I was too young to be a first-run fan of Sex and the City. My conservative Midwestern mom would have recoiled in horror at the thought of all that nudity and casual sex, and let’s be honest, HBO (or any premium cable for that matter) wasn’t a thing in our rural middle-class home.
But my first college roommate had six prized possessions: each season of the show in glossy boxes containing a handful of DVDs each. It was 2009, half a decade after the series had ended. Many things had changed (our cellphones could get on the internet!), but some more important things, like Sex and the City‘s timeless relevance, had stayed the same.
Watching that show for the first time as a college freshman, I took it in on a surface level. I argued with my roommate about which characters best represented us (I was a Miranda and she was a Charlotte, I was convinced. Years later, I know that’s she’s the Miranda, and I am undoubtedly a Carrie). Hungover from parties, we’d binge full seasons at a time and shake our fists at the men who seemed to be constantly letting Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte down. We completely missed the point.
Sex and the City wasn’t about the romantic relationships. They were merely there to show the impermanence of romance and to juxtapose it against the staying power of female friendships. As immature, boy-crazy college freshmen barely breaking into the world of actual adult relationships, we couldn’t see that. But now, nearly 10 years later and still as much a fan of the series as I was then, I think I do get it. Women need friendships with other women. We need women to be our rocks. For many of us, men will come and go, but a strong female friendship can weather any storm. That was the central message in Sex and the City. As all four women faced professional upheaval, family crises and seemingly insurmountable heartbreak, they always had each other. And because of that, they were always OK.
That’s why I still feel so let down by Sex and the City‘s finale.
At the end of the series, every one of the show’s main women was in a serious relationship. Miranda had moved to Brooklyn to live with Steve. Charlotte was adopting a child with Harry. Even Samantha was testing the waters of monogamy with Smith. And then there was Carrie, who left yet another man to run straight into the arms of Mr. Big, who finally admitted his love for her.
For a show that supposedly tells women that they don’t need a man to complete them or make them happy, why couldn’t the series be complete without all of its women finding men? And more important, why does Carrie end up with Big, the emotionally distant, commitment-phobic man who turns her into a jealous, insecure shell of her former self? The fact that Big changes Carrie into something she’s not goes against every tenet of the show — and there’s no question that’s what he does. It’s evident in the early days of their relationship, Season 1, when Carrie tells Miranda that around Big, “I’m not like me. I’m, like, Together Carrie. I wear little outfits: Sexy Carrie and Casual Carrie. Sometimes I catch myself actually posing. It’s just — it’s exhausting.” It’s a typical, but final, moment of self-awareness for Carrie, who never again seems to realize the detriment that Big is to her, her independence, her soul.
What if the finale episode just never happened? What if instead of ending up in Big’s arms, Carrie ended up the way she, by then, inexplicably, had evolved not to want to be: 38 and single? What if she had never gone back to the man who forced her to change, but instead stayed truly and unapologetically herself, propped up by the love of her girlfriends? That’s the show Sex and the City always was to me. That’s the show I wish Sex and the City had remained until the end.