‘Friendship Is Finding Your Tribe’: What I Learned From Sex And The City

Twenty years after it leapt on to our screens, Vicki Notaro unravels what SATC meant to her.

I was 12 when Sex And The City premiered, and probably 13 or 14 by the time I cottoned on to it. It was on late at night, and I’d say I just stumbled upon it one evening, thrilled to have found something a bit naughty and grown-up to watch. It didn’t take long before I was hooked. An adolescent with dreams of being a writer, and of living in New York, the show spoke to me even though I was absolutely not its target audience.

From it, I learned about things that were completely taboo in 90s Ireland – anal sex, abortion, f*ck buddies and naked gay nightclubs. To be honest, I feel I got more sex ed from that show than I did in school. I remember watching it with my dad one evening paralysed with fear that Samantha would be up to her usual galavanting, but too obsessed with the show to change the channel. Not ideal.

The series had such an impact on me that I shamelessly plagiarised it in college, writing a column called Sex And The Students for the Trinity News. I couldn’t help but wonder how I got away with it, but that initial foray into journalism was the first step on the road to editing the best magazine in Ireland, so I’ve a lot to thank Carrie and co for.

Since that first go, I’ve rewatched the show many times; I remember getting a cool complete DVD box set for Christmas one year that came in what looked like a fancy shoe box, and I played it on repeat. When I was freelance, I used to watch re-runs on Comedy Central on my lunch break, gleaning ideas I could pitch to editors. And then last year, all the episodes came to Sky Box Sets, and I worked my through them systematically once again.

By now, I know about the problematic aspects of Sex And The City; the white privilege, the lack of diversity, the now controversial episodes about sexuality and race (check out #WokeCharlotte on Instagram for some millennial LOLs). And of course, coming at the show as a married 30-something working in the media more than a decade, my perspective is now entirely different, but I still love it so much. It was groundbreaking, awakening, boundary-pushing, and most of all it was just a show for women about women with high production values, good acting and smart scripts, the likes of which had never been seen before. It’s still relevant to many of us, and still beloved even in an era post-Girls, Big Little Lies and Orange Is The New Black. In my opinion, those shows wouldn’t be around without it. By the way, I’m going to pretend those awful films never happened because they’re so at odds with pretty much everything about the show I adore.

Instead of desperately wanting to be Carrie Bradshaw, I see her now as a self-centred, childish egomaniac with impulse control issues relating to men and spending. That’s perhaps a very black and white assessment, but Carrie’s just not sound – remember the Post It on Charlotte’s engagement ring? Miranda is now bae, a self-sufficient albeit cynical woman denying her romantic streak while toiling in her career. Okay, her clothes weren’t cool until about season five, but she’s the real MVP.

I always thought of Samantha as something of a caricature, and in a way she is. But watching the show now, I see a woman who just doesn’t want the conventional ring and two kids, someone who feels she has to constantly explain why and stand up for herself. That speaks to me; not wanting children doesn’t mean you don’t want love, and not craving norms doesn’t mean you’re a weirdo. She’s confident, sassy and full of moxy so to me, Sam is now a bit of a hero to be honest – although a highly sexed one with questionable taste in interior design.

And Charlotte, infuriating princess Charlotte. She always reminds me of a friend I had growing up, prim and proper in many ways, with very traditional ideals. Now I have to admire her kindness, how the writers made her friendship with the other three believable, and more importantly, her fights with them, and how they could reconcile their differences.

Because to me, above the fashion and the men, what Sex And The City is really about is friendship. How women come together, sometimes against the odds, and become their own little unit. How they persevered, made time for one another, accepted one another and their wider circle, their male friends, old friends, ex-friends. Perhaps the vision is not always realistic; I know as an adult that it can be very tricky to balance everything and that a standing Saturday brunch is not exactly feasible for most.

But that kind of friendship has always been goals to me, somewhat to my detriment growing up when I thought it meant you stuck with your crew regardless. It’s only now that I see that friendship doesn’t mean a neat little foursome of opposing personalities, but finding your tribe whatever that looks like.

And look, in many ways, I learned how not to behave in a relationship from Sex And The City. Carrie’s foibles taught me not to be too clingy or to obsess over a man (especially an emotionally unavailable and commitment-phobic playboy) for fear of losing my mind, never to let anyone wee on me (important) and to avoid men more neurotic than me (Berger, you bastard). But she also taught me to take risks, to trust your gut even when the guy you’re with is great on paper and to be open to possibilities.

Charlotte’s quest for married perfection ending in Harry was the perfect arc, and the episode where he proposes still reduces me to snotty tears. But it’s Steve that I adore – kind, caring, sweet Steve who takes none of Miranda’s shit and can cope with her being the breadwinner. Samantha? She taught me that when I RSVP to a party, I should make it my business to come.

Rarely a week goes by when I don’t think of the show – a quote (“I know how to please a man – you just give away most of your power”), a scene, an encounter. I follow the brilliant @everyoutfitonsatc and @samanthajonespr on Instagram, bringing 2018 humour via memes and analysis. Whenever I hear You’ve Got The Love, I’m reminded of the final scene.

In many ways I learned how to be a woman from Sex And The City, in a similar way that I learned from Judy Blume, Marian Keyes, Beaches and Britney. Culture has a firm hand in forming our identities, and I’m glad that I was exposed to something liberal, forward-thinking and funny at such a formative age. I’ve graduated now to fangirling Nora Ephron, Anna Wintour, Oprah and Joan Didion, but I’d never have got to them if it wasn’t for Carrie Bradshaw – and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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