“I’m going to meet the perfect guy and I'm going to get married.”
Charlotte York is a hopeless, old-fashioned romantic.
“But, it can happen. People do live happily ever after!”
While the opening premise of Sex and the City is ostensibly
that women don’t need to be defined by traditional
Charlotte acts as a foil to her three best friends by unabashedly
dreaming of getting married, having children, and living out a
classic ideal of romantic love.
“Sometimes you just know. With the right match, it's fate.”
On a show which initially seems to espouse a cynical view of love,
this beacon of optimism acts as an important stand-in for many
viewers who can to this day identify with her conventional
desire for a perfect-looking, fairy-tale love. But if we look
closer, much of the series is devoted to methodically
disproving the various love myths
that Charlotte believes in like that finding your happily ever
after means landing a perfect husband who will complete you.
“Everyone needs a man”
that you’ll be able to recognize this guy by his good looks or how much
money he makes, and that you can only win him if you play by the rules.
“I thought you were serious about this guy, you can’t sleep
with him on the first date.”
Charlotte has to cure herself of her damaging romantic falsehoods.
“I want to believe, but nothing is happening. I just don't
think it's working.”
before she can be ready to find the happiness she
longs for. Meanwhile,
witnessing this love re-education might help
viewers pay attention to
what unhealthy myths we, too, may need to let go of.
Here’s our Take on how, by showing how Charlotte is
wrong about everything to do with
love but still right to believe in it Sex and the City guides us to
a deeper understanding of what romance is
really all about.
“I think that having it all really means having someone
special to share it with.”
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Myth number 1: You Need a Man to Complete You
“I believe that there’s that one perfect person
out there to complete you.”
Protagonist Carrie's three best friends in Sex and the City
exist to embody divergent viewpoints.It's as if
Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte
are three voices in Carrie’s head debating and clashing over how
the modern woman should approach life and love.
Samantha believes the empowered woman
has sex without attachment, showing a level of sexual liberation that
was all but unprecedented on television at the time.
“You can bang your head against the wall and try and find a relationship
or you can say screw ‘it, and just go out and have sex like a man.”
Miranda the feminist intellectual believes a woman is empowered through
independence and not making sexor romance the central
mental focus of her life.
“How does this happen four smart women have nothing
to talk about but boyfriends?”
Charlotte, on the other hand, represents that piece of the modern
woman’s soul who still clings to old-fashioned concepts of romance.
“Are you saying you're just gonna give up on love?”
She’s been waiting her entire life for a knight in shining armor to sweep
her off her feet, and is convinced that she won’t
be complete until that happens.
“My life wasn't really complete until I met Trey” Her perspective
aligns with the values embraced by so many romance stories that lead up
to a perfect happily ever after. “Woman really just want to be rescued.”
But what’s so disempowering about this
belief that she won’t be fulfilled until the One shows up is that it
prevents Charlotte from feeling in control of her own destiny. Instead,
she hands the keys to her happiness over to some dream
person who may or may not materialize.
“Did you ever think that maybe we're the white knights and we're the ones
that have to save ourselves?”
Despite her successful career and meaningful friendships, on some level
she feels that she’s still waiting forher real life to start.
“I’ve been dating since I was 15, I'm exhausted. Where is he?”
One of the most important moments for Charlotte’s character arc comes
when she suggests that perhaps finding the perfect man isn’t everything.
“Maybe we could be each other’s soulmates. And then we could let
men be just these great nice guys to have fun with.“
While Charlotte must go through a lot of ups-and-downs and flawed
relationships before she can live according to this principle, she has
glimmers of insight throughout the series that show her gradually
understanding that she must take responsibility to complete herself .
“You better get interested or you're gonna end up all alone and with no mans.
Maybe I am. Would that be the worst thing that could happen?”
Myth number 2: To Win Love, You Have to Play the Game
Men don't want a woman who's too self sufficient.”
When we first meet Charlotte in the pilot, she outlines a dating philosophy
that doesn’t shy away from manipulation in the search for true love.
“Most men are threatened by successful women.”
“If you want to get these guys, you have to keep your mouth shut
and play by the rules.”
Charlotte’s outlook is inspired by “The Rules: Time-Tested
Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right,”
a self-help book released in 1995 which aims to help women find a mate by
essentially teaching them how to trick men into pursuing them.
Much of its strategy is based on the assumptions that men like
a woman who is hard to get
“If you’re serious about a guy then you have to keep him in a holding
pattern for at least 5 dates.” and that modern dating life still boils down
to the animalistic truth that men are the hunters and women are the prey.
Throughout the series, Charlotte molds her personality to fit into this
framework, attempting to appear elusive in order to always
leave men wanting more.
“It’s important to remain a creature of mystery.”
Some of Charlotte’s rules about love are blatantly outlandish
and weirdly specific
“The number of dates that you wait to have sex with a man is
directly proportional to your age.”
And the comic way they’re presented encourages the audience to disagree
with them drawing our attention to the fact that, no doubt, we’ve
heard or considered similar mantras in our own lives.
“It takes half the total time you went out with someone
to get over them.” Eventually, though, Charlotte’s life disproves all
her rules. Decades of following them doesn’t get her what she wants, but
after she abandons all of them by sleeping with Harry before even
starting a relationship with him this leads her to a true love.
"I think I may be falling in love with you." "I've been falling
for you since the moment we met"
Myth number 3: Men Must See You as Marriage Material
In the early seasons of the show, Charlotte is overwhelmingly focused
on how she is perceived by men. She believes that in order to find
the perfect man, she must be seen as the perfect woman. “It wasn't even
a date. I didn't wash my hair and I wore my glasses!”
So she makes her own desires secondary in favor of crafting
an image of herself as demure, desirable and virtuous. In
one episode, when considering a
particular sexual act, she spends more time focusing on how her
partner will judge her if she does it, than on contemplating whether it’s
actually something she’s interested in.
“I-I-I want to, but I can't. I-I-I mean, actually No, that's
not true. I don't want to.
Or maybe I do. I don't know what I want, but I'm
afraid if I don't you'll dump me.”
Ultimately, her decision is made based on which choice
she thinks will make her more marriageable.
“Men don't marry the up the butt girl.”
So it’s only later in the series, once she lets herself focus on what she
really wants, that Charlotte at last comes into her own
Myth number 4: The Right Man must meet a Strict, Superficial Criteria
One of the things that holds Charlotte back most is her focus on
superficial, external qualities in her search for a potential husband.
“her dream man her backup dream man”
She believes that the only acceptable partner for her is
wealthy, has a prestigious job, and is conventionally good looking.
“You fantasize a man with a Park Avenue apartment
and a nice stock portfolio.”
She also wants her future husband to come from
a good family, with the subtext being that he needs to have had
an upper class upbringing like she did.
“Honestly, I don’t know how you can get serious with
a guy whose entire future is based on tips?”
Even when she does meet a man who’s expressly looking to get
married and seems like a perfect match, she breaks up with him
because they don’t have the same taste in dinnerware.
“Charlotte broke it off then and there. It would never work. He was
American Classic she was French Country.”
This nitpicking is why the show eventually matches her with Harry–a man who
is the exact opposite of everything she thought she wanted
“He's sooo not my type”
but perfect for her in every way.
Harry's not who I expected to fall in love with, but I did.
Myth number 5: Finding a Husband Requires a Strategic Plan
Marriage lncorporated: How to apply successful business
strategies to finding a husband.
In season three, Charlotte declares that this is the year she’s getting
married, despite the fact that she hasn’t met the guy yet.
“Who's the lucky guy? Well I don't know yet.
This declaration reinforces that, for her, marriage is less about
forming a meaningful relationship, then it is about achieving a milestone.
“Charlotte treated marriage like a sorority she was
desperately hoping to pledge.”
The moment also marks a turning point because she’s admitting that she cares
more about the practical and social win of being married than about fulfilling
her long-held fantasy about meeting the ONE. She decides that getting
married requires a meticulous strategy.
“It encourages professional women to approach finding a mate with
the same kind of dedication and organization they
bring to their careers.”
She even rejects her single friends and decides to surround herself with
married couples so they’ll connect her with eligible single men.
“But if you really want to get married, you shouldn't be spending so much
time around dysfunctional single women.”
There is something positive about seeing the drive which has characterized
Charlotte’s professional life surface in her personal one
instead of just waiting,she’s
demonstrating a will to take control of her future.
“You hear that New York? I'm getting married this year. I'm getting married.”
Still, her belief that she can force fate’s hand is misguided:
in reality she meets her most significant partners through chance
proving that real
love appears on its own timeline.
Myth number 6 A Relationship Must Follow a Specific Trajectory
When Charlotte meets Trey, she believes she has finally found the
exact man she’s been looking for since she was a teenager.
“Charlotte was spending all her time with Trey, a doctor
from family money who had it all.”
Not only does he meet her exacting criteria, but he
also shows up via a classic
romance-movie meet-cute, enhancing her belief that their union is meant to be.
“And there was Charlotte, lying in the middle of the street.
And that's how we met.”
She deems him The One' after just a few weeks of dating.
“He could really be the one. Charlotte honey, You've only
known him for two weeks. You can know his e-mail address,
you cannot know he's the one.”
But Charlotte’s fixation on her marriage plan backfires
on her. She doesn’t give
herself time to really get to know Trey,so their relationship
is founded only on flimsy external things in common.
She loves that he comes from a good
family, but finds that she loathes his snobby and overbearing mother.
“But I must tell you right now I don't enjoy Mandarin food and I don't
enjoy a Mandarin child. Um I don’t think That's any of your business.”
Obsessed with becoming engaged as soon as possible, Charlotte gets
fed up with waiting for a proposal and takes
matters into her own hands.
“Maybe we should get married.” “Alrighty”
But while she gets the outcome she desired, she’s then horrified
that the way it happened contradicts her fairy-tale fantasy.
“I proposed to myself”
She decides to lie about how the proposal took place.
“From that moment on Charlotte will tell everyone that right
in-front of Tiffany’s out of nowhere Trey popped the
question and she said alrighty.”
Reinforcing the superficiality of this relationship, which has all
along been mimicking an empty, preconceived formula instead
of unfolding organically on its own.
Myth number 7: You’re Either a “Madonna” or a “Whore”
“But I don't want to ruin it by having sex with him too early.”
Charlotte and Trey’s lack of actual connection
is expressed symbolically through
their sex life. They agree not to have sex until their wedding night
due to Charlotte’s desire to perform the role of the pure,
virginal Madonna for her husband. “Nobody wants to marry a whore.”
despite the fact that she is not actually a virgin.
“You know I read that if you don't have sex for a year you can
actually become revirginized.”
Sigmund Freud identified the Madonna/Whore complex as the
problem of some men seeing women as either sexual Whores or pious
Madonnas, and thus being unable to desire partners they respect.
This is exactly what we see happen when Trey deals with impotence
“Trey can’t get it up!”
due to viewing his wife as a sexless Madonna.
“Trey sees you as his virginal wife, not his sexual plaything. You're not
going to get anywhere until you change how he sees you.”
Eventually, Charlotte’s dissatisfaction in her
sexless marriage forces her to
face her own repressed needs, which she’s long been ignoring
in order to craft her persona around what she thinks men want.
“I’m not a Madonna, and I'm not a whore. I'm your wife.
I'm sexual and I love you.”
Myth number 8: Wife and Motherhood Require Sacrificing Selfhood
“I’m quitting, that's what I want to do, yep. I'm quitting.”
When Trey suggests that Charlotte quit her job to become
a stay-at-home wife.
“I’ve been driving myself crazy lately just trying to get everything
done and Trey suggested.” “Trey suggested?”
Charlotte uses a superficial interpretation of feminism
to try to back up her decision.
“The women's movement is supposed to be about choice. And if I choose
to quit my job, that is my choice.”
But her clashing with Miranda, the most overtly feminist character on
the show makes it clear that Charlotte is working so hard to
convince herself because it’s not really the choice she wants.
“I’m interviewing girls to
replace me and I really need you to get behind my choice.”
“You get behind your choice.”
Charlotte’s letting her preconceptions of the perfect
domestic life supersede
what her lived experience has proved actually makes her happy.
“But you love your job.” “I know.”
She gives up that which provides her with a sense
of self, outside of her dreams of becoming a wife and mother.
“Also, I'm on the board of the Lenox Hill Paediatric AlDS
Foundation. Charlotte heard herself lie.She just couldn’t bring herself
to tell the girl that her new resume objective would read: Wife, mother
and part-time bowl glazer.”
While Charlotte is right in theory that being a stay-at-home wife and
mom isn’t incompatible with feminist
ideals, her commitment to old-fashioned conceptions of marriage and motherhood
lead her to feel it’s necessary to erase her individuality. When her marriage
doesn’t work out, Charlotte is left in a strange limbo–she’s financially secure,
with a large perfect apartment, but without anything to do or any outlet
for her skills and drive.
“And for the record, the only reason
I'm volunteering is no one will hire me. I've called seven galleries.”
Myth number 9: Appearances Are Everything
“Trey and I look like the perfect couple from the outside,
but on the inside it's all fake.”
Despite the fact that Charlotte and Trey’s relationship rapidly crumbles
throughout seasons three and four, she remains dedicated to keeping
up the appearance of a happy marriage.
“Damn we make a fine looking couple.” She’s devoted to making her marriage
work not really out of love for Trey, but out of a refusal to accept that
their reality doesn’t match their picture-perfect image, and that
their union was a mistake.
“Well I was afraid you'd say you'd told me so and I
shouldn't have married so quickly.”
By the time House & Garden magazine comes to do a feature on
their home, the couple is separated and headed for divorce, but Charlotte
still poses with him for the photoshoot rather than appearing in the piece alone
as a single woman. This moment captures Charlotte’s long-standing
impulse to cling to the illusion of a perfect relationship, even
whenthe real thing doesn’t exist.
“But all over America, little girls in their mothers' pearls saw the picture
and thought, That's what I want."
All along, Charlotte’s fatal love flaw is that she’s
so focused on the superficial
signifiers of fairy-tale romance that she ignores the real elements
of a relationship which actually matter. “My marriage is a fake Fendi.”
So when she finds herself drawn to her divorce lawyer, Harry, this attraction
is a challenge to all of the love myths that have
long governed her dating life.
“But he's bald and short, and he talks with his mouth full.”
Unlike Trey who only looked good from the outside, Harry appears
embarrassing in Charlotte’s eyes, nothing like her expectations for
what her perfect man should be like.
“And I don't even want to be seen in public with him. I hate
his name, Harry, because he is, everywhere but his head.”
But he’s compassionate and challenges her, and they have a great time together.
“He makes me laugh and he says what he means. And I feel like
I can be myself around him.”
This time she doesn’t make him wait for sex in order
to preserve some image of
herself, but this far from dampens Harry’s feelings for her, and she
says it’s thebest sex she’s ever had.
“It's the best sex of my life. I think I might really like him”
Eventually, she even decides to convert to Judaism to be with Harry
“I’m becoming a Jew.”
demonstrating her willingness to move beyond the particular set of
traditional values she’s always based her life around.
“that night charlotte realized the memories she was giving up might
be nothing compared to the memories she was getting”
Still, Charlotte struggles to reconcile her genuine feelings with her
lingering false love assumptions.
Her old biases come back when she feels Harry’s taking too
long to propose to her:
Do you know how lucky you are to have me? Do you know how we look?
Do you know what people out there think when they see us together, do you?
Once again, she’s so eager to get engaged that she loses sight
of the prerogative to nurture real love.
In the end, though, her passion for Harry is what finally brings
about the undoing of all Charlotte’s damaging love myths.
After Harry leaves her following her outburst, she comes to understand
how little the superficial elements of a relationship really do matter to her.
“Harry was bald and he talked with his mouth full but I loved him anyway.”
We can see how much she’s changed when she rejects a
handsome, Ivy League educated man who checks all her boxes,
“you're perfect. But for where I am right
“now, you might as well be a gay man with carnations.”
and can’t relate to other women she hears disparaging men
for being fatties and baldies.
“All that's left is the fatties and the baldies. Charlotte could only hope
that one of the baldies was her baldy.”
She even realizes that it’s not necessary for her to get
married to be happy in love.
“I don't care if you ever marry me. I just want to be with you.”
And when Charlotte and Harry do get married, their happy wedding full
of mishaps is a clear juxtaposition to her perfect-on-the-surface
wedding to Trey, which was preceded by her realizing she had no
intimate connection to her husband-to-be.
“You already had the perfect wedding and the
marriage, not so perfect.
You know I think this is a good sign. I think the worse the wedding,
the better the marriage.”
Near the end of the series, Charlotte’s ideology about what it means to be
a woman is challenged in an even more painful way through
her struggles with infertility.
“Fifteen percent chance. Fifteen percent chance of ever having a baby!”
She has to confront her old-fashioned assumptions about what
motherhood must look like. And her “happy ending” in the
series finale comes in seeing a picture of the baby
girl she’s going to adopt.
“Charlotte seeing a picture of her daughter. that’s our baby.”
It’s a moment that’s emblematic of the joy she experiences when
she stops holding herself to a too-rigid, preconceived plan.
It would be easy to assume that today’s modern empowered woman
is above many of Charlotte’s outdated hangups and preconceptions.
But her obsession with fairy tale love is as alive
as ever in our culture today
“You act like finding someone is supposed to be some sort of
fairy tale, but it's not. You're impossible to please!”
and our world of dating apps remains fixated as ever on the superficial.
Ultimately, Charlotte endures as a relatable character due to what’s
both her most limiting flaw and her greatest strength:
her romantic idealism
“I’m afraid that he took away my ability to believe. I hate
him for that, because I always believed before.”
While for a long time it holds her back through a restrictive vision of
what her perfect life should look like, her undying belief in love
also ensures that she never gives up.
Charlotte’s journey proves the
words of Sufi poet Rumi “Your task is not to seek
for love, but merely to seek
and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
As she breaks down the false myths about love that are in fact keeping
her from being ready for real connection, Charlotte acts as a
model for viewers who may be unknowingly serving their own
bad relationship rules. So to this day, we can
learn from Charlotte’s resilient
ability to keep hope alive, while breaking down the
barriers that are holding
us back from finding true fulfillment.
“My good friend, Charlotte, the eternal optimist, who always believes in love.”
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