I distinctly remember the first time I watched an episode of Sex and the City. I went over to a friend’s house—that cool friend who was always having people over because their parents weren’t home. They put on an episode from Season 3, and a group of us proceeded to binge the entire season until the sun came up the next morning. At the time, I hadn’t seen any other shows like it, especially anything centering around women in their 30s and 40s. It seemed so fresh, so unguarded, and so real. I recall thinking how much older and wiser the characters were, and that I could learn a lot from them. And learn from them I did. In fact, whether it’s a good or bad thing, much of my early sexual education probably stemmed from Sex and the City. Now that I’m closer to the age the characters were when the series began, my perspective has shifted. Rewatching the show is like getting into a time machine and getting a cold blast of reality, all at once. Here’s why:
It’s Hard to Compute
Sex and the City premiered in 1998, exactly 25 years ago, before the iPhone, before social media, before dating apps, and in the same year that Google became a company. There are many episodes in which the characters, especially Carrie, struggle to learn new technology. In a current age where most of the shows we consume contain a reference to social media and shots of characters texting, swiping, and video chatting, it’s difficult to journey back into a world where none of that existed. It’s even harder to spot the relevant themes that still apply to modern dating. In the iconic moment where Carrie is broken up with by Berger through a Post-It note, it almost felt cute compared to being broken up with via text message or dating app, but the sentiment was the same. Once my brain adjusted to the change in technology, I began to realize that no matter the vessel or the method, dating and breaking up have always been awkward. There’s something comforting about that.
Some Old Quotes Speak New Truth
In an episode in which all four friends are single, Samantha states: “We’re all alone, even when we’re with them.” Thinking about this quote too much could potentially send you into an existential frenzy. Samantha says this in response to Charlotte, who is complaining about being alone (as Charlotte does many, many times throughout the series). I don’t even remember the quote from before, but now it makes perfect sense. Its meaning lands somewhere between realism and harsh independence, conveying that the most consistent relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves. Feeling alone doesn’t necessarily change just because we’re dating or surrounded by people. And perhaps most importantly, being alone is not something to be afraid of.
…And Once-Iconic Lines Are Now Iconic Cringes
Contrast Samantha’s quote with Charlotte’s well-known line in another episode: “I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?” While I didn’t pay any mind to this quote before, it now makes me break out in hives. Charlotte is perhaps the hardest character for me to get on board with now. I no longer think life is about finding “the one” and it horrifies me that this was Charlotte’s main goal and plotline. I was relieved to notice, however, that we do see Charlotte grow out of this in a small way. It was she who later suggests that she and her friends could all be soulmates, instead of trying to find that feeling with the people they date. This I can get on board with.
Samantha Is More Than an Archetype
When the show premiered, there was a huge media focus on the archetypes of each of the main characters, placing each person into a box, and thus asking other women to do so as well. I am now not a fan of this checkbox way of defining people. Samantha, while seen as the more unconventional friend at the time, is the character I relate to the most now. She was defined as the “single sex-crazed” archetype of the day, but she’s so much more than that. Samantha is around 40 years old in the first season. When I watched the show originally, it was an age that I couldn’t even fathom, and now I’m steadily approaching it. But there is still something about Samantha’s independence and fearlessness that inspires me. The way she lives her life prioritizing her career, walking into every situation with confidence, not being afraid to ask for what she wants, and assuredly exiting a relationship that’s not benefiting her is today’s definition of living your best life. Much of her confidence came from hard-earned life experience, which I had yet to go through myself. Now I know that Samantha is not an archetype or a stereotype, but instead defies these notions altogether.
The Love Interests Are Still Not My Fave
I never felt that any of the main love interests in the show were exciting. Rewatching, I got stressed when it seemed like the main characters in the show were settling. Also, is it just me or does Aiden whisper-talk too much? That is neither here nor there, but I couldn’t unhear it once I noticed it. I also never understood the appeal of Mr. Big, and can confirm that I still do not. The only love interest that seems somewhat exciting to me now is Smith, and not just because he has great hair. Perhaps liking Smith says more about how much I love Samantha, and how he supported and valued how she wanted to live her life, especially when she was going through her cancer treatment. The head-shaving scene still tracks. Aside from a few exceptions, all the older men seemed so set in their ways (looking at you, Berger) and patriarchal even when I first watched the show, and they still do to me now. Overall, I’d take a brunch scene between the main characters any day over another breakup scene with Big.
We’re Still Talking About Whether Being Single Is Fabulous
It’s no surprise that there is a love-hate relationship throughout the entire series with being single, and each character goes through their own moments with it. They talk about it a lot. Pretty much every episode. While most of the scenes don’t pass the Bechdel Test, they sure do cover almost every topic imaginable when it comes to single life, married life, and everything in between. Perhaps one of the most iconic episodes is one in which Carrie is featured in a New Yorker article that’s supposed to be titled “Single and Fabulous!” but ends up being called “Single and Fabulous?” One of my favorite lines is Carrie saying to her friends, “That question mark is hostile.” I agree. It’s a great turning point in the show, in which the ladies, even Samantha, all question if it actually is fabulous to be single. I couldn’t help but wonder (it had to be done at least once) if this plotline is relevant today. Haven’t we evolved beyond shaming people for being single? And then I realized, the show is still going on now (the And Just Like That… reboot) and yes, it’s still a plotline and a reality in current society.
Age Is Just a Number, But Not Really
Age comes into play quite a bit throughout the series, which I appreciate now. I love that we get to see these characters through a decade. There is a melancholy episode where Carrie has a birthday party, and no one shows up because of various transportation issues, work, and location mix-ups. Carrie walks home with her cake, drops it, and accidentally steps into a construction site. It was lonely and sad and made me fear aging at the time. The truth is, as we get older, we do think about age a lot more. And our friends do get a lot busier. Today, this episode is so much more relatable than it was when I was growing up and the logistics of friends coming to my birthday party didn’t concern me at all (their parents would drop them off, of course). In general, watching a show where you are now the age of the characters that once seemed so much older is the ultimate reality check. Age is just a number, but it’s also something to pay attention to. With it comes change, and that’s scary, but aren’t we all lucky to keep getting older?
Carrie’s NYC Life Is Expensive
When I was younger, I thought Sex and the City must be a good representation of living in New York City. Having now known many friends who lived there in their 20s and 30s, and having lived there myself for a little while, I know that most of Carrie’s NYC life is not a real, achievable thing for most people. I love NYC so much, but never would I ever be able to wear heels and walk more than a block and not break a toe. We also rarely see the characters take the subway, which is confusing to me, having vowed to never take a car lest I be stuck in traffic on a bridge forever. Throw in unrealistic rent prices, the overall wealth the characters seem to have, and the lack of representation across many arenas, and the NYC we see in the show isn’t remotely recognizable to the NYC I, and many others, lived and breathed. The reboot series And Just Like That attempts to address this, but still holds on to the wealthy fantasy and fashion that is integral to the lives of most of the main characters.
And Just Like That… I Can’t Stop Watching
Sex and the City certainly shaped my perspective then and now. What sets it apart is that we keep seeing these characters again and again. Whereas some shows are lost to time, these characters keep getting older and moving forward. They will reappear in movies, reboots, and who knows what else in the future. I will not be surprised if there is a Sex and the City reboot set in space when they are all in their 90s. And I would totally watch that.