This Is What Dating in New York City in 1974 Was Like

In Depth

In 1974, a dozen single men and a dozen single women talked to the New York Times about their love lives for two articles on dating in the city that never sleeps (but definitely has sex). After the pieces were released, the Times got all the subjects together for drinks, which resulted in third piece about how their quest for love and more was going. The result is a revealing and sometimes hilarious portrayal of dating – 40 years ago.

The men were profiled first, and their piece was entitled “Bachelor’s Life: Things Aren’t Always Hunky-Dory in Paradise.” They outlined a bevy of opinions; that they thought single men needed a “gimmick” to get women to notice them (playing volleyball in the park and losing the ball was suggested); that they didn’t want to date models, actresses or stewardesses; that they valued intelligence and warmth in a woman, and that they wanted to meet their potential partner through friends.

The fun Bachelor lifestyle is “just a myth,” said Peter Levinson (who, from the descriptions–if not the photos–in this article, sounds like a real catch), “a myth perpetuated by Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. Being a bachelor in this city is often very lonely, and often very difficult.”

They sound, well, nice. And sort of sad. Basically, they’re as much of a mixed bag as men today. As Levinson put it:

“Women here have, I find, a fear of relationships because of some terrible wrong that one or two or possibly three men did to them at one time or another.”

Another man said he believed that “women who say that the only men they meet are either married or gay are only ‘copping out.'”

“There is a type of woman in New York who doesn’t want a man except one who is unavailable,” said Mr. Olden, a physical fitness buff who holds a black belt in karate and a brown belt in judo. “They are no more interested in tying themselves down to one man than man is to one woman.”

Others, of course, had “mixed feelings about settling down,” due to “the ‘infinite availability’ of interesting women in the city, ‘like grains of sand along the seashore.'” They didn’t think it was possible to end a relationship without coming off as a jerk:

“Never,” he said firmly. “That’s like asking if there’s a way to get in and out of a dentist’s chair, or a nice way to suffer through an I.R.S. audit. It just can’t be done.”

But just when you think this article could have been written in 2014, not 1974, the beat drops:

…they tended to look down on women they meet in singles’ bars; they find more and more women are interested in “one-night stands”, or if not that, are asking the men to be “just friends”; and that even though many women are talking “the women’s lib game,” these very same women rarely offer to pay their share of an evening’s entertainment.
Several of the bachelors expressed surprise – and some dismay – at the fact that so many of the women they meet, especially in bars, are interested in only one-night liaisons.
“It’s as though women were going through a period of feeling their Cheerios,” said Ralph Di Pietro, a 31-year-old Manhattan management consultant who refers to former female roommates as “ex-wives.”

And most of the bachelors, according to author Judy Klemesrud, “…said that the women’s movement was having an impact on almost all of the women he dated. It is noticeable, the men said, in more aggressiveness on the part of women, such as in calling the men for dates; in being more active in politics and sports; and in speaking more frankly about feelings and emotions.”

“When a woman calls me for a date, I almost feel obligated to say yes,” said Hank Cha, a 32-year-old consultant for the Xerox Corporation, “because I know it’s probably taken her so much courage to do it.”

Oh Hank Cha.

What of the women? The piece on dating for single women only came about because women requested it, as a disclaimer on the top of it reveals (the men’s piece “…drew dozens of letters from single women who thought their side of the story should be told, too”). As indicated from their article title, “Women Bachelors: The City Is Not Eden,” life was rough for women too.

Klemesrud also wrote this piece, and in it, she confirmed that men were right in their observation that women often complained that there weren’t enough available men in the city:

Almost to a woman, those questioned said they had strong feelings that there were vastly more eligible single women than men in New York, even though census statistics show that the odds are in a woman’s favor in every borough except Manhattan, where there are 225,013 single women, according to statistics, and only 3,128 fewer single men.

The men interviewed were right that at least one demographic was literally bemoaning the dearth of straight men:

Deborah St. Darr, a 25-year-old actress who plays the part of Pacquette, the serving maid, in the Broadway musical Candide, said she often met men while jogging 2 1/2 miles every day in Riverside Park.
“In my field, there are so many gay men,” she moaned in her Riverside Drive apartment. “It’s gotten so that I get an incredible feeling just being in the presence of a straight man.”

As Kathy Roberts put it, the ones who weren’t gay were “spoiled.”

“They have it almost too easy in this town,” she said in her office the other day. “There are all kinds and ages of women available to them.”

(Well, the gentleman who said he had trouble settling down because of the “infinite availability” of women in the city wouldn’t disagree with that.)

Whether supply and demand was actually an issue, however, these women and men seemed to agree on what they wanted. The women Klemesrud spoke to also didn’t like meeting men at “single’ bars”; they wanted to meet someone through friends. They didn’t want to date actors. They thought New York men didn’t want to get into relationships.

As in the interview with men, the women also acknowledged the role the women’s liberation movement was having in changing their dating lives. As Marie Brenner put it:

“We younger women have nothing to liberate ourselves from,” said Miss Brenner, a motion picture story editor and free-lance writer. “We grew up knowing that we were achieving women and were not confined to an early marriage. There are so many options open to us–career, husband and family–that to balance them causes problems. It becomes a real juggling act.”

We can presume these two pieces drew some attention, though in the days before blogs, it’s hard to say how much chatter they caused. There was at least enough to warrant penning a third story about a mixer the Times threw where they brought all 24 men and women together. There were some fun details from that night, though nothing groundbreaking. (It should also be noted that, like the assumed Times readership of the time, the sample size of individuals interviewed appears to skew towards middle-class, white and successful.) Kathy Roberts said she went out with a Jewish psychiatrist who asked her out after he saw her in the paper. She didn’t think their relationship was going to progress however: “He said he only liked Gentile girls.”

Or this:

One of the bachelors, who asked that his name not be used this time around because it might jeopardize his career at his “very conservative company,” arrived at the party wearing a navy necktie decorated with tiny pig figures, and the letters “M.C.P.” under each pig.
“It’s a male chauvinist pig tie,” he explained. “It was given to me by a young lady I’m dating, who thinks I tend to be assertive at times. I thought it would be appropriate for this party, because I think a lot of single women think that way of men in New York.”

While New York City singles 40 years ago seemed to have the same general observations about dating that you’d hear their modern counterparts expressing now, these interviews suggest that any lingering old fashioned tendencies they expressed which give away when these were written were not long for this world. As Andrew Rudisin explained to Klemesrud:

In his original interview, Mr. Rudisin had complained that despite the women’s liberation movement, he had yet to meet a woman who offered to pay her share of an evening. But that situation has since been remedied.
“It finally came true–I met this girl who’s a goldsmith, and we went to P.J. Clarke’s and she fished into her purse and paid for both of our drinks,” he said, in an incredulous tone. “I tried to reimburse her, but she said she’s a liberated woman, and that this way, she was not obligated to me.”

Image via Metro-Goldwyn Mayer of Annie Hall, which, yes, came out in 1977

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