For Jason (not his real name), a 32-year-old investment banker at Merrill Lynch, the market crash had far-reaching consequences—not only for his finances but for a more definitive aspect of the banker lifestyle: women. Jason had grown accustomed to a stately existence that included frequent-flyer status at big-name Manhattan bottle-service clubs where he and his peers blew their bonuses on trust-fund girls and Estonian models. But then the Dow went into free fall and Jason's bottle-service Saturdays transmogrified into the unthinkable: He was forced to skim ads for happy-hour specials. As for the Estonian models—that line about working in finance no longer conjured up images of vast reserves of cash. And Jason wasn't the only one. A friend of his, a vice president at another bank with an $800,000 salary and an apartment in New York's top-dollar Tribeca enclave, felt the sting too.
"He's divorced," Jason says. "His whole job was to pick up chicks. Now he's worried about his bonus."
Just as the subprime crisis presaged the financial crisis, the financial crisis is ringing in a sort of carnal recession. That age-old coupling of high earner and head-turner is in peril. What lawyer Edward W. Hayes likes to call the High-End Girlfriend Index—a not-so-scientific assessment of how well moneyed shlubs are getting on with the bleached-blond droves of yacht-seeking missiles—is taking a nosedive. According to a recent survey by Prince & Associates, a wealth-research firm, more than 80 percent of multimillionaires who have extramarital lovers planned to cut back on their gifts and allowances. Even online hookup sites such as Millionairematch.com, which bills itself as the "#1 dating site for successful singles and admirers," are taking a hit. And so, with discretionary dollars in decline, Wall Street's "bottles and models" battle cry is finally losing some volume.
Things were already looking bad in September, says Ben, a 24-year-old investment banker—who's too wigged out about the crisis to use his real name—for anyone who'd grown accustomed to falling back on the appeal of his income bracket to pick up girls.
"I went out this past weekend and met a couple girls who asked me what I did, and when I said 'Finance,' they were like, 'Oh. You guys aren't doing so hot lately, are you?'" he says. "They joked about how we were going to be poor one day, and five minutes later they were gone. Look, it's no secret that we finance guys aren't the most exciting people in the world. We're a bunch of guys set on the money—that's our whole appeal. So if we can't use that from the start—it's not so much keeping girlfriends, it's going to be getting them."
By November, as the Dow plummeted to lightless depths, the pickup scene had grown darker still. Aaron (not his real name), a 26-year-old mergers-and-acquisitions associate in Manhattan, remembers a recent trip he took to Vegas. He was getting along well with a pretty brunette until she asked him what he did. "Just like that, she went from distantly interested to visibly repulsed," he says. "She was furious. She said, 'You guys ruined everything!'"
While it may be gratifying to hear the sob stories of newly humbled titans, there are less sadistic reasons to embrace the new era. As the symbiosis of black-AmEx flashers and their vapid hangers-on falters, something long forgotten may be emerging in its place: actual human connection.
"The last three or four months have been good for me," says Hamaad, 26, a New York-based consultant in the finance industry. "I think people want to get out of this low. Maybe before, more women were going to lounges and bars looking for guys who could splurge. But those guys aren't around as much anymore. The focus has shifted from people who can just show you a good time to men who make interesting conversation." Then again, if one of the effects of the recession is to force high-net-worth individuals to perfect their A-game, you should fear the day the Dow bounces back.