Right around my 22nd birthday, I found myself in a somewhat unusual place: an Anthropologie dressing room trying on a very fancy dress that I had no business buying. The top was black and came up around my neck and the bottom was made out of blush pink tulle, like a ballerina tutu. I stepped out of the dressing room and my mom immediately exclaimed, “You have to get it. It’s so Carrie Bradshaw!” At this point, I was still a college senior and a Sex and the City virgin with only vague plans to move to New York, where I now live. But even then, I knew exactly what Carrie Bradshaw meant. Carrie Bradshaw was fabulous and well-dressed. Carrie Bradshaw lived in Manhattan and worked as a writer. She would have a reason to wear this very fancy tutu dress! She was iconic. I just didn't know anything else about her.
My mom raved about Sex and the City for most of my childhood, always insisting she bring her set of DVDs with her when we went on vacation or a long train ride. My aunt and some friends also sang the show's praises, but for some reason, I always wrote it off. I never really liked to watch "chick flicks" or rom coms, so I thought (stupidly!) that a show about four women in New York City was not for me. If I had a dollar for every time I had the following conversation, I could probably afford a pair of Carrie’s Manolos:
Person: You've never seen Sex and the City?!
Me: No, but I know I need to!
Person: Omg you have to, it's so good. I promise it gets better after the first season!
And then nothing. Here was this show that seemed to mark a significant moment in the cultural zeitgeist, that all the smart, funny, amazing women in my life loved — and for some reason I kept avoiding it. (My friends would say this is because I'm stubborn, but I'm going to chalk it up to bad judgment.)
Then I started working at Cosmopolitan.com. We have written about the show extensively, so I inevitably found myself in a meeting, admitting to a room full of SATC experts that I'd never even seen an episode of the show. I'm pretty sure multiple editors audibly gasped before it was suggested that I binge the entire series and report back on the experience. I knew I had to jump at the chance to see what all the fuss was about (and have an excuse to cancel on my friends for the next month). And so I did it. I watched the entire series of Sex and the City in less than a month, and *drum roll please* omg it’s so good and it gets better after the first season!
When Sex and the City first premiered in June 1998, I was four years old and the only evidence of my passion for television was the fact that I forced my pre-school teachers to call me Elmo. So I was a little surprised that the show felt so relatable almost 20 years later — except for, you know, the flip phones and lack of Tinder.
Sex and the City tackled cheating, abortion, threesomes, adoption, fertility, and the elusive concept of work-life balance head on and without apology. Yes, some of the conversations felt dated (this one about bisexuality would not fly today) and the show suffers from a serious lack of diversity, but the writing was engaging and clever and, most of the time, the girls' conversations sounded like the ones I have with my own friends, even if now we're having them over group chat.
The show’s depiction of healthy friendships — supportive, empathetic, unthreatened — was what I loved most about it. Maybe I’ve been picking the wrong series until now, but for years I felt like I was only seeing shows where the female friends were kind of horrible to each other (Gossip Girl, Girls). Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte, for all their flaws, were true friends. Friends who argued and laughed and picked up the phone and showed up when they were needed and even when they weren’t. They sang together in bars and ate popsicles with Samantha as she got chemo. Maybe their friendship is a little fanciful — How did these women have so much free time on their hands to hang out? — but it’s also something to look up to.
I even liked Carrie, and I've read enough about the show to know that's a controversial opinion. Common descriptions of her include “bad friend,” “selfish,” “reckless with money,” and “dependent on men.” But as I watched her character unfold, I couldn’t help but fall in love. Was Carrie selfish? Sometimes, but who isn’t? Was she a bad friend? As far as I could tell she was there for her friends when it mattered the most. Was she reckless with money? Of course she was, but the show isn’t a blueprint for real life. It's a dream world where you arrive at the hospital to see your friend’s baby being born in a freaking horse-drawn carriage. Carrie is not perfect; as TV critic Emily Nussbaum wrote in The New Yorker, Carrie was television’s first unacknowledged female anti-hero. But that’s why she’s the best. She can be indecisive and obsessive and selfish and lovable and comforting, just like any other human.
For me, the most difficult character to like was Charlotte, although I came around to her by the end of the show, at which point I thought her relationship with Harry was so sweet and her struggle with infertility so human. But for the longest time, I was put off by her puritanical attitude, which felt so contradictory to the rest of the characters. I suppose her point of view was meant to add complexity and diversity of thought to the dialogue, but I was not a fan. Why did brunch have to come with a side of slut shaming? There’s a difference between being prudish and being mean, and sometimes it just seemed like Charlotte crossed a line.
On the flip side was Samantha. First thing’s first: I love Samantha’s confidence. She's unapologetic about what she wants and how she gets it, and I admire that she doesn’t need anyone else's approval to be happy. But I couldn’t get over this idea, which was perpetuated throughout the series, that she was somehow the “man” of the group insofar as her approach to sex was concerned. Why does having a ton of satisfying, unattached sex translate into “having sex like a guy”? With regards to sexual liberation, it felt like taking two steps forward and one step back.
In a way, that’s how you could describe the ending of the series, too, given that all four of these confident, independent, perpetually single women somehow wound up in committed relationships just in time for the finale. Even Sex and the City creator Darren Star has said, “I think the show ultimately betrayed what it was about, which was that women don’t ultimately find happiness from marriage.” But I’m going to go out on a limb and say the ending didn’t bother me. Perhaps that’s because much of it was spoiled for me — I knew Carrie would end up with Big (thanks mom) — and I'd already braced myself to feel slightly annoyed by that. But ultimately, the ending simply made me happy. I cried when Charlotte saw the picture of her new baby girl; I loved seeing Miranda “love,” as Magda said; I knew in my heart Big and Carrie were meant to be together; and honestly, Samantha and Smith were a satisfying match. Anyway, at least two out of four of them didn’t actually get married, right? (Until the movies, that is — and I’ve been advised not to watch.)
Now that I’m no longer a Sex and the City virgin, I’m proud to say I’ve been asked the age-old question, “Which SATC character are you?” My immediate response is Miranda (although my mom would want me to say Carrie) — but the truth is I’m a little bit of each of them. And I think a lot of women feel that way. It’s like that part in The Breakfast Club where the nerd writes in a letter to the principal. “… What we found out is that each one of us is a brain...and an athlete...and a basket case...a princess...and a criminal.” Not even Carrie is a total Carrie. Not even Charlotte a total Charlotte. I couldn’t help but wonder, Maybe that was the point of the show all along.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.