Thursday, June 01, 2006

Newsweek Rethinks "The Marriage Crunch" -- But Whatever Happened to "Luscious and Looking"?

Digging into its archives, Newsweek magazine has re-examined the data and the daters in its notorious June 1986 cover article "The Marriage Crunch." The article spun statistics in a study called "Marriage Patterns in the United States." Women across America got hit with the "traumatic news" about the relationship of aging and marriage prospects:
According to the report, white, college-educated women born in the mid-'50s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent. Forty-year-olds are more likely to be killed by a terrorist: they have a minuscule 2.6 percent probability of tying the knot.

Newsweek took a fresh look at the article and tracked down 11 of the 14 women interviewed in the 1986 piece, and found eight were married, three were singled, and none divorced. Overall, Newsweek found the marriage odds are much better now.

However, for all the rethinking and reinterviewing, Newsweek ignored the one followup story I most wanted to read.

As background, I'll confess that I saved that issue of Newsweek. I stuck it in a folder I called "The Love File," stuffed to overflowing with magazine articles, photographs, the 1980 wedding announcement of a high school flame thoughtfully sent to me by my mother, "The Mensch Shortage, Or, What Do Women Want?" from the Village Voice of February 1986, a heartbreakingly beautiful picture of Amy Irving on the cover of the New York Daily News Magazine, and much, much more. And Newsweek had its place of honor.

Many of the articles came from New York Magazine. Back before the Internet, its personal ads were the big game in town for singles (in addition to the scruffier Village Voice). Around the time when "The Marriage Crunch" ran, New York made a radical innovation in personal ads -- singles could run their picture with their ad, for a price, of course.

The first pictures broke through the concrete-like wall of anonymity that always guarded the ads in New York. Sure, you could read the terse notices and get a very slight sense of the person, but learning the appearance of the other person had to wait until the slow-motion process of sending a letter with a picture, then waiting for a call, then wrangling a meeting. The process could take weeks. I couldn't imagine the nerve required to reveal yourself with a picture on your personal ad.

Newsweek also took notice of New York's approach. A sidebar article, "The New Mating Games," scanned the techniques of singles, including New York's approach, which cost "$500 for a picture and 12 lines of copy."

What Newsweek did in 1986 was reprint the actual ur-photo ad, the one I remember because I found the woman quite attractive. Under the headline "Luscious and Looking," she wrote copy that seems ludicrously brief by today's epic-length standards on JDate and Match, but Luscious still hit the classic themes and underlying neuroses of urban singles ads:
Divorced, 40, feminine, sexy, slender, 5'2", athletic, successful, great cook, cuddler, Jewish, enjoy intimacy, desire committed relationship. You: 34-45, tall, Manhattanite, handsome, successful, strong, masculine, caring, non-smoker."


The new Newsweek article has nothing about the role of technology in shifting the dynamics of dating and mating. Compared to 20 years ago, men and women have extraordinarily more choices thanks to the Internet. In 1986 Newsweek inadvertently touched on the revolution to come, with a passing reference to "video dating" and the pathbreaking picture of Luscious and Looking. While her photo is utterly demure compared to the bikini-clad vixens who can be found today, Luscious and Looking took the first tentative step beyond anonymity to say, "Here I am, guys. Take a good look."

If I were at Newsweek, I would have got on the horn to New York Magazine and tried to contact Luscious. She's 60 now; what's happened in the 20 years since she bravely shelled out her $500 to break through the columns of type in New York? Is she still luscious? Is she still looking?

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