There’s an episode in the third season of Sex And The City when Carrie Bradshaw discovers the internet. It’s 2001, and her new crush, Aidan, connects with her on AOL Instant Messenger. She’s alone in her apartment when her laptop pings to let her know that he’s come online; she dives to the floor. ‘Can he see me?’ she hisses.
When it came to sex, Carrie wasn’t naive, but when it came to technology, she was an innocent babe. Twenty years after Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda debuted, it’s impossible to ignore the show’s impact on the way a generation of women learned about sex and dating. But it’s also impossible to deny how much of the show is now an anachronism. I couldn’t help but wonder: would Carrie and Co be able to hack it if they were dating in 2018?
There’s no question that the dating scene in New York City has evolved over the past 20 years, and our smartphones are at the heart of it. Carrie and the girls were dab hands at meeting men to date in all kinds of places. And I can’t deny that when I arrived in New York four years ago, this might have influenced my hope that I would date a handsome stranger who I met in the wild.
I soon lost that hope. Chatting up strangers is now a weird way to behave, so much so that I once exchanged flirty glances with a man on the subway platform over the course of months before he asked me out... after he found me on Tinder (we went on a few dates and then shared many awkward commutes until I moved neighbourhood). If you’re out with your friends it seems to be generally assumed that you’re not out to make new ones. This may reduce incidents of unwanted approaches – welcome in the post-#MeToo era – but also means that we’re all spending a lot of time staring at our phones. The 2018 Carrie would spend much of each episode swiping left and right.
Couples who got together pre-2012 may still have meet- cute stories, but those of us who met our partners in the post- Tinder era rarely do. And when I say ‘us’, I include myself and my husband. We connected via Tinder, went on two dates, agreed that we were falling in love and married a year later. Sometimes people say that it happened quite fast, and maybe it did, but as I like to say: I’d dated everyone else, and had the chance to figure out what I wanted.
That’s the plus side of apps: where the SATC women were sometimes reduced to dating their employers or their divorce lawyers, in theory, the city is our oyster when we sign on to swipe. You can ‘meet’ a guy from your neighbourhood or you can ‘meet’ a man who’s just passing through town, and choosing to spend time with just one isn’t necessary until you’re really certain. The upside of this, of course, is the challenge of overwhelming choice.
Forty-four per cent of people in Grazia’s sex survey agreed that dating apps make it easier to meet people, but a substantial 31% disagree, citing judgment of appearances as the main obstacle. Would Carrie have toned down her iconic outfits in her Tinder profile to make them more man-friendly? Maybe. The thirty-somethings in SATC were a fickle lot 20 years ago, and the truth is that New Yorkers still are.
We expect to be able to choose from 17 different flavours of cream cheese for our morning bagels. Carrying dozens of theoretical partners in our pockets does not incline us to appreciate what we have in hand. Meanwhile, apps facilitate infidelity for those who desire it: Mr Big would be a fan, I’m sure.
The sexual freedom enjoyed by the protagonists of SATC was much critiqued in the media when the show was released – they slept with many different men! They sometimes had sex on the first date! – but their behaviour seems borderline demure by the standards of the dating-app era.
When Carrie and Aidan get together, he postpones sex again and again, despite her pleas, until he is ready. Now, more often than not, sex comes first – as Joanna Coles, author of Love Rules: How To Find A Real Relationship In A Digital World, pointed out in a recent Times interview: ‘People now have sex with people to figure out if they like them, whereas, 15 years ago, people went out with people to see if they liked them.’
But some might argue that’s not a negative. In the Grazia survey, 87% of respondents agreed with the statement: you have to be sexually compatible to be in a successful relationship. Maybe it’s not always a bad idea to test that compatibility early; certainly, that was the lesson that Charlotte learned in her disastrous first marriage to Trey.
Then again, easy, early sex must be taken with the caveat that it doesn’t often lead to a serious relationship. The truth is that many people fancy sleeping with more people than the number of people they really want to romance. And our relative relaxation about sex hasn’t, it seems, eased judgement too much: the survey also found that 53% of respondents reported being slut-shamed.
And then there’s the break-ups. Back in the day, Carrie’s combative relationship with her writer boyfriend, Berger, ended when he left her a Post-It note, and women viewers everywhere reeled at the horror. Now, ghosting is usual: everyone who’s spent any time recently being single in New York has a ghosting story, and half the time we behave as if they’re not even that big a deal. After all, what expectations should you have of the good behaviour of a virtual stranger, even if you’ve slept with them?
The debate is less about whether ghosting is acceptable and more about situations under which it is definitely not acceptable. In many cases, a Post-it note would seem almost romantic by comparison – he took the time to write it with an actual pen!
And yet. Lest I give the impression that it’s all bad: there’s myriad reasons that the SATC films aren’t good, and one of them is the way that the main characters were squashed into traditional, heteronormative boxes at the end, despite the way that they lived non-traditional lives throughout the series. Yes, dating in New York still sometimes ends in marriage, but these days it also doesn’t have to end if you don’t want it to. The NYC of SATC revolved around thin and rich white women, their partners, and a couple of token gay friends.
The NYC of today is a diverse place where it’s the norm to have friends from many different backgrounds, who live across the gender and sexuality spectrum, for people to live in non-traditional families or choose to live alone.
If Carrie, Samantha and Charlotte arrived in New York today, they’d have to make some rapid adjustments to their old prejudices and learn to use smartphones. Miranda? She’s already got it: by the time Carrie and the others figured out how to get to Brooklyn, Miranda would have come out as a lesbian and be running for governor. Who knew that she would turn out to be SATC’s most 2018 character?
READ MORE: The Very Best Sex And The City Memes Of All Time
The Debrief Sex And The City Memes
To celebrate 20 years since Sex And The City exploded on to our screens, we asked you about your sex lives, and you answered. We learned that more than half of you have sex at least once a week, and 87% of you believe that sexual compatibility is vital for a successful relationship.
The two biggest revolutions to have happened in the dating world over the last two decades are the rise of dating apps (44% think dating apps have made meeting dates easier, while 31% think that apps have made it harder), and the #MeToo phenomenon (35% agree that #MeToo has made them view previous sexual encounters in a new light).
Our favourite stat? More than half of you believe in the concept of ‘the one’... ahh, Carrie and Big forever!