I couldn’t help but wonder if it ruined things for single women for decades to come.
I know, calling something problematic in hindsight: groundbreaking. But since my line of work sees me actually communicating and working with single women who are alive and real in 2021 and these ladies are fictional characters originally imagined in 1997, I get to talk. Remember that if you’re still here, you chose to listen.
Nothing ever came along at its level of popularity, so Sex and the City has enjoyed a very lengthy residence in the minds of society as a portrayal of single life. In its heyday, it was incredible to see single life portrayed in any sort of positive or aspirational way at all, which is probably why so many of us—myself included—loved it so much. For once we weren’t sad, pathetic cat ladies completely void of sparkle. In this show, we looked good. (By we I mean white single women, because all non-white single women were completely left out of the narrative.) We maybe wrongly assumed that it was the start of more stories being told about single women in general. Instead, it’s still held out as a lifestyle to look up to, it’s still being repeated in quirky little rom com movies, books, and podcasts, and unfortunately as we’ve matured, we’ve come to understand how fucking insane it really was. And I’m not even talking about the financial impossibility that exists between Carrie’s income and Carrie’s apartment.
This isn’t about the content of the show, it’s about the assumptions it left us with. Specifically, the assumptions it left people with if they never actually experienced a single adulthood in their 30s for themselves. If you got married by 29, you actually might think this shit is real. Further, you might expect the single women you know to prove to you that it’s real, and when they can’t, your disappointment probably falls on the wrong party.
There’s an undercurrent of expectations assigned to the life of single women. One that was glamorized if not invented by Sex and the City. The shoes, the clothes, the jobs, the drinks, the constant—constant—supply of new men (and in like three episodes, new women) to date. Sex and the City portrayed a fallacy of fabulosity and for some exhausting reason, single women are still held to this social standard today.
Sex and the City was not about single life. Sex and the City was about a fantasy single life. And since single life as a grown woman is something you know nothing about unless you experience it, and most women are swiping themselves to the brink of insanity in order to not experience it, there’s a huge percentage of the population that still thinks single life looks like Sex and the City. Worse still, when they catch a glimpse of the facts and realize that it actually doesn’t, they don’t a this accept that this show was fiction, they criticize single women for being boring.
Oh you must be having so much fun! You get to have sex with anyone you want! Omg have you gone on any good dates lately? I want to hear your stories!
Do you Stacy? Do you want to hear what life is really like for someone who is single and in her 30s? Or do you want to hear plot lines from a fictional show from the early 00s? In an era of clitoral suction sex toys, you’re living in a rabbit mentality. The real stories involve a lot less casual sex, fewer sidewalk shenanigans, and almost zero wasted income—are you sure you wouldn’t just rather watch a true crime documentary instead?
That $500 pair of shoes is laughable to a woman who’s not splitting rent. Dates every other night of the week not only sound exhausting to attend, but almost impossible to book in the first place. Datable men aren’t handed out to us like shitty flyers on the street. These days actually booking dates is more like trying to find a needle in a haystack that’s lit on fire. Yes we have wonderful friendships, but Sex and the City didn’t say much about how eventually all your single girlfriends turn into married girlfriends and then mothers you really won’t see much of for a long, long time. Worse still, you’ll see photos of her on Instagram with her other mom friends because that’s who its more convenient for her to hang out with now. Which episode was dedicated to that kind of grief and jealousy?
The real stories aren’t entertaining, because single women are not entertainment. The pressure to dazzle the world with the fabulous single lives we must be living is a real thing, because if we can’t, that’s just another form of single shaming we have to endure. If it isn’t one wild and carefree romp through a major metropolitan area, what a square. What a prude. How sad for her. No wonder she’s single, she’s doing it wrong. If she were better at being single, I bet she wouldn’t be single anymore.
Here’s what I really think: I think coupled people want to hear the Sex and the City-inspired fantasy stories because those are the positive sides of singlehood that they’re comfortable with. When they hear the real positive sides of singlehood, they start to feel a little uncomfortable about being in a couple.
We do whatever we want, all the time. We make all the decisions we want, all the time. We compromise with no one, ever. We need no one’s permission to do anything. We manage a household of one. We don’t have “me time,” we have time. And all of the other scrumptious little freedoms and delights afforded to us by the fact that we haven’t combined our existence with anyone else’s yet. But happy anniversary Stacy, I guess.
I think the real fabulosity of singlehood scares those who are partnered, and maybe that’s why the world is reluctant to tell another kind of story. A story about straight single women where men aren’t the center. Where a woman’s dating life isn’t the focal point every goddamned episode, where extended periods without sex and dating aren’t seen as “dry spells,” but rather times of incredible growth and creativity. Where her freedom is more of a desired quality than how attractive she is to other people. Where her new partnership isn’t depicted as a massive accomplishment and relief. I don’t think we’re telling these stories because we respect and treasure couplehood so much that we can’t let it, even for a second, be worse than being single. We’re only comfortable making singlehood positive in a fantasy setting.
Real, actual single life is difficult and beautiful. So is coupled life, I’d imagine. It’s fine to tell stories, and to weave fantasy. Escaping for an hour in the evening while eating dinner on the couch isn’t going to hurt anybody. Unless our society takes a 20-year-old fantasy and decides that’s how single life should be forever. In which case we get to stop caring about what society thinks our single lives should look like in order to be desirable, we can stop chasing after endless dates like its fun, and we can put on a pair of affordable shoes that don’t hurt one fucking bit. That’s plenty of fabulous, for me.
Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster. You can read all her Medium essays here.