Now that Sex And The City has returned to our screens as And Just Like That, many of us have been reflecting on what the show meant – and still means – to us. It’s impact over the last two decades has been felt not just on our fashion choices, but our perceptions of female friendships.
Because the original first aired just four months after I was born, Sex And The City was at first a cultural myth I heard regaled by the older women in my life.
It transcended being a TV show. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte were like the popular girls at school. For better or worse, I grew up wanting to emulate everything about them – but mainly their relationships to each other.
They set a gold standard for the girl gang, showing us just how fun and wild, but also deep and sensitive female friendship could be. Whether Samantha was sharing sordid details over brunch (much to Charlotte’s horror,) or Miranda was confiding in the girls about Steve’s infidelity in the first movie, Sex And The City was the model for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly with our nearest and dearest.
The group, like any real life friendship, had highs and lows, and often behaved in contradicting ways. While they showed the strength of their friendship when rallying around each other, through Carrie’s heartache, Charlotte’s fertility struggles and Samantha’s cancer diagnosis, they could also be self-centered, dismissive and judgemental at times. And that certainly rings true for the new series.
In the opening moments of the first episode of And Just Like That, we see Miranda proudly telling her friends that she’s returning to school to complete her Masters. But just as quickly as they’re congratulating her, Charlotte is not-so jokingly suggesting that she dye her hair to better fit in with the younger students.
It is in these small but pointed observations that the friends, throughout the series, often tiptoe the line between closeness and crossing boundaries, like when Carrie expects Charlotte to lend her money, and gets upset when she won’t. While many of us cringed the first time round as Samantha was repeatedly slut shamed by her best friends and has her relationship with a woman ignorantly dismissed by Carrie “I Don’t Believe In Bisexuality” Bradshaw, we still see that same kind of behaviour emerging in the revival.
Whether as a quartet or trio, the closeness and near-constant access to one another is something I always admired the friends for. Middle of the night calls, endless brunches and events that meant they were there to witness and dissect every moment of each other’s lives. Even in the new episodes, Carrie re-arranges her trip with Big to attend Lily’s piano recital, which comes at a great personal cost.
But within the group it feels like there has always been the presumption that their closeness means that they don’t need to tread as carefully with each other or remain mindful of boundaries. And it continues to lead them towards trouble.
As many viewers have pointed out, And Just Like That has so-far skirted around one of the most painful things we can experience: friendship breakups. As we meet the characters now, Samantha has moved to London and stopped replying, seemingly spurred on by an argument between her and Carrie about no longer being her publicist. While fans have critiqued that a friendship as deep as theirs could never be ended by something so ‘trivial,’ it does raise an interesting point as to just where we draw the line, and which boundaries are the last to be crossed before reaching breaking point.
Look, friendships are messy, complicated and far from perfect. And perhaps it’s actually quite comforting to see that pop culture’s golden girls have cracks and shortcomings like the rest of us, too. But I can’t help but wonder, is there such a thing as being too open with a friend? Too close?
“Healthy friendships allow us to be ourselves while providing a safe space and a place to “come home” to,” explains Dr Jeanina of the Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic. “But we should be prepared, a lot of the time, for the advice and comments from our friends to be delivered with best intentions, but perhaps in ways that are hard to hear.”
“Friendships are one of the most important relationships one has, and are key to us feeling safe, being able to be vulnerable and trusting those around us.”
I guess that rings true as, despite it all, in And Just Like That’s second episode, Miranda and Charlotte join together to support Carrie after Big’s death, but not without some typically self-serving dramatics from Charlotte first.
But what’s important is that they do come through. Even though she was one of his loudest critics throughout the series, Miranda shares heartfelt words about how lucky they all felt to have known Big, albeit for a short time. And in spite of their feud, Samantha sends flowers and a simple note to let Carrie know that she’s thinking of her.
“Sex And The City as a series has a beautiful group of friends together, who each are different but are there for each other at the end of the day,” reminds Dr Jeanina.
“The show celebrates the women being different yet, but being so close and having those long term friendships, bringing humour and different dynamics, makeups and breakups. Friendships evolve and when mistakes are made or hurtful opinions are shared, they are made up for somehow – and maybe that’s the most important part of intimate friendship.”
Perhaps we need to thank Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte once more, then, for the reminder that friendships don’t need to be perfect to still be important.