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What Sex & the City taught me: Marriage, Manolo shoes & Owning your story

Stefania Montagna

Stefania Montagna

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In “Today in Focus” this week, the Guardian discusses why Sex and the City is making a comeback.

“Have you got a favourite Sex and the City quote?” Hannah J Davies, the Guardian’s deputy television editor asks Guardian Columnist Hadley Freeman.

“My favourite, most favourite moment on Sex and the City…”, she answers, “is when Miranda finds out she is unexpectedly pregnant and Carrie goes with her to the abortion clinic…”, Hadley Freeman answers, before sharing a personal story.

While I can’t relate to that particular episode and scene, I am convinced that for every woman who has ever watched the show, there must be a similarly pivotal moment, one which cast a light on some reality that, as women, we might never have allowed ourselves to discuss if it weren’t for the show. And certainly not because that reality didn’t hit us in our core.

For me, that defining instance was Carrie’s wedding to herself—in a quest to get her Manolo shoes back.

In the episode, called “A woman’s Right to shoes” Carrie is invited to a bridal and baby shower, and asked to remove her Manolo shoes as she arrives. At the start of the episode we see her shopping, with perfectly styled hair that becomes frizzier and more unkempt with every “no” she gets to listen to at her requests for items on the list. As it turns out, not only is she tired to buying presents for brides- and moms-to-be, she also finds, at the end of the episode, that her shoes are gone.

What could she do to get them back? Send Tatum O’Neal, the woman who’s celebrating her third baby shower, an invitation: to Carrie’s wedding, to herself.

When I watched this episode for the first time, it was the summer of 2003. I had flown across the ocean to stay with a friend in California for two weeks, and I remember the feeling when I realized what her life looked like: like I had just been reminded that no matter how hard I tried, I was something less than other people were.

My friend’s dad had a wooden house up a hill, with a hot tub on the porch and impossibly high ceilings. It was the ultimate depiction, to me, of what a glamourous life looked like, deer crossing their garden and all. There was a piano in the house, as well as an island kitchen and all sorts of appliances. But it was the hot tub, the comfort of the sofas, of her bed, the comfort of everything, that seemed preposterous. I soon got the impression that my friend’s family was one that had never witnessed hardship, a family that lived in an amazingly delightful bubble of happiness, days out at the beach, fancy restaurants, and minimalist salads, years before I ever even heard the word “minimalism”. Perhaps this was why they took me in with so much openness and kindness: they oozed off wellbeing with a capital W. And that, I thought, was certainly the reason why my friend never wondered why, or if, people liked her.

“Yeah, you have that going for you, Cheryl”, her dad once said, talking to her, after I shared, in their kitchen, that I spent half of my time wondering if I might be bothering people (Though 99% of the time would have been more appropriate).

She’d shrugged, as though the possibility that someone wouldn’t like her felt to her as remote as that of aliens landing on earth.

When I close my eyes and remember those days, I can see myself sitting on the couch. The light of the sun, on those long afternoons, never failed to come through the roof window and hit the wooden floor, making it look of a lighter color, almost inconsistent. For hours and hours, we would watch Sex and the City, one episode after the other, never really bothering to press stop on the remote control, if not to make ourselves a smoothie. In those days, Cheryl would take out her nail polish and paint her nails with a bright shade of red which, on her hands, looked delicate and posh. All those days, I sat alongside her and wondered how she just knew to be so cool, how she could be effortlessly elegant and quintessentially happy. I almost hoped that her confidence could wash over me—even on those nights that proved that we were really different, and that, while her bliss was smoking marijuana at this party we were at, mine might look like sleeping in her car, waiting for her instead.

I had brought along to California that sense I had that I wasn’t really made to have boyfriends—but to be the extra friend that you brought along, just in case. Sex and the City was a series I almost studied—for ways to be not necessarily sexy, elegant, and sophisticated but unhinged, free from the pressure of being in a certain way.

I felt then that couples were celebrated too much, as though an individual could never be complete on their own. I wondered why it was so that society demanded for one other person to approve of me, in order to approve of me, too. Why the stamp of verification? I thought. Couldn’t I be enough, on my own?

I reckoned, even as I was only 19 and rather immature when it came to relationships—that it was important to celebrate one’s relationship to oneself. Amidst the various things I had done, I thought, bringing myself on a holiday to California, on my own, at age 19, represented something massive, the kind of accomplishment I would cherish forever. But such an accomplishment was not celebrated.

Conformity was priced higher than independence.

That was why the episode of the Manolo shoes was so revelatory to me: it pointed another way. It pointed the way of self-respect. It told me that I could have my cake and eat it, too, and it didn’t have to be the one someone else had ordered for me. And it did so in a way that was more profound.

Forget the shoes. By saying that she was getting married to herself, Carrie was owning her destiny. She wasn’t being apologetic about being single (Or anything else that she was). Instead, she took her status and elevated it to something worth celebrating.

This is the exercise we are all called to do, at all times: to marry ourselves. The way we are.

Are you struggling to marry yourself? Does it feel like you need someone else to complete you? Consider trying out my self-reflection cheatsheet “7 questions to help you unlock what’s stopping you on your way to the top.”

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