Answering an "Open Call" essay series on Salon.com, I wanted to share my submission.
I was in my late twenties and staring a new sales job in San Francisco when I first heard of the HBO series, Sex and the City. As a former stripper, I was open minded and attracted to shows with the word “sex” in them. When my new boss Lori, a thirty-something, fun-loving gal from Sacramento told me about the show, I was more than a little intrigued.
I grew up with HBO. As a pre-teen in the late 70s, I often sneaked late night viewings of B-movies like Rock 'n' Roll High School and The Swinging Cheerleaders. By the time I was 13 in 1981, HBO provided many sleepless nights with reruns of The Deep, Piranha and of course, Jaws.
To watch HBO was a guilty pleasure (in every sense of the word), luxury, and no small feat. Back in the early days, there were parental control locks on the cable boxes. My mother always hid the key in the same spot on top of the breadbox and inside a red coffee mug with white lettering proclaiming she was a #1 Mom. Excitement always trumped guilt when it came to mischief for me. With cable key in hand, I possessed the one thing every teenager covets: a golden ticket to Adulthood. I was the shit.
Purchasing HBO as a young adult was never a question. It was part of my DNA and I just had to have the latest blockbuster movies and comedy specials streaming through the small TV in my studio apartment. When money was tight, I cut corners in other ways. I did laundry at my mom’s house, took the bus instead of cabs and anything else I could do. I would burn candles and eat Ramen for a month instead of cancel my cable, dammit!
When I made the move from my hometown of Honolulu to San Francisco in the late 90s I left everything and everyone behind. An exotic dancer for nearly a decade, I was worn out and tired of the party scene. I needed to make a new life for myself and because I knew of only one person on the mainland and she lived in San Francisco, well that was place I needed to be.
A friend since our club-hopping days just out of high school, Kim was a Godsend and our friendship truly stood the test of time. She never once judged my choices as a stripper, and rather than give me a lecture about morals, she simply told me she loved me and wanted me to be safe.
After convincing me to move away from the island for a fresh start, Kim graciously gave up her living room floor as I settled in to my new town. I quickly found work, waiting tables at night and answering phones at a hair salon during the day. Not long after that I found a fantastic room for rent in a house up the street. Within months I met Gerry, a computer science geek who thought I was out of his league. We fell madly in love and for the first time in my life, I felt like a grown up. My world seemed to be falling in to place.
When Gerry graduated college he was offered a job up in Portland. I immediately began mentally packing and fashioning what outfits would go with the shiny yellow raincoat I was sure to buy. There was just one small thing. Gerry moved away without me. I was never factored in to his equation for the future. Heartbroken and deflated, I talked myself back to the virtual stripper pole and decided all men were scum.
One night, drowning in a bottle of wine, between drunk-dialing Gerry and crying over old photographs, I turned on the TV and caught a repeated first episode of Sex and the City.
It was a match made in heaven.
The series begins with Carrie’s voice-over narration giving it a somewhat fairy tale feel:
Once upon a time an English journalist came to New York. Elizabeth was attractive and bright, and right away she hooked up with one of the city’s typical most eligible bachelors. Tim was 42. A well liked and respected investment banker who made about two million a year. They met one evening in typical New York fashion – at a gallery opening. It was love at first sight. For two weeks they snuggled, went to romantic restaurants, had wonderful sex and shared the most intimate secrets.
One warm spring day, he took her to a town house he saw in Sunday’s New York Times. That day, Tim popped the question.
“How’d you like to have dinner with my folks Tuesday night?”
On Tuesday, he called with some bad news.
“My mother isn’t feeling very well, can we take a rain check?”
When she hadn’t heard from him in two weeks she called.
“Tim! This is an awfully long rain check.”
He said he was up to his ears and that he would call her the next day.
“He never did call of course. Bastard.”
Carrie segues her narration from voice-over to conversing with us on screen:
Then I realized. No one had told her about the end of love in Manhattan.
More voice-overs from Carrie:
Welcome to the age of un-innocence. No one has Breakfast at Tiffany’s and no one has Affairs to Remember. Instead, we have breakfast at 7:00 am, and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. Self-protection and closing the deal are paramount. Cupid has flown the co-op.
And we are back to her speaking to us on screen:
How the hell did we get in to this mess?
I was hooked.
Carrie Bradshaw, played effortlessly by Sara Jessica Parker, is a thirty-something writer living in Manhattan. Her best friends are Charlotte (Kristin Davis) an art-loving Pollyanna who dreams of marriage and kids, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), a feminist attorney with intimacy issues and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), a sexually adventurous blonde who eats men for breakfast.
When I started watching Sex and the City I did what every woman did – I compared myself to the characters on the show. Was I more like Carrie, or did a little Samantha creep through from my days on stage? Too risqué to be “a Charlotte”, but perhaps the cynic in me could relate most to Miranda. The characters were brilliant. Every woman I knew could say they had a little bit of least one of those women inside them.
As the title implies, the Sex and the City television series entails a fair amount of naked playtime, but the show is so much more than that. It’s a well written tale of four women looking for love in the big city who eventually find so much more.
Throughout the show’s entirety, these gals have their ups and downs. Falling in and out of love, surviving frenemies, toxic bachelors, losing loved ones, and even becoming fashion road kill.
Still licking my wounds from the split with Gerry, I began to lose myself in every character. I started watching religiously and made sure my friends were close by.
When Carrie spoke of the exquisite pain after her first break up with Mr. Big, I cried in empathy thinking SHE GETS ME! I wanted to write a personal Thank You letter to Michael Patrick King and Darren Star – the men behind creating what was shaping up to be my life on screen.
The episodes and years floated by and my love affair with the show continued. When Miranda’s mom passed, not only did her girlfriends meet her in Connecticut for the funeral, but Aidan and Steve (Carrie and Miranda’s boyfriends at the time) surprised her too. I sat on the couch bawling at the display of selfless love radiating from the screen.
But it was more than just the story lines that got me – it was the feeling of unwavering love and support threaded through each friendship. No mater what, they were there for one another. Through breakups, marriages, babies, miscarriages and death - each one of those women were there, just like Kim was there for me. Mr. Big says it perfectly when speaking to the gals, trying to win Carrie back in the final season:
“You ladies are the loves of her life. A guy’s just lucky to come in fifth.”
Finally. A man gets it. Tissue please.
Through time, the sting of Gerry’s absence subsided and I began to date. There were some great men and not so great men in the mix – none of them stayed. And just like Carrie asked in the final episode of season three, I wondered:
What if everything isn’t the man’s fault? After a certain age and a certain number of relationships, if it still isn’t working and the ex’s seem to be moving on and we don’t, perhaps the problem isn’t the last boyfriend or the one before him or even the one before him. Could it be that the problem isn’t them, but horror of horrors, it’s us?
I started seeing a therapist immediately.
As a child from an unbalanced home (you don’t end up working the pole without a story), I was no stranger to therapy. But this time it was different. Rather than trying to work through why I didn’t like or trust men, I began to take responsibility and sought reasons why I always picked the wrong ones. Like Carrie (the early years), I was only attracted to men who were unavailable.
Sex and the City became therapy too.
This show helped me realize that men aren’t the have all/end all factor in my own equation of life. They are the icing on the cake but, what a revelation, I alone am the cake! Even though I wanted one, I was realizing that my life was still fulfilling and happy without a man. Then something amazing started happening – I began not settling and it felt really great.
Carrie didn’t settle for Big when he couldn’t commit and for a while she was single and happy, even throwing a bridal shower for herself in the episode that causes us to ask “where is the flatware for Congratulations, you didn’t marry the wrong man?”
When Charlotte and Trey broke up because she didn’t back down with her dream of having a baby, I was impressed. There was Miranda, who finally realized she really loved bartender Steve, not the perfect on paper Doctor Robert Leeds. Even Samantha taught me about self worth when, after she took Richard back, she left him because she knew he would stray again.
“I love you Richard, but I love me more.”
Strong words for someone who was hell bent on making her multimillion-dollar power couple work.
Although the series is long over (and two successful movies have been made since it’s last airing in 2004) I won’t spoil any more specifics about these characters. Sufficed to say all four women end up far away from where they started or even thought possible.
Sex and the City not only gave me the gift of entertainment (wrapped in a bow of laughter and tears), it helped me see I was worth more and gave back a piece of myself I had sacrificed in my pursuit for the perfect man. Through watching the relationships on the show, it opened my mind and helped me choose curtain number three – where I eventually found a great man who is not the male model type guy I used to seek out, but he’s kind, honest and loving. He treats me better than any man I’ve ever dated. He’s Harry to my Charlotte.
In the last scene Carrie is reunited with her girlfriends at their familiar coffee shop.
Her final voice-over:
Later that day, I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic - those that are old and familiar - those that bring up lots of questions - those that bring you somewhere unexpected - those that bring you far from where you started. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the YOU, you love – well —that’s just fabulous.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yup. Definitely think I'm a Carrie.