As the SATC follow-up wraps filming, Laura Antonia Jordan, now dating in her thirties herself, finds everything’s changed – and yet nothing at all...
When it makes its big return to the small screen next month, Sex And The City – rebranded as And Just Like That… and sans Samantha – will either be redemption for the Worst Two Years Ever or the final nail in the coffin. Plot details remain mostly rumoured, but the constant stream of paparazzi shots from the set have a manic, ‘high jinks ensue’ energy that suggests it will not be a study in tame 50-something domesticity.
There will be a cadre of women – the unfortunately named ‘geriatric Millennials’ in particular, who discovered the show in their teens and are now the age that the protagonists were in the first run – who will be willing it to be the cultural crack that the original version was. It’s a tall order: that City doesn’t exist any more (a pre-financial crisis New York, where Donald Trump was no more than a mildly entertaining society figure and legitimately fabulous people actually said ‘fabulous’). But what about the Sex?
There have been tectonic shifts in the dating landscape since SATC first aired. High on the romance Richter scale is the unstoppable ascent of app culture. One of Carrie’s defining characteristics was her improbable technophobia, used as shorthand, one assumes, to denote charm; today’s Luddite singletons may have charm to spare, but they’re likely not getting laid (or definitely not as much as their Hinge/Tinder/Raya/Bumble-savvy counterparts – I’m talking as someone who held out hard for my IRL romcom meet-cute. Not happening).
The promise of being able to order in love (or at least a vague impression of it) as easily as you might a pizza has left us both spoilt and stuck. The overwhelming volume of choice can make it hard to commit to anything or anyone. In that way, perhaps our own love lives haven’t evolved that much from the brutally transactional dating world of Millennial Manhattan. As Carrie might have written: is love on demand supposed to be so demanding? Inhales cigarette and looks out of the window...
My pitch to network executives for a realistic 2021 remake of SATC is this: four smart, successful, sexy women sit in their flats with furrowed brows waiting for a text back – which never comes. That’s it. Entertaining? Nope – but it is accurate.
The underwhelming reality about modern dating is that a lot of it is just so boring.
Real single life doesn’t necessarily mean shagging around, there are big expanses of absolutely nothing going on. (Although, sidenote: I am admittedly so jaded I now look at Berger’s ‘I’m sorry/I can’t/Don’t hate me’ Post-It and think it is chivalrous he wrote a note. I am the girl who takes red flags and makes a welcome carpet out of them.)
And Just Like That… also returns to a (nearly) post-pandemic world. Even if you were thriving on the apps, 2020 shut that down. First, when sex with anyone outside your household was stymied by Government policy – although not necessarily for members of the Government, it transpired – and then because of the hangover of anxiety this whole experience has left us with.
Far more cautious about exchanging bodily fluids, too out of practice to sparkle and flirt, we found the bonking bacchanal we were promised this Hot Girl Summer just didn’t materialise: in fact, only one in 10 women in their thirties reported a new sexual partner in the last 12 months, a marked drop on 2010 levels.
And perhaps that should come as no surprise: ‘normal’ life might appear to be returning, but we have collectively been through a trauma, one that might fundamentally rewire our approach to sex, dating and relationships. Already, we are seeing the rise of slow dating, which is basically a zeitgeisty way of framing waiting to sleep with someone (apps report even the pre-meet chat is lasting longer). It’s not coming from a moral POV, but more about giving you time to assess whether you actually like someone, rather than the idea of them – or the idea of someone.
Do note, however, this is very different to pursuing a lost cause. Of all the disservices pop culture has done me, Carrie and Big ending up together was one of the biggest. The takeaway for me as an impressionable adolescent was: if you stick around long enough, you’ll get him. An affair with a man two decades my senior – which should have been a two-episode-max storyline in my life – ate up most of my twenties. It wasn’t cute and didn’t have (for me) a happy ending.
So perhaps the most emboldening dating trend to emerge post-pandemic is hardballing, a term just gagging for a Samantha Jones quip, and something I would have been advised to employ in the above ‘relationship’. In keeping with the realignment of our priorities, it’s about not just knowing exactly what you want but saying what you want, too – whether that’s 2.4 children and a white picket fence, an open relationship or a zero commitment one-night stand.
For anyone who has ever exhausted themselves by playing the nonchalant, fit-me-in-when-you-can cool girl but desperately wants love, commitment, a family, there is something liberating (and very un-Carrie-like) about this radical transparency. No time-wasters, please.
Still, for me, and many of my contemporaries, despite the changing trends, SATC has taken on a new pertinence now that I’ve landed in my mid-thirties. It’s easy to pick holes when watching through a 2021 lens – from the glaring lack of diversity to the cupcakes and Cosmopolitans that were once the dernier cri of taste, but might now be declined by sashed hen parties on grounds of naffness. And even the most committed fan will admit that Carrie can be very, very annoying (although it says something about gender double-standards that problematic and unlikable male protagonists – Tony Soprano, say, or Don Draper – are allowed to be complex).
Now I can recognise how there are very real emotions bound up in a camp, cartoony, very expensive package. How the pursuit of love in its myriad forms can send us desperately round the twist like nothing else
But now I can recognise how there are very real emotions bound up in a camp, cartoony, very expensive package. How the pursuit of love in its myriad forms can send us desperately round the twist like nothing else, and that the tragic-comic dance we do to find it is timeless in its mindboggling insanity. Game-playing existed long before the first ever SATC episode landed, and it will long outlast us. The set and characters and costumes might change, but that storyline is eternal.
For anyone who is single and searching, the words of Charlotte in season three – ‘I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted! Where is he?’ – have an uncomfortable resonance. Dating is exhausting; it’s disappointing, tedious, lonely, and can knock your confidence and sense of self like nothing else. But – and it’s a huge but – it can also be hilarious, sexy, fun, full of possibility. And isn’t it that thrill of the unknown, the chance of magic, that hope that keeps us going in our pursuit of, in Carrie’s words, ‘ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love’?
The pursuit of love often makes me think of Samuel Beckett’s words (an unlikely companion to Bradshaw, admittedly): ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’ Giving up, but carrying on; over it, but still in it; not doing it any more, but then going out tonight.
The dating game is complex and confusing – and, like Carrie and her friends, you just have to do your best to enjoy the ride.