Sex and the Psychological City; What the girls taught us about when and whether to settle!
Welcome back to Sex and the Psychological City. If you have read earlier posts, you are familiar with my confession that I was a hipper psychotherapist when my go-to girlfriends -- Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte -- were on the air, with fresh new material on everything from masturbation to marriage. Granted, their wardrobes and lifestyles were totally unrealistic, but the fashion and fabulousness worked well as a delivery platform for groundbreaking discussions about sex, commitment, friendship and love.
Since I specialize in relationships and intimacy, the show became an ideal co-therapist that I've brought into the therapy session whenever appropriate. A lot has changed since the show first aired in 1998. Try to imagine a dating world void of blackberries, iPhones, texting, tweets and Facebook! And yet, it is shocking to watch early episodes and realize that the core relationship issues remain the same. In honor of the show, I am taking a trip down Memory Lane that considers each first season episode, from a psychological perspective.
The somewhat legendary episode nine, "The Turtle and the Hare", opens amidst the typical "hundred thousand dollar" New York black tie wedding of the girlfriends' glamourous girlfriend Brooke. Considering the current era of over-the-top wedding reality shows, the hundred thousand dollar price tag immediately stands out as an obviously expensive, but dated dollar amount given that the intent is to convey excess and sticker shock. The girlfriends, dressed in head-to-toe black, also stand out. Mingling among the "Dalton and Brown" educated guests, they look exceptionally "Witches of Eastwick" as Carrie cleverly narrates Brooke's story:
In a city of perfect people, no one was more perfect than Brooke. She was an interior designer who only dated A-list guys. For Brooke, every Saturday night was like the senior prom. So, when she got married we were all dying to see which one had made the cut...Was I the only one who remembered that that Brooke once described this man as more boring than exposed brick?!
The girlfriends look mutually surprised and somewhat disappointed by the non-A list vibe of the groom, as the smug and content looking bride hugs Carrie and whispers:
It's always better to marry someone who loves you more than you love them.
And so starts the episode's ambitious exploration of the always interesting question of when, whether, and to what extent it is wise to settle when searching for Mr Right. Over lunch, the girlfriends ponder Brooke's choice, and a frustrated Carrie laments Big's recent proclamation that he NEVER wants to marry. Carrie frets and wonders:
In a city of great expectations, is it time to settle for what you can get?
Miranda responds to Carrie's woes by declaring her love for her new vibrator. Charlotte scolds Miranda stating that a vibrator can't call you on your birthday or meet your mother. Un-phased, Miranda defends her devotion:
You [obviously] haven't met the Rabbit!
Miranda then introduces Carrie and Charlotte to the Rabbit during a group outing to a local sex shop. Though skeptical, Charlotte is charmed by the rabbit's pink color and bunny ears and proceeds to fall hard and fast. She simply cannot tear herself away from her new Rabbit! In an outrageous example of how much times have changed, Charlotte bails on her girlfriends and cancels plans for the ballet using the excuse that she is expecting a transatlantic phone call! She expresses fear that she will never enjoy sex with a man again! She bails on an art opening to stay home and nest with her Rabbit! The girlfriends have no choice but to barge into Charlotte's apartment, uninvited, and perform a hysterical Rabbit intervention. Charlotte adamantly defends herself and her Rabbit:
I'd rather stay home with the Rabbit than go out and deal with men!
Meanwhile, inspired by Brooke's wedding, (and offended by a chic wedding guest's rejection in favor another woman) Samantha decides to give the geeky wedding guest Bernie Turtletaub a chance. Carrie explains that Turtletaub is known AS "the Turtle" and known FOR two things:
Good investments and bad breath!
Samantha defends the Turtle, calling him a "cute little fixer upper" and spends the episode convincing the Turtle to use breath mints, get facials and purchase a brand new wardrobe featuring Helmut Lang. The Turtle is happily willing to reinvent himself in hopes of becoming worthy of Samantha's love.
Ultimately, Charlotte determines that, fabulous as her Rabbit may be, she needs to go out and face the world. Samantha faces the unfortunate truth that the Turtle, with his constant obsession over guessing the EXACT ingredients of every single restaurant meal he eats, is not and never will be her soulmate. As the Turtle annoyingly pontificates about whether he is eating shitake, porcini, chanterelle or trumpet mushrooms, Samantha decides that the imbalance of their enthusiasm for one another is simply too great. She ditches him at a high-end bistro. Both Charlotte and Samantha gain some solid life experience through their willingness to keep an open mind, but they refuse to settle. Their search for true love continues.
In another refusal to settle, Carrie ultimately confesses to Big:
I don't want to date somebody who won't (get married). What's the point?
Big breezily brushes Carrie's concerns aside by initiating a hookup. And so, the questions remain:
Is it better to settle for someone who loves you more than you love them?
Is it time to settle for what you can get?
What's wonderful and psychologically compelling about this episode is the exploration of the relationship between a woman's ability to satisfy herself and the challenge of finding a satisfying relationship. Regardless of who loves whom more, the chances of finding a fulfilling romantic relationship are ultimately better if you know how to take care of yourself, meet your own needs, and be satisfied -- physically, emotionally and even sexually -- on your own. Charlotte's open mind and willingness to learn more about meeting her own sexual needs, and Samantha's open mind and willingness to give "the Turtle" a fair chance, are both worthwhile steps on the path to finding love. In other words, Charlotte is in a better position to find Mr. Right as she has learned more about meeting her own sexual needs. Samantha has fun with Turtle for a while, and demonstrates BOTH that it is worth giving someone a chance AND necessary to face facts if romantic feelings do not develop.
Having worked with many clients in search of love and life partners, I am stuck by the simple truth that once you are satisfied with yourself, you are better able to find and sustain a satisfying, loving romantic relationship. If you do not know how to meet your own physical needs, how can you expect someone else to meet them for you? Similarly, if you do not know how to be happy, is it realistic to expect that a relationship will bring you happiness? People who value themselves and take care of themselves are usually more open to giving nice, available, suitable partners a chance. Keeping an open mind can lead to finding love where you might least expect it. So, forget about keeping track of who loves whom more, but DO KEEP AN OPEN MIND! Keep your life interesting and full, take good care of yourself, and prioritize dating kind, interested people who have time for you.
Above all, if you want to get married someday, don't date someone who says that they do not! True, they may change their mind eventually, but they should come find you when and if they do. In the meantime, dating someone who does not want to marry if you do want to marry is the ultimate example of barking up the wrong tree. Consider Carrie's closing reflections about her Zen Master and his teachings:
My Zen Teacher said the only way to find true happiness is to live in the moment and not worry about the future...Of course, he died penniless and single.
Check back soon to discuss episode ten when the girlfriends attend The Baby Shower!