Guys making $3, $4 million are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. Instead of enjoying this unbelievable good fortune, they’re nervous.”

“Success carries tremendous matrimonial dangers,” says divorce lawyer Norman Sheresky, who’s handled divorces for the likes of Warner LeRoy and AOL’s Bob Pittman.

“It makes your head fatter,” agrees Cohen. “You believe in your own semi-celebrity. The rush of success creates a lot of attention, and suddenly taking out the garbage – it’s like you’ve become Larry King or something. ‘I don’t have time to take it out,’ ” he jokes. ” ‘I’m Larry King!’ “

That pressure in turn sucks the life out of a romance. “Because you’re not putting the time into it,” says Dr. Paul Spector, a New York psychoanalyst who specializes in couples. “The quotidian matters that once structured a life are now done by others. Taking care of the children, shopping, cooking together as a family on weekends. Those things provided a certain glue that helped maintain the relationship.”

Even the commute, according to Spector, is a recipe for conflict. “Coming home from an office, not having a bus ride, or taking a subway so crowded it’s anything but depressurizing,” he says. “When you walk into a house and there’s children or your spouse, you’re about as ready to greet them as you are to walk off to war.”

In shrink talk, of course, work is a synonym for avoidance. “I’ve seen this many times,” continues Spector. “People think working these long hours is ‘for the good of the family.’ They do not conceptualize it as an absence from the family. They say, ‘I want my children to be able to say “Daddy does this” or “Mommy does that.” ’ But it doesn’t translate. Children don’t know what a CEO is.”

“Everyone is type A and everyone wants to do everything,” says Elizabeth, 43, a mother of three who works in foreign sales at an investment bank and moved from Manhattan to Scarsdale after her first child. “They overschedule their kids. They overschedule their own lives. I know one couple that recently split up over an ongoing fight between private school or public school in Scarsdale. I’ve seen people fight when one parent wants the kid to go to his alma mater like Buckley but the other wants Trinity. And then when the kids don’t get in, they blame each other over whose fault it is. ‘It’s your learning disability!’ ‘It’s the fact that you didn’t give enough money as an alum!’ We have so many friends who are divorcing right now. It’s our age – forties. And it’s New York.”

“If the children become extensions of the parents, their performance and their achievement become a kind of gratification for the parent,” says Spector. “If the kid’s not an Olympic fencer, a good chess player, and playing in string quartets … that’s the consequence of living in one of the big cities. But part of that is related to the parents’ ambition level.”

Carl and his wife, Angela, recently went to war over piano lessons for their daughter. “To her, it’s a quaint fifties idea, a person who suddenly at 10 p.m. at somebody’s party finds herself sitting in front of a piano playing beautifully – whether it happens to be Beethoven or Broadway show tunes, everybody gathers around and falls in love with the person,” he says. “But to me, $700 a semester when there’s no discernible improvement … I mean, we had to buy a piano. You have to force them to practice, then you have to hear it. You’re always sadly judging them against ideals like – what? – Mozart, Harry Connick Jr., Michael Feinstein. There comes a point when you feel sorry for the instructor, because you’re saddling him with a child with no apparent interest or talent. At the end-of-the-year recital, they manage to pull off some reasonable facsimile and my wife says, ‘See? She’s getting better. We have to sign up next year!’ “

I Get No Kick From Champagne
Candace Bushnell’s celebrity-filled birthday party was the backdrop for Lucy’s most heated relationship blowout. After a few drive-by hellos, she scanned the room, only to find her photographer boyfriend in a huddle with one of the city’s notorious gossip columnists. “Jason’s not an in-and-out guy,” she sighs. “You have a hundred one-minute conversations at these parties, but Jason has one twenty-minute conversation.” When she spotted him, she tried ever-so-subtly to move him along. She gave him the stare. It didn’t work. She gave him the not-so-playful pinch. It didn’t register. He was too busy not only “mingling,” as she’d badgered him to do, but at the same time spilling his guts, and possibly hers. That’s when it happened. “She shushed me,” he explains. “I shushed him,” she admits. The gaggle of bejeweled onlookers, including the offending gossip columnist, quickly dispersed in all directions.

“I’d have to go to benefits and take tables for work,” says Brooke. “Dave would never speak to anybody. I would end up screaming at him across the table because he wasn’t talking to the people next to him. He wouldn’t speak,” she says, turning to face him. “You have to admit you did not speak at all. You didn’t even make an attempt, and it got to be very embarrassing. Other people know how to weave their way into a conversation. Then he would get drunk and bid too high at the silent auctions.” “Once, I got her a walk-on part on Frasier,” he offers.

Every Honey Bee, Fills With Jealousy
The spectrum of social opportunities is one of the obvious arguments for signing a lease in Manhattan. Of course, there are dangers. Temptation was rampant even before the current miniskirt renaissance. “There is too much to look at,” says Christopher, a film executive. “In L.A., too many of the girls have big roots with dyed blonde hair. I went to a club – I saw a woman in the coolest club in L.A. in a pink suit with coffee hose. But I was at Thom, the bar at the 60 Thompson hotel, and the waitresses are six feet two and 90 pounds. Like that Robert Palmer video.”

“There is more eye candy,” agrees Samantha Daniels, of Samantha’s Table matchmaking service. “When you’re living in the suburbs and you find yourself in a committed relationship, pretty much everyone you know is in a committed relationship as well,” she notes. “When your significant other says he or she wants to go out, it’s seven men all married who want to watch the football game on a Monday night or a group of girls want to go see Bridget Jones’s Diary together. In New York, everybody in a couple has a lot of single friends. In order to maintain friendships, the married people wind up hanging out in a more singly environment.

“If you’re in a relationship, you can trust the person, hopefully,” Daniels continues, “but you can’t really trust the other people who are out.” “There are very aggressive people who see the flesh spot,” says Cohen, the divorce lawyer. “Women will do what they can, men as well. It’s a very aggressive town. You really have to have your armor on if you’re going to resist temptation. They flirt with anyone,” he says. “Even their divorce lawyers.”

Trouble often results when one half of the couple wants to – or has to – go out more than the other can stand. “He’ll go to the opening of an envelope,” says Jeremy, 35, of his live-in boyfriend. “I have a small circle of friends I like to go out to dinner with. And when we do go out, the cell-phone abuse is unbelievable. It’s always on. He’s the kind of person whose phone will ring in the theater when the lights are out and the play is starting.”

“If something is going on outside the city,” says Justin, a musician, “I actually refuse. I don’t go to Brooklyn. I have no idea why.”

Last Halloween, Diana brought her fiancé to a costume party at the Guggenheim; the witching hour was 2 a.m., by the coat check. “He wanted to leave,” she says, “but then they started playing eighties music, and all I wanted all night was to hear eighties music. I was feeling like he was my parent.”

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomahto
Jessica is sitting cross-legged on the Oriental living-room rug sipping a coffee. She and Max have just returned from dinner at one of the five places on their mutually approved roster. “We never cook,” she says. “We have a fight every night about where to get dinner,” says Max, slumped on a slice of the sectional couch, his camouflage sneakers propped up on the glass coffee table. “It’s like there are so many places to go, there’s no places to go. When we’re ordering food, we fight about who should place the order. No one wants to sit there and give the phone number and the address and repeat it ten times. It takes hours. We end up ordering from two different places.”

Grocery shopping is like a war game. “I like to have fresh fruit in the house,” he says. “Every time I buy something, Jessica is looking at the monitor on the cash register and giving a running commentary. ‘Asian pears, a dollar apiece?! Star fruit, $3.99?!’ I wanted this lemonade, and when the woman rung it up, it was $6.99. Jess wanted me to put it back. Who does that? It’s something my mother would do. ‘Avocados, $3.99 a pound?! I’ll get this somewhere else!,’ ” he mimics. “We argued for the next half hour, maybe more. But it’s totally inconsistent. No lemonade, but then she has lunch at Olive’s.”

Love for Sale
In New York, there’s nothing sexier than a great space. For some, this even means storage. Christina, 30, a fashion publicist and avid sample-sale comber, puts a premium on cedar shelves for her cashmere sweaters – kept in individual plastic pouches – and racks for her color-coded rows of Jimmy Choos. “Our battle only ended when I offered a compromise,” she confesses. “Blow jobs for closet space.”

“I had one couple buy a home every two years,” says Donna Olshan, president of Olshan Realty. “Not because they were trying to make money; they were trying to keep the relationship going. Like having a new toy or a new kid. They were serial buyers.”

A couple’s first real-estate conflict usually has to do with the Drawer. “Having to ask for a drawer is humiliating,” says Brady, 33, a freelance writer. “It’s like that Sex and the City episode where Carrie purposely left a hair dryer and tampons at Big’s house,” says Christopher, the film executive. “When he shows up with a Barneys shopping bag at her apartment, she’s like, ‘A present?’ And he goes, ‘No,’ very casually. ‘These are just some things you left at my place.’ Trying to claim territory in someone else’s space in New York. That is huge.”

Sharing an astronomical rent often makes financial sense long before it’s an emotionally sound concept. “When I met my ex-girlfriend, she was living on green apples and rice cakes and sleeping in the living room of a one-bedroom with another girl in the fashion business,” says Brady. “Their closets were exploding over their whole house. Her lease came up and we had this sort of vague conversation. My roommate was recovering from a serious bout of anorexia; she was miserable, smoking and drinking too much. So we decided, ‘Hey, let’s get a place together.’ I remember the day after all the boxes were unpacked, I was sitting there on the couch watching the Knicks game and I thought, Oh, my God. I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Accelerated cohabitation is by no means a New York-only phenomenon – but staying together because you don’t want to give up your apartment is. Donna and Rudy, it turns out, are not alone. “There is an older couple on lower Fifth Avenue,” says Leonard Steinberg, a vice-president of the Corcoran Group, “who literally despise one another. But they own the apartment together, and they ain’t giving up the lifestyle. It’s stunning, a jewel of downtown. Probably one of the prize apartments in the city. But it’s as if it were Baby Jane and her sister. You know? They just loathe one another, but they stick it out.”

“When you have a good deal in New York, you don’t leave your apartment,” Cecily, 45, says matter-of-factly. An agent for TV-commercial directors, she’s lived in an oversize one-bedroom on West 79th Street with an eat-in kitchen, a 30-foot hallway, and a garden outside her window for the past twenty years. When she got married a few years ago, there was no way she was going to give it up. “My husband was furious. He felt like he was the odd person out. He took it personally that I didn’t get a new one with him. It wasn’t that it was a personal thing; it was just that I’d been used to seeing things the same way for so long. That was a really difficult thing to come to grips with. He would just say, ‘Change it! Fix it! Do something!’ And I didn’t know what to do. We changed some things around, got him a desk. I moved this wonderful 1940s Deco chair from China – which I loved but he hated – to the basement. I got him more bookcases, but there’s no way in hell I could ever have enough bookcases,” she sighs. “We’ll be married three years at the end of the month. I honestly didn’t know that we’d get beyond two.”

Romance Without Finance Is a Nuisance
The average dedicated scanner of real-estate rags would have to declare Nicole, 26, a beauty-industry executive, and her fiancé, Patrick, who works in the ad specialty industry, winners of a real-estate jackpot. The lemon-yellow paint is still drying on their Upper West Side one-bedroom rental, for which they pay $1,300 a month. It is an unbelievable deal. And it means they don’t have to spend their lunch hours and weekends circling bogus listings any longer. But Nicole is not satisfied. “Now we fight about saving money so we can buy an apartment instead of paying rent to someone we don’t even know,” she says. “I just have it come directly out of my account every month. It’s the only way. I got him to do it, too, but he does half of what I do, which is sad. I’m so much more involved in his finances than I want to be. He makes more than I do, but I’m much more neurotic than I think I would be if I lived anywhere else.

“Anywhere else with what we’re making, we’d be billionaires, and here we’re just surfacing. Half the things we fight about we wouldn’t fight about if we didn’t live here. I wouldn’t be on his ass to make more money. I’m like, ‘You aren’t saving enough. We each have to save religiously for three years. Each of us!’ ” she says, scrambling for a pen to jot down some familiar calculations. “If we save $1,000 a month each, times two that’s $72,000, which is 20 percent of $360,000. Think about it: $360,000 will maybe get you a two-bedroom apartment in a non-doorman building,” she sighs. “Like a dark apartment.

“There’s a part of me – and this is so bad, so wrong – that just wishes he were on his way to making a million dollars, because it would mean that I wouldn’t have to work too long. It’s sad, but when you think about how it is for us right now, when I think about how I don’t feel like I can keep doing this …” She leans back in her chair and takes a breath. “I mean, 40?” she says finally. “I’ll be dead by 40.”

“I think real estate controls their lives,” says Corcoran’s Steinberg, who knows all too well what the search for space can do to a couple. Stanley, a publishing executive, constantly begs his boyfriend to quit his writing job and put his law degree to work. “Right now,” he says, “I could be talking to you from my SoHo loft.”

“I had one couple,” says Steinberg. “She loved the apartment, he didn’t. They put in an offer that wasn’t high enough. We knew it wouldn’t be,” he adds. “At a certain point, she just burst: ‘That’s it! I’m leaving!’ They split up right in the street in front of the awning.”

Attempting to pass a co-op board is another mine field. The pressure of “exposing” oneself financially to ten or twelve people is enormous. “Fights? Forget about it,” says Steinberg. “The worst-case scenario is when a spouse doesn’t want to reveal all the finances and then the other spouse says, ‘Well, if you don’t, then we’re not going to get the apartment and I’ve looked for six months and I can’t look anymore because I’m going crazy!’ “

When Cheryl, 34, a former fashion-industry executive, moved into her banker husband’s midtown one-bedroom, “I was the one who had to give up all my stuff,” she says. “He had all this black furniture from Ikea and sports memorabilia on the walls. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I hated living there.” A few months later, circumstances changed. “Somehow I got pregnant, earlier than we’d planned. My husband made me take two pregnancy tests because I wasn’t supposed to be ovulating.” There was no way to squeeze in a baby and possibly a nanny. “I called the broker every day. Something would come up on a high floor that was too expensive. Or it was too big. Or it wasn’t big enough. Finally – I’m six months pregnant – this woman in our building was going to sublet her two-bedroom, then decided at the last minute to give it up.”

Other couples let their space dictate the size of their family instead of the other way around. “You frequently get the one-two-three debate,” says Dr. Kenneth Mueller, a psychotherapist. “They can agree on one child, but there’s an argument over the second one that has to do with space. ‘Suppose it’s the opposite sex; we’ll need an extra bedroom. How are we going to afford it?’ One of them is sitting there doing calculations. ‘That’s an extra bedroom, that’s another $200,000 onto the mortgage!’

“I have a couple coming in now; he says, ‘If we have a second child, how are we going to put him through private school? We can afford one, but where am I going to come up with the money for the second?’ But she just turned 40, and she wants to get going. They could have two, three, and not worry about it if they didn’t live in New York.”

I’d Like to Sup With My Baby Tonight, But It’s Too Darn Hot
Having a place to winter is one thing, but the question of which traffic jam to choose on a summer Friday night is now considered serious. “There’s the expectation of going out and being with friends and spending a lot of money and having the home in the Hamptons,” says Dr. Warren Berland, who specializes in urban-couple dynamics. “It’s very difficult for many people to spend summers in the city. Most people think they have to get out or it’s embarrassing.” For Nick, a travel writer, and Daniel, a lawyer, a summer rental is not in their budget. Dilapidated shacks they casually considered in Sag Harbor turned out to have $750,000 price tags. Instead of spending beach days sucking in the air-conditioning inside their one-bedroom with their new puppy, they play the house-guest roulette. Picking through their myriad invites can lead to a brawl. “When we get invites for a specific date, someone claims it, basically. ‘Is there a plan for July 4? No? Then I just made one.’ It’s whoever gets there first wins.”

“I don’t need a lot of frills and thrills to make me happy,” says James, a book editor. “All I need is an occasional glass of beer and access to a twelve-bedroom home on Fire Island, preferably with a swimming pool and a deck as large as the T-bones we’re grilling on it. Suddenly, this March, when I began looking at Fire Island rentals, my wife told me that my psychological necessity was a luxury we could not afford this year. ‘Your daughter’s bas mitzvah’ is what she said. It’s going to cost two summers on Fire island, and that’s not even counting the D.J.”

The first sunny weekend in May, Brooke and Dave are lying by their pool, listening to the original Sopranos soundtrack blasting from their outdoor speakers. After footing the bill for a Hamptons share five years straight – “and because I was sick of bad furniture in rentals,” Brooke notes – she and Dave decided last year to keep renting in the city and look for a place in Southampton. “It was a fight at first in the style of the house,” says Brooke, who eventually gave in to Dave’s first choice by the beach. “Well, I was paying for it,” he helpfully notes. The hot-button issue for Brooke and Dave was not the remodeling – known as “the secret killer” – but a long-standing sore point. When Brooke was sitting at her computer in their apartment four weeks ago, a message popped up from Dave. “You have a driving lesson tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. The car will be downstairs to do bridges and tunnels.” Though Brooke grew up in South Florida and used to drive her white Honda Prelude up and down I-95, since she moved to New York she’d developed a fear of the chaotic city streets and road-raging Montauk Highway. “It is my goal to get her to drive out to the Hamptons Thursday night or Friday morning,” says Dave. “She has her own business. She can leave when she wants, take the dog out with her and her computer, phone, and BlackBerry so I could work all day Friday and don’t have to sit in traffic. I can take the seaplane on Friday afternoon and be by my pool 45 minutes later.” “But I like to read and make phone calls while he drives,” says Brooke. “I have a DVD player I plug in and watch movies.” She has yet to get behind the wheel.

New York, New York
It’s a Wonderful Town
Almost every couple who’ve fallen in love in New York at some point entertain a fantasy of escape. “When we go visit Patrick’s parents,” says Nicole, the beauty executive, “he always takes me on ‘accidental’ detours through New Jersey and he’ll say, ‘This is a cute town, don’t you think?’ I feel like at some point, he’s going to win the fight. When we leave Manhattan, we don’t argue about things. It’s when we start talking about our life in Manhattan that we argue.”

When Joy, 29, who works in P.R., and her banker boyfriend moved from New York to San Francisco, she didn’t know what to expect. “Two of us can fit in the kitchen at the same time now,” she excitedly reports from a cordless, looking out at a sweeping view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the Transamerica Building. “When you have space, your body relaxes. Bathroom space helps, too.” They still order separate takeout – a hard New York habit to break. A few months of this less harried routine and they decided to get married. (The wedding, of course, will be in New York.)

John and Leslie packed up ten years in the West Village for Richmond, Virginia. “We fought there and we still fight,” he jokes. “But not about the same, all-encompassing issues. After about three months, I was sitting at dinner over a bottle of wine and I looked at Leslie and I said, ‘Do you realize something?’ She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘We haven’t had a real fight in three months.’ What to attribute that to, I don’t know.” He pauses. “On a day-to-day basis, I miss New York immensely. There are just so many trade-offs,” he adds, “but the last time I went, I had a full-blown panic attack at Niketown.”

Perhaps that is just another way of the city weeding out those who aren’t destined to survive here. The ones who remain are fighters. Spas, yoga, reflexology, even antidepressants only go so far. “We broke up because she never got mad at me,” Brady, the writer, laments of another ex. “I tried everything. Coming back from all night out: ‘I went to a strip club! Yup! Come on!’ Nothing.” And the chaos does have its advantages. Why struggle with how you feel when you can fight instead about where to order takeout?

“New York puts you on the same team,” says Jessica. “If you’re not on the same team as a couple, you break up. When we fight it’s like we’re working on the nuances of something. It’s all a process.”

“And the ‘after-fight,’ that’s fun,” says Max. “We’re totally into that.” He adds, “Especially the make-up sex the next morning.”

Fights and the City