The Literary Manboys of New York City
In today's New York Times, we met John Bowe, a 42-year-old writer and bachelor who fell in love for the first time at age 39—in Saipan. It didn't work out. Not surprising, since he's the quintessential Literary Manboy.
The Literary Manboy is a species that we believe to be unique to Manhattan, brownstone Brooklyn, and the towns housing the country's better MFA programs. He is generally between the ages of 36 and 45, though of course there are exceptions upwards and downwards. He's not attractive, per se, but there's that special something about him—his literary success, often, or promise thereof—that makes women flock. He is often fixated on the one who got away—whether it was through divorce or the fact that she lives in fucking Saipan. And so no other woman can ever measure up to her.
Bowe—the subject of the Times story—tells the interviewer that he was so discombobulated by falling in love with the woman in Saipan (side note: how many times could they have possibly seen each other? Saipan is thousands of miles away. I even originally read it as "Spain" and thought he was nuts, but Saipan?! Also, the woman apparently couldn't leave the island because she had two young sons. Also, it takes two days to get to Saipan) that he "felt confounded by how to deal with a relationship that 'came with so many complications, and a lot of fear, and a lot of pressure.'" Right. Because there's no way he would have consciously been seeking out a relationship that was doomed to failure, right?
Another defining characteristic of the Literary Manboy is they are always really busy with their "work." They can't hang out because they have to finish a chapter of their novel. They can't stay over because they have to wake up early and run 10 miles before finishing a chapter of their novel. They can't get it up because they're thinking about the chapter of the novel they have to finish.
"I dated someone who fit that bill to a tee," says a 31-year-old freelancer who lives in Brooklyn, who I'll call Lisa. "He was a famous author and he always canceled our plans because he had book deadlines. He's not a bad guy, but I stopped talking to him." Her former paramour was 39. "I was pretty straightforward and was like, we don't need to hang out but you need to stick with a plan. And it's not like stuff came up—I think he just couldn't get out of the house. He was definitely fixated on something in his own head. Maybe it was the idea of love but he was afraid to actually confront it. I'd like to think he just didn't like me."
Bowe, too, is fixated on work and also sort of sounds a little unhinged ("Ask him about his work as a journalist and he holds forth like a modern-day Marxist, railing against injustice and criticizing the mainstream news media for focusing on the ruling class instead of "regular people."), telling the NYT writer (in "one of several late-night phone calls"—um, what?) that he made the choice to focus on his work at the expense of a relationship earlier in life. This is what he says about friends who accuse him of having a fear of intimacy: "But pretty much all of those friends wanted to be artists or filmmakers or writers, and none of them are," he said. (Hey, friends of Bowe, email us!)
Lisa points out that these guys are often jaded and set in their ways—they profess a desire for intimacy, but the thought of actually sharing space with someone freaks them out. "They're used to living alone. They have nice apartments and routines. A lot of them are super into working out early because they're afraid they're body's getting old. They don't want a woman who comes in and disturbs their routine," she says. "In some ways they're charming because they like take you out to a really nice dinner and their apartment is actually cleaner than your own, but you know you can't really linger in their apartment the next day. It's a lot of, well I've got shit to do."
Another woman I'll call Madeline dated a writer who was on the brink of success—he'd just sold a screenplay based on a relationship he'd had with an ex. (Hi, RED FLAG.) "He was friends with several moderately famous people and mentioned them with alarming frequency. Also, he would always drive to our dates (yes, he drove in NYC) and then we'd make out in his car for like an hour but he wouldn't come inside and would come up with some weird (usually career-related) excuse as to why he needed to go home," says Madeline, who is 30. "'I have a meeting at [fill in the name of important media company] tomorrow and I have to read a script before it' or whatever. This happened like three times in a row and I tolerated it, but after being deserted due to a 'stomach ache' on the G train platform (the lowest form of humiliation known to womankind) I confronted him (via email) about his, ahem, gun-shy behavior. He wrote me a long, rambling response about he was too bogged down with work and his screenplay (which, for the record, I really liked) to get involved with anyone. I was enraged at the time but it all worked out for me, at least. I started dating my now boyfriend about a week later."
I also asked Moe Tkacik, a former Jezebel and Gawker editor, what she thought. Her analysis was that men are "just incredibly late, and until then loathe, to acknowledge that there are rewards and advantages to companionship/fidelity/love that aren't purely romantic/sexual/possibly, on some largely delusional level 'spiritual.' So they conflate 'that time when I allowed myself to be vulnerable because I was in fucking Saipan WRITING A BOOK ABOUT MODERN DAY SLAVERY OF ALL LIFE AFFIRMING THINGS' or 'that time when I was somehow more emotionally available — possibly I suppose owing in part to the fact that I was fifteen years old?' with 'the only real time I fell in love,' the transcendence of which, until it is somehow surpassed — not super likely to happen at the next Housing Works party btw — stands as the unimpeachable order from within themselves to neglect all other minor romances."
Yeah, that sounds about right. Good luck, John Bowe and all the rest of you! The women of New York (and Saipan) eagerly await your future conquests.