Thursday, January 07, 2010

In search of a Mensch

Hello, readers, from the Megabus, this time with Internet.

A friend just sent me a disturbing article from the NY Observer: apparently New York gals are turning to Western European men - PhD students especially - for boyfriends and husbands in droves. It's rare that I find myself inadvertently part of a trend - the last time was when, in college, I was paring ballet flats with dark, narrow-cut jeans a few months before the rest of the American female undergraduate population. The Double X factor correctly notes that by "trend" the Observer means "three women in New York." As one of the three, I suppose I should respond.

I don't find the Observer piece terribly convincing - 'men from A are like B' arguments tend to fail, and it's odd that the possibility that the men are in these relationships for green cards is mentioned, but not that the women might be in it to get in on EU perks, such as better bakeries and not having to pay a million dollars to go to the dentist. But there might be a reason New Yorkers and Western Europeans, nothing gender-specific, would pair off. For one thing, there's proximity - New York is filled with Europeans, here as students, tourists, or more permanently, and their English is often excellent, particularly important if the European in question comes from one of those countries whose language is not taught in New York schools. Then there's the shared non-belonging to Real-America. Whether the issue is creationism, 'family values' issues, or whether straight men can and should dress elegantly, there's much agreement to be found. New Yorkers are in many ways halfway between Americans and Europeans, seeming very foreign to the former and very American to the latter. It allows New Yorkers to shall we say go both ways more easily.

There could just as well have been an article about New York's single ladies discovering men from the Heartland. Or on Jewish women who've braved the world of non-Jewish men, which is in a way the subtext of the 'New York woman' looking for love beyond the Tristate Area. (Need these written, NY Observer? Give me 15 minutes for each.)

Or, really, an article about anyone from one demographic finding anyone else from another - the piece seems to profile women whose current relationships are going well, and who - perhaps provoked by the journalist - have agreed that this is neither chance nor precarious but a pattern from which we can generalize. When in relationships with people from similar backgrounds, those with a tendency to generalize announce that what matters is to have common cultural references, blah blah, whereas if the beau happens to be of a different background, then opposites suddenly attract. Which brings me to the wise words of Mr. Dan Savage: "Every relationship fails, until one doesn't." Retroactive justification gets us nowhere.


Petey said...

A friend just sent me a disturbing article from the NY Observer: apparently New York gals are turning to Western European men

Aw. C'mon now.

This ain't new, and this ain't gender-specific.

Maastricht has been in force for 15 years now.

And I once hung on to a girlfriend with EU citizenship for about two months past her sell-by date sheerly because the fantasy of eventual marriage was so very, very difficult to walk away from.

Withywindle said...

Do you have any sense of what proportion of NYC's population is European expats? I'm beginning to think it's pretty high, even higher as a proportion of the white population, and very much higher as a proportion of the white professional classes. Or this could just be my neck of the woods - but still, do we think there are 100K Europeans wandering around the city? More?

Phoebe said...

My own view is skewed by being a grad student myself, one in a French department at that. But if you include not only expats but tourists - necessary to gauge who you'll likely meet at the café on the corner - it does seem like Europeans are everywhere. But I wouldn't reduce it to white people - there are also non-white European tourists and expats. As for overall numbers, who knows - the city's so huge.