The world often treats single living as liminal and less than, but not the hit television show Sex and the City. In this episode of Solo, Peter McGraw invites Mary Dahm into the Solo Studio to discuss the cultural implications of this critically-acclaimed show. They discuss Sex and the City’s importance in creating an alternative narrative about single living and female sexual positivity. Bonus material is back, which you can access by signing up at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. Mary and Peter discuss how New York City is an ideal setting for a show like Sex and the City which features four single women.
Listen to Episode #145 here
Sex And The City
Our guest is Mary Dahm, a writer, and high school English teacher. She studied English Literature and History at Boston College and earned a Master’s in Teaching from USC. She’s appeared on three popular episodes, number 19, Write Your Way Out, number 34, People Who Shouldn’t Have Married, and number 62, Nietzsche on Friends. Despite her love of literature, Mary watches TV on occasion. A show she knows well is Sex and the City. There have been many years since its launch. The critically acclaimed show has a lasting cultural influence.
Mary and I discuss its significance and how the show tackled subjects related to living single in a world that treats singlehood as liminal and less than. Mary is back, and so is bonus material, which you can access by signing up at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. In the bonus material, we discuss how New York City is an ideal setting for a show like Sex and the City, which features four single women. I hope you enjoyed the episode. Let’s get started.
Welcome back, Mary.
Let’s be honest. This might be your last solo episode.
This should be my last. I haven’t earned another one after this.
However, this one is overdue. It’s difficult to have a show on single living and not talk about Sex and the City.
I think so. I’ve been talking about this for quite a while.
You’ve been pushing me to do this. You made me watch the show.
The most enjoyable part of this is the part that happened off the mics. The most enjoyable part of this was that I got an old man to watch Sex and the City by himself.
That’s true. For people who are not familiar with Sex and the City, beyond the basic conceptual idea, what is the show?
This is essentially a show about 30-something women navigating dating life in New York. All the episodes that we chose are from the first two seasons because those are the seasons where it talks about singlehood. Later on, it does become more about relationships, but that’s the premise.
The show premiered on June 6th, 1998. It had 94 episodes over 6 seasons. As you mentioned, it was New York City. One of the characters is in her 40s. We’re going to return to her late in the episode because of what a special character she is to so many people.
I need to give the quick caveat that we are not including the hot-on-fire garbage, which is the films and the new series, as part of this. I’m a huge fan of the original show. I don’t include those in the universe of Sex and the City.
It’s funny you say this. I’ve heard this from multiple Sex and the City fans. What they do is act as if the movies never existed.
This show received critical acclaim and criticism for its subjects and characters. It won seven Emmys, had 54 nominations, won 8 Golden Globe Awards, 24 nominations, and 4 Screen Actor Guild Awards, 11 nominations. This is good television.
Yes, before it ended, and they made all this other garbage.
That’s just a money grab. It often appears on lists of top shows ever.
It doesn’t hold up all the other problems like this is a show about New York City that there are only White people on it. The gay men are accessory plots to the main plots of the women. There are problems with it that make it feel dated, so you can criticize it, but I don’t like to judge things out of the context of the times. For its time, it was very progressive. We’ll get back to that.
That’s well said. I had mentioned the criticisms of it, and those criticisms have to do with it being overly straight. Let’s talk about these four characters because we’re going to be referencing them. What I’d like to do, in addition to you giving people an overview of who they are, is I want to see how well we can fit them into my taxonomy of singles versus solos. There are four types of singles. The first is the Someday Singles, the hopeless romantics, the ones who want to get married and ride the relationship escalator. The average American is a Someday.
The remaining three are solos, as I call them. They are more unconventional. They are more autonomous. They’re independent thinkers. They’re more self-reliant. For them, a lot of the traditional relationship stuff is more optional. There are the Just Mays. They just may ride the escalator. They just may find their person. If it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. There are the No Ways, the people who are not interested in relationships for the time being or forever. They’re concentrating on other things. There are the New Ways, the people who would welcome a relationship, sexual, romantic, or both, but it’s going to deviate in some way from the relationship escalator. Somedays, Just Mays, No Ways, and New Ways. Let’s start with the main character, Carrie Bradshaw.
We should start with Charlotte because she’s the outlier. She’s the one who’s very much not solo. She’s a Someday. She’s the absolute classic Someday. They’ll say things like, “Let’s cheers to no men tonight girls’ night,” and she’ll say like, “That’s bad luck.” She’s the ultimate caricature of that, and that’s the comedy of her character.
She’s in that crazy straight double act. She’s straight. Lucy and Desi, she’s Desi straight.
You almost have to suspend your disbelief that they’re friends with her because she’s such an outlier. Anyway, she is the Someday.
What does she do for a living? Is there anything special about her?
She’s a total beautiful wasp who, in the beginning, works at an art gallery, goes to a fancy private college, wants to marry a Yale-educated waspy guy, and ends up not working because she gets married.
Is it fair to say she’s the least interesting character as a result of this?
I disagree. I find her very funny, but her views are predictable. That’s Charlotte. Next is Carrie. Carrie is an interesting character because I’m going to classify her as a Just May, but maybe people could say Someday because she’s very relationship-focused. There’s an episode where Carrie describes dating this guy as trying on an outfit where you don’t know if it fits, but you try it on for fun to see if it will. That’s how she approaches dating, and I relate the most to that because I date for fun. Dating is incredibly fun and should be playful and enjoyable. Carrie will date someone that she knows is not going to lead to a long-term thing. She’ll date someone who’s out there choice, but she also is interested in serious relationships. She has long relationships.
It feels a little conflictual for her.
There are various points in the series where she agonizes over identity when it comes down to it because she identifies as the “single gal.” We skipped the basics, but Carrie writes a sex column called Sex and the City, the titular column. She has this brand of the single girl in New York dating. She often writes about relationships more than sex.
She is a little bit unconventional. She smokes cigarettes in this, and she’s a little bit.
She rips cigs all day, but she’s got a Pilates body.
She’s a little irreverent, I would say.
She loves punts, often painfully so.
She’s a little bit of a rule-breaker. I get the sense. Next is Miranda.
I would also describe Miranda as a Just May. Miranda is a high-powered lawyer who went to Harvard Law School. She’s very successful. She’s the most masculine energy. It’s less relatable now but really important for the time. Sometimes her success in her career is a hindrance to her dating, and men are intimidated by her.
Does she fit in this group?
She and Carrie are the closest friends. They’re the central friendship of the show. She’s very caustic and cynical. She’s my favorite. My dating style is the most similar to Carrie, and I like to think I’m a Miranda. Everyone says they’re a Miranda. That’s the cool one to say. No one wants to say they’re Carrie because Carrie overthinks things to a degree. That’s insane.
She’s a little more neurotic. There’s Samantha, who’s a little older.
Samantha’s a slut in a good way.
We’re going to return a little bit to Samantha at the end, and that, “Good way,” comment will make a little more sense.
Samantha’s my favorite character. She’s highly entertaining. The thing about her that’s amazing is she gets laid more often than the rest of them combined, and she’s the oldest one. She gets laid with the hottest guys too.
She’s a New Way.
She’s totally a New Way or a No Way in that she never wants to have a conventional relationship.
She’s approaching dating in such an unconventional way, especially for 1998. What does she do for a living?
She also has a high-powered career. She’s a PR executive. She puts on events.
She’s a bit of a socialite.
Yes, but that implies East Coast wasp and doesn’t have that waspy energy. She’s very nimble. I feel like she can traverse the socialite world. Sometimes she dresses like “ghetto fabulous.” She does everything.
She’s a little shapeshifter. Interesting. You’ve watched a lot of this show.
I’ve watched all of it.
How many times?
I don’t know how many times. I watched it during COVID. It was COVID escapism, me and my roommate. There are certain shows that I don’t know how many times I’ve re-watched them. Sex and the City is one of those shows.
You watched it when you were young, in your formative years.
I don’t know how old I was when I first watched it, but I didn’t grow up with it because I was born in the ’90s and came out in ’98. I was watching it after it came out. When I was watching it, it was already dated. There’s an episode where Carrie gets an email address. She’s on AOL. She’s on AIM for the first time. She ducks and was like, “Can he see me?” because he’s online on AOL messenger. It’s very dated technologically. I watched it after the fact that I’ve seen it a million times.
Has it informed your views on sex and dating?
The number one way that it’s informed my views is the fact that all of these women are in their 30s or 40s when the show starts. This is a complete trope of being single in the city. They are a bunch of friends hanging out, single in the city, looking for love and adventure. They’re always in their twenties. Maybe they get into their 30s like friends as it goes on. This is one of the few shows I can think of, especially for that time when they’re in their 30s when it starts.
One thing to note is the average age of marriage has been creeping up. It’s approaching 30. In 1998, it was younger. These are all women past their prime. Not career-wise, but past their marrying prime according to the convention. They are in, in some ways, uncharted territory. There were no conversations happening about what life is like on the other side of that average if you haven’t done that yet.
What I love is that there’s a complexity to it. It’s not all positive or all negative. There’s a fundamental joy to it that they are having fun in their 30s. At the same time, as we’ll discuss some of these episodes we chose, there’s an ambivalence and, at times, anxiety and neuroticism that creeps in of, “Should we be single in our 30s?” It’s angsty, but it feels real.
You asked me to watch three episodes to prepare for this discussion.
You wouldn’t tell me whether you enjoyed them.
This is a big revelation. I watched the three episodes. I reported to Mary, and she’s like, “What did you think?” I said, “I’m going to wait and tell you.”
I didn’t want you to tell me what you thought about them. I just said, “Did you enjoy them? I wanted to know,” and you refused.
I did because I wanted to build some suspense and have this be a revelation. Before we get to that, why these three episodes?
Like I said, these are all from seasons 1 and 2. I chose these because I felt like they addressed this question of, “Essentially, is it a good thing or a bad thing to be single in your 30s?” It addressed societal views toward that.
The other thing is to remind people that this was before the internet, Instagram, TikTok, and podcasts. There was not a lot happening in the media around this topic, especially with a group of progressive women who have unconventional views. I’m not the ideal viewer. This show was not made for me. I had seen it many years ago here or there, but I didn’t recall much about it except having a vague inkling of who these characters were. They’re very memorable. I thought it was great. I really enjoyed it.
The fact that you wouldn’t tell me made me think that you hated it.
The show holds up well. The writing is outstanding. As a point of history, I was in graduate school when this show came out and when things like Friends were big and all that stuff. I watched almost no television for years. I didn’t even own a television. I was in a little bit of a cultural black hole during that time, so all the chatter about this show was completely lost on me because I was spending twelve hours a day in a laboratory. I don’t think the writing for Friends holds up very well. Not at all. It’s not even close. There were laugh-out-loud moments. It was super clever. One of the things that I liked about it was it didn’t feel stereotypical. The topics, jokes, and characters didn’t feel like caricatures. It felt rich in that way. I thought it was great.
Every character is multifaceted. We’re talking about it in terms of it being a commentary on society. It’s able to do that because the characters feel great.
They’re smart and feisty. They make fun of each other. They’re supportive of each other. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and the pacing of it. The show clips along. It doesn’t ever get slow or boring.
This makes me happy. Now we have something to watch besides Mad Men.
Let’s start with season 1, episode 3, Bay of Married Pigs. This episode starts with a bang. Carrie is invited out to the Hamptons by a couple of sets of friends, Peter and Patricia. If you’re a single person, especially if you’re sexually active, you’re familiar with this world where you’re married friends are eager to hear about your adventures. They are living a little bit vicariously through you.
I have the quote if you want it. The other thing I love about this show is the use of voiceover. In the voiceover, Carrie says, “Hampton house guests are always required to sing for their supper. Brokers give investment advice. Architects give design advice. Single people give married friends tidbits from their sexual escapades.”
It was a little bit of a gag, but there’s a scene where Carrie stumbles upon Peter, wearing a shirt and no pants, in the hallway of this Hamptons house. As far as I could tell, it was done for comedic effect, more or less.
Pretty much, except for when, as often happens on this show, Carrie has brunch with the girls afterward and dissects this event.
That’s the funny part of it all.
Those are always the funniest parts. I wrote down the dialogue. I couldn’t help myself because why try to summarize it when it’s so good? Carrie says, “I told her, Patricia. I didn’t understand why she was so upset. She told me I couldn’t understand because I’m single.” Miranda says, “And what? Single women prowl beach houses hoping for glimpses of their friends’ husband’s dicks?” They go in this whole thing of what married people think of singles.
That’s what this whole lunch conversation is about. Samantha thinks married women are threatened by singles because, as she says, “We can have sex with anyone anytime, whenever we want.” The others are like, “We can’t.” It’s this conversation of the way that married people view singles. Are they threatened by them sexually? Do they pity them? Do they think they’re losers, lepers, or sluts, like in Samantha’s case? These are some of the things that they talk about.
I wrote down this thing that it’s an either-or. Either they pity you, or they hate you.
Or they’re jealous of you.
That falls under the hate, this either-or world rather than what I would say is it’s just a different world. You once lived in it, and now you’re not living in it. There’s no reason to feel, in any way, envy or pity. It’s just a different world.
Yes, but that’s not how it’s explored in the episode. Carrie asks whether there’s a cold war between marrieds and singles.
Hence the Bay of Married Pigs.
It’s great editing. It immediately cuts to a conversation between her and her friend, Stanford. He’s another great character, her “gay best friend,” who says, “It’s not a cold war. It’s an all-out battle.” The war aspect feels dated to me. What doesn’t feel dated is the pity versus jealousy thing. Are you a loser, a leper, or a slut? I’ve felt this before. You can tell me later which one you think I am.
I don’t care which one you are, Mary. I care about you just the way you are. You have friends who are starting to get married.
I have three friends that are my closest friends when I was in my early twenties.
It’s a little Sex and the City-esque in some ways.
It is. I lived in an apartment with 4 girls in their early 20s in Los Angeles. We were all going out, dating, and gossiping about it. Now, the first out of the four of us just got married. I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. I was one of the very few single people at that wedding.
You had this sort of experience, and you were seeing this transformation as some of your single friends are dropping out.
Yes, and then there were none. I’m the none.
How do they explore this idea of pity or hate of this potential cold war?
It’s curiosity or lack of understanding. Another subplot in the episode is Miranda is a high-powered lawyer. She gets set up on a date by a coworker for a firm softball game. The date is a woman. The guy thought she was a lesbian. It’s ironic because, in real life, the actress is a lesbian. It’s a little bit of a nod to that. The character is not, so she has to tell the woman that she’s not, but they are a big hit at this softball game, and her boss invites her to dinner with a bunch of people. She realizes she’s invited because, finally, they’ve figured her out that she’s in a couple. She wasn’t getting invited to these things when she was single.
There’s something to be said about these dinner parties. I throw game nights that are heavily solo-focused. I don’t ban couples. I just had a game night, and among the nine people there, there was a married couple, but they’re not the norm in part because I do my game nights on Tuesday nights, Wednesday nights, and stuff like that. I’m also seeking singles to bring together to get to know each other in that way. This dinner party phenomenon is very much a couple-centric world. It’s their bit of excitement.
Luckily, I’m not old enough to where dinner parties are a thing. My equivalent would be weddings in that everyone’s in a couple. It used to be that I would hook up with people at weddings. That used to be the fun part. Now, not anymore. I’m too old. Everyone is in a couple.
You’re still crushing the dance floor.
She gets invited into this world when she’s finally a couple.
It’s funny to say this. I never thought about this from a networking standpoint. There’s a gendered networking effect which is you play golf or watch football, and as a result, you get access to older people in your firm who are usually men. You get to connect with them outside of work hours and get to know them. It does feel like a call back to Mad Men for a moment. There’s a scene in Mad Men where Betty and Don Draper have a dinner party.
One of his colleagues, this guy Duck Phillips, who’s divorced, reluctantly shows ups stag. He essentially makes an excuse that his date canceled on him and was told, “We could have set you up.” There’s even a thing in there where one of the guys says, “My wife hates odd numbers.” This is her access. She would never have been invited to that dinner party if she wasn’t part of a couple. Next episode, season 2, episode 4, title, They Shoot Single People, Don’t They?
I’ll give a quick overview of this one. My love of this show is they’re all out salsa dancing. They’re all dancing the night away, girls’ night. Carrie says, “Cheers to us without men.” That’s where classic Charlotte says, “That’s bad luck.” They have girls night. Samantha meets a guy, and they decide to stay out all night. Carrie has a photo shoot the next day because she’s always in these, “I’m fabulous,” different things. An article that was supposed to be titled Single and Fabulous would be a profile of her as a sex columnist and a New York writer. What ends up happening is she stays out all night. She is ripping cigs and shows up hungover and looks like crap. They wrote a very negative article called, “Single and Fabulous?” Carrie obsesses for the entire episode over that question mark.
This was my favorite of the three episodes. It was the most entertaining. It felt the most real for me. They all happened to be single at this moment.
Until the question mark.
One of the things that I loved about it, and it made me like Carrie, was she could have been very easily obsessed over how bad the cover of the magazine was and how bad she looked. It was part of it. It had a comedic effect. It could have easily, in a more poorly written episode, been the focus that it was this vanity play. She took that in stride, but she became obsessed with the concept rather than the look. I thought that was an important plot choice.
For context, what they made the article into as they always do at their typical brunch place is Charlotte reads from the article, “Filling their lives with an endless parade of decoys and distractions to avoid the fact that they’re completely alone.” They’re reading this and criticizing it, particularly Miranda, who’s pissed off, saying, “Every few years, an article like this surfaces to scare women into getting married.” As the episode progresses, they take this to heart, and all break their usual character.
The way I wrote down was they end up all dating imperfect men. When I say this, it means imperfect for them, not a good match.
Charlotte is always looking for the rich, waspy type handyman, saying, “He could fix things around the apartment.” Samantha dates a jerk who stands her up, and she almost sleeps with a random busboy to validate herself. Carrie almost sleeps with a random guy to validate herself. Although, that guy’s Bradley Cooper. It was the biggest mistake.
I thought it was funny that there was a Bradley Cooper cameo before he was a big deal.
She meets this guy at a bar, and she doesn’t sleep with him because she says, “It would be the first time in my life that I slept with a man to validate my life choices. I’m not going to do that.”
The way it was set up is Bradley Cooper is a good-looking guy. He’s in this very cool car. Everything is pushing her towards hooking up with him. She makes this very rational choice to walk away from it.
It wasn’t him. It wasn’t that he wasn’t desirable. It was the reason why she would’ve done it.
These are strong choices. That element of the episode especially is important in terms of creating this alternative narrative, this counterweight to this New York magazine feature that is portraying these women’s empty, meaningless party lives and pushing them to ride the escalator.
It mirrors the first episode we talked about in that they think about this divide between singles and married people. It’s the classic where if you keep watching this show, you’ll discover the, “I couldn’t help but wonder.” Carrie says that in every episode when she’s thinking about what to write for her column. In this episode, she says, “I couldn’t help but wonder. When did being alone become the modern-day equivalent of being a leper? Would Manhattan restaurants soon be divided up into sections, smoking, non-smoking, single, and non-single?”
It’s interesting you say this. A few years ago, Saudi Arabia made a change. It used to be the case that single men had to sit in separate parts of the restaurant, then married couples. Single women couldn’t go to a restaurant alone anyways.
Too bad that’s not the case. You could be siphoned off so that people didn’t have to interact with you.
A few years ago, that was actually happening.
That’s crazy. I can’t believe that.
She’s talking about, “I couldn’t help but wonder,” but at the same time, that was happening in parts of the globe. One of the things that were striking to me about this episode was the theme of faking, which I thought was compelling.
They all have to fake themselves. Miranda’s faking an orgasm.
Miranda’s with a guy that she had dated had found unsatisfactory in bed.
She goes back to him because the question mark gets to her. She starts being afraid of being single, so she goes back to him. She’s faking that. I love the way the episode ends. It ends with Carrie having lunch alone at a restaurant. She says, “No books, no man, no armor, no faking it.” That encapsulates all of it.
I love the ending of it. She’s at an outdoor cafe and sitting alone proudly. It’s aspirational in many ways. There are plenty of people who would love to be able to go and sit at an outdoor cafe, but because they don’t have the right friend, right partner, or the right date, they don’t feel comfortable doing that. Here is this single and fabulous woman who is sitting there with her glass of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or whatever it is, enjoying a spring day in summer.
She was drinking red wine. Pay attention, Pete.
Nonetheless, she was there. I thought it was great. This is something that I want to do with this show. It’s to license people to do what they want so that they don’t need to have another person take a trip, go to a museum, or enjoy a glass of red wine on a lovely day on an outdoor patio.
We’re on a tangible, so we’ll get back to it soon. It is a cultural thing. A couple of summers ago, I spent about a month in Paris. I felt very comfortable sitting at a cafe and having a glass of wine by myself, whether I had a book or not. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that in the US.
Third episode, season 2 , episode 10, titled The Caste System.
For this one, the main thing we’re concerned with is a subplot with Miranda. The main plot is about Carrie’s inability to say, “I love you too, Big,” and then she finally says it and his emotional withdrawal. That’s when the show starts getting to be more and more about relationships as it goes on.
I want to interrupt for a second. You say his nickname is Mr. Big.
Yes. I don’t know why. I don’t know where that came from.
He’s an upper-class guy. He’s wealthy. I want to ask about how the show shifted more into relationships. My question for you is, do you feel that they felt they had exhausted the topics around single living and had to introduce these other characters, plots, connections, and conflicts to keep a show? Let’s be honest. Most shows probably should only be about two seasons to keep a show rolling for six seasons.
I don’t think they exhausted the single living piece because it’s so rich and multifaceted. There’s a lot there. I think they just know that an audience wants a love story. The main character has to fall in love. They introduced Big in season one. Carrie breaks up with him and gets back together with him. They always have this, will they won’t they thing. As progressive as the show was, it’s still a mainstream HBO show. They want to give the people what they think they want. People want a love story.
What I think what people want is the potential for love. Oftentimes, once that coupling happens, it loses a little bit of its juice.
It’s true. Every love story is about how they meet and fall in love. How come it never starts with marriage when that’s supposedly the good thing?
It’s like the marriage is the end game.
It ends at the beginning of the marriage.
Another show that we enjoy is The Office has this with Pam and Jim.
Pam and Jim suck after they’re together.
After they get married, it’s like, “Eh,” although I’m a little biased.
The individual characters are still fun, but their relationship is a lot less fun after they’re married.
Next is the subplot, Miranda.
I’m an English teacher. I have to have the verbatim quote. The quote is, “She was dating a bartender who worshiped her, and Miranda was so crazy about him. She let him take her out to dinner, but only to places she knew he could afford.” This is Carrie’s voiceover when Miranda’s at this cheap pizza place and invites Steve to her law firm dinner. She invites him and says, “Do you have a suit?” to which he says, “Yes, it’s gold.” It’s a corduroy suit. In a very famous scene, she takes him to buy a suit. She wants to buy it for him. He can’t accept that out of his own ego and gender roles. It’s gender roles more than ego, I would say.
It’s very emasculating to him to have her buy him a suit. He buys it. He can’t afford it, and he shows up at her apartment on the night of the law firm dinner, wearing normal clothes, and says they need to break up because she needs a guy who’s more on her level. He returned the suit because he couldn’t afford it. In the end, she feels like she’s being punished for her success. Each of these episodes has one pivotal conversation between all the women. This one is about, “Is it normal for a woman to date a man who has less money than her?” They talked about this.
Samantha ends up dating a man who has a servant. There’s a love triangle with that. Carrie’s dating up at least economically with Mr. Big. That has been brought to bear when there’s a dinner party or a party party. To the nature of all the people there, they’re all coupled up and are all high SES types. The other women are dating, and Miranda is “dating down.” Hence the caste system that you date outside of your caste.
The irony is she doesn’t need someone with money. She has money. What she needs is someone who’s going to bring fun and joy to her very stressful life.
She’s a little bit of a serious character.
It’s perfect. Opposites attract. It would be good to have somebody with a more flexible schedule who can make her lighten up, which is what he does and why she loves him, but he feels threatened by her success. Charlotte thinks it’s normal for the man to have more money, and Samantha says she knows tons of women who make more money than their husbands. Miranda’s very frustrated. Her quote is, “When a man has money, it works to his advantage. When a single woman has money, it’s a problem. I want to enjoy my success, not apologize for it.”
This feels dated to me now, which is good. Like Samantha, I know plenty of women who make more money than their partners. A lot of men love it if a woman makes money. It’s more money for both of them. At this time of trying to get out of traditional gender roles, men were more emasculated by a woman making more money. These are the pitfalls you have to deal with as a single woman who made it on her own.
I’m glad things were changing. I wish they were changing faster. There’s a study that I’d like to quote. It’s a little bit older now. It was from some European country that has national healthcare. This is correlational, so we have to be very careful. Essentially, one of the takeaways is, with this married couples, when the wife makes more money than the man, the likelihood of a prescription for erectile dysfunction goes up. It’s hard to fight culture.
I agree with you. The things that we should be or should you, whether you’re a New Way or a Just May, what you should be thinking about when you’re considering a romantic partner is, “How that person makes you feel? How well do you get along? How good are they to you?” versus these other indicators of the goodness of a person, where they went to school, how much money they make, and what is their career. Are they healthy? Are they happy? Are they a good person? It takes a special person to shake off those cultural norms.
It’s, “What does society want from me?” versus, “What do I want?” Most people have a hard time separating that.
It’s sad that the world doesn’t want Miranda and the bartender together when they could be very good compliments to each other.
I don’t know if you want spoilers, but they end up together. They add some unnecessary drama in the movies, but we won’t count those.
Those are great. They encapsulate topics that people in the show might be tussling with. They certainly show this tension that exists in a world built for couples and these fabulous women who are embracing their single living but also acknowledging the tensions that exist.
What’s notable about those tensions is those tensions don’t come from their actual experience of their own lived experiences. The tension comes from what society wants of them and how they’re treated by the broader world. If they lived in a different culture, they would be very happy with their lives. What makes them unhappy are the norms that are enforced upon them.
Let’s finish by talking about the cultural significance of the show beyond what we’ve already discussed. I went to the Solo community and told them that we were going to be talking about Sex and the City. I’m going to going to read to you two of the responses from members of the Solo community, which you can sign up for at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. They’re both about Samantha. “Sex and the City is my favorite single show. I’d love to hear discussions of Samantha. She seems the most solo-minded, and the world is lacking an open acknowledgment of women who love sex and aren’t ashamed of it. The way the character is written feels monumental and normalizing, and it seems rare today in popular culture.”
That’s the first one. The second one was, “Outside of its lack of diversity, which has been discussed at great length by smarter people than I am, Sex and the City educated me on the right to female pleasure. This was not done, unsurprisingly, by my conservative background. What is Mary’s take on the fact that the writers decided that even Samantha was to end up in a relationship escalator type relationship? As a true fan of the show, I am ignoring the movies.” Samantha, for a lot of people, was quite liberating, but she still ended up in an escalator-type relationship. I wasn’t aware of that.
At the end of the series, she does. She breaks up with him in the movies, but we will not count this. I love whoever wrote that. With a show, you need a character to have an arc. It’s problematic, but people think in a limited way. All of the time, with a show based around romance, the arc needs to be that they go from being single to being in a relationship. They applied that to Samantha. I agree. You need to have the character to grow, but I don’t think that needs to be her growth.
It’s unfortunate. This is the problem. We live in a world where singlehood is treated as liminal. Even if it’s okay to be single, it’s still seen as temporary. You don’t have this big payoff, like a wedding, honeymoon, and all the things that go into the escalator versus if they had worked a little harder, is there a better arc for her?
That is one of the few things the movies get right if you want to go into the movies. The guy that she ends up with, he buys this ring for her. She’s upset because she wants to buy it for herself. She does go back to being single. That feels like the movies are an afterthought.
They’re trying to correct the record.
They gave her the traditional arc because that’s so ingrained in media that even a progressive show like this can’t completely escape those norms.
The one thing I like about Samantha is she’s unapologetic. She’s funny.
She’s the funniest one. Both she and Miranda are both very funny.
Maybe it’s just my sense of humor. I like that she’s a little over the top. The world often wants women to be small. They want them to be demure. They want them to be quiet. They want them to be seen, not heard. Samantha is seen and heard. I could see how that would be aspirational. It could be enlivening. For a woman who enjoys sex, it can feel validating. For a woman who’s been taught that sex is wrong, bad, and is something that you do in exchange for love, it can also be seen as an alternative way to think about their sexuality and pleasure.
She’s just joyful in general. Miranda is, to me, maybe the funniest in terms of her wit, but you can’t call her joyful.
She’s not a warm character.
She’s cynical. Samantha is a pure hedonist. It’s beautiful to watch somebody go through life pleasure seeking.
In some ways, like you have this playboy trope. That’s very familiar.
There’s an episode, too, where they go to LA and go to the Playboy Mansion. Samantha is very starstruck at meeting Hugh Hefner. It’s amazing.
She feels a little like a playboy character, in a sense.
A playboy, but in the male sense. Not like a bunny. It’s funny that Hugh Heffner is her hero.
There’s the Samantha character, which is bold, and I could see it being licensing. Members of the community resonated with that. They honed in on her right away. What is the significance of this show beyond giving you a menu of different types of female characters that you may resonate with and may inspire you?
There’s something to be said for this phenomenon of, “Which what are you? Are you as caring Samantha, or Miranda?” Whichever one you choose, it’s not just about which is your personality most aligned with. It’s what you’re being given permission to do. Each of them is transgressive. Even Charlotte is transgressive in some ways.
She doesn’t marry the guy that you expect her to marry. She doesn’t marry the perfect, handsome waspy type. She marries a not-traditionally attractive schlubby Jewish guy.
Do you think she does that because of the influence of her friends?
She falls in love with him. Maybe she wouldn’t have considered him if she hadn’t seen her friends date people that are not the obvious choice. In a broad sense, the show gives you the license to play, be yourself, and have fun with life. It’s also incredibly unrealistic. Carrie lives in an incredible apartment. She flips around and has fun and writes one column per week. It’s not at all realistic. It’s escapism in a lot of ways, but it makes you want to live life a little more glamorous and fun. It gives you permission to have fun into your 30s and 40s.
Mary, that was great for your final solo episode.
If I did a good job on this, maybe you’ll be willing to hire me again.
I’ll consider it. For those of you who enjoyed this conversation, Mary and I had a brief conversation about why New York City is such an apt setting for Sex and the City. You can get access to that bonus material by signing up for the Solo community at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. Thanks so much, Mary.
- Mary Dahm
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About Mary Dahm
Mary Dahm is a writer and high school English teacher. She studied English literature and history at Boston College and earned a Master’s in Teaching from USC. She also likes to deadlift.