The portrayal of women in the quest for Mr Right: The “Romantic Quest” in ‘Sex and the City’ Part 1

naked dress

As I said in my first article, I am going to share my research. I have chosen to focus on Carrie and Big’s relationship for us to look at how ‘Sex and the City’ portrays the romantic quest. The episodes that I think are most appropriate for this are: 1) Sex and the City (Season 1, Episode 1) 2) I heart NY (Season 4, episode 18) and 3) American Girl in Paris: Part 1&2 (Season 6, Episode 18&19) These episodes mark the beginning, middle and the end of Carrie’s journey to happily-ever-after.

The opening sequence to the show we all know is incredibly sweet and we see out protagonist almost floating down the streets of New York, innocently. The fairytale motif is brought to mind when Carrie is seen wearing a fairy princess style tutu. Our protagonist appears to be a princess in her own enchanted story. Then there is that theme tune for the opening sequence (Admit it, you had the ringtone on your Nokia 5510 didn’t you?). This cheerful jingle is very fairytale like as it sounds magical and gives the viewers a feeling of excitement and suspense. However, at the end of the opening sequence, just as we get comfortable, a bus passes by with an eroticised picture of Carrie in her “naked dress” with the slogan “Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex!” Within moments, the viewers are identified with the struggle that us ladies have with living out the fairytale fantasy alongside the modern woman.

The very first line of the series begins with “Once upon a time…” immediately giving us the impression we are about to watch a fairytale and knowing what is being implied. Carrie narrates the beginning of a love story where the wealthy man meets the beautiful new girl in town, and as it always is in fairytales “it was love at first sight”. However, the love story suddenly ends when the hero simply stops calling. The heroine is astonished and bewildered this:

“No one told her about the end of love…welcome to the age of un-innocence.”

We are immediately reminded of the classic novel “The age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton and how incredibly different the path to love is in the 21st century. Carrie then sums up 21st century women in New York;

“They’re great. They travel, they pay taxes, they pay four hundred dollars for a pair of Monolo Blahnik strappy sandals and they’re alone.”

Of course women have progressed since the 19th Century as we are now independent, make our own money in which we have the choice of how to spend it, we can get-up-and-go, travel and  love our fashion but is Carrie suggesting this is not enough to satisfy us…we need to find Mr Right? At this point, we get to meet Carrie’s friends. Samantha is an extreme version of a 21st century woman and doesn’t believe In Mr Right or monogamy at all:

“The right guy is an illusion, go out and enjoy yourself!” and the well-known suggestion to “Have sex like a man…without feeling.”

We all understand this point and like to think we embrace it as much as possible but Carrie can’t help but wonder:

“Are women giving up on love? What about romance?”

Carrie decides to do her own little experiment and “have sex like a man.”

After this experiment, she feels “powerful, sexy and confident.”

At the very moment she realises she is feeling this way, she bumps into a tall, dark, handsome stranger-her archetypal fantasy, a vision in Armani that inspires her desire for “great love”. It is clear she is breath taken by him and she notices three important key points:

“Number one, he’s very handsome. Number two, he isn’t wearing a ring and Number three, he knows I carry a supply of ultra-textured Trojans with a reservoir tip.”

Her first two points are traditional qualities to look for in a man: good looking and single, but the third emphasises the promiscuity of women in the 21st century.

She later sees him again in a night club and Samantha claims that he is the next Donald Trump. Thus giving the impression he could be Prince Charming but at that moment she gives him the nickname “Mr Big”. This name not only keeps the mystery on wither or not he can reconfigure her romantic fantasies about Mr Right, this name associates with many phallic qualities such as; height, wealth, social status and sexual power. The name also conjures up a paradox of wither he is Big Love or Big Trouble. The mystery of Mr Big is just as perplex as the mystery of Mr Right. His masculinity is so irresistible to Carrie and causes her to be powerless around him, causing her to indulge in an inhabited sexual relationship, fulfilling the passionate love part of the romantic fantasy (how very Mills&Boon!) The classical romantic quest cannot soar for Carrie and it is clear that the path to romance is a continuous obstacle for her. Big’s hesitation to commit to her frustrates our heroine and she cannot find the ultimate closure on her fantasy. Luckily for us, Carrie is an eternal optimist which keeps the narrative moving forward and the search for that “great love” alive.

Shortly after “Mr Big” is established, we see Carrie standing alone in a dark street trying to flag down a taxi. Mr Big drives by in a chauffeur driven black jag, offering a lift. This is symbolic of the Prince on a white horse coming to the rescue. In the car journey, they have their first conversation. Big asks her about her career:

Carrie: I’m sorta a sex anthropologist

Big: You mean…like a hooker?

Carrie explains that she is researching the concept of women having sex like a man.

Big: But you’re not like that

Carrie: Aren’t you?

Big: Not a drop.

This line suggest Big is the classic gentleman with morals;

Big: I get it, you’ve never been in love.

Carrie: (to herself) I suddenly felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.

This realisation of never having been in love makes this contemporary, thirty-something woman feel humiliated. Here we realise that she does genuinely want an old-fashioned romance.

Carrie: Have you ever been in love?

Big: Absofuckinglutley.

As he drives off, we can tell that Carrie is very impressed with this response. This opens the idea of the classical romance with someone whom she is sexually attracted to, keeping the classic quest possible in the 21st century.

I heart NY (Season 4, Episode 18) is an episode that is a turning point in Mr Big’s role in Carrie’s romantic quest. By this episode, he has been part of her life for nearly five years, they have been together twice, he has left for Paris without her, returned with a twenty-something girl who he marries, commits adultery with Carrie. Meanwhile, Carrie has been engaged to the cliché Miss&Boon archetype and called it off. The episode starts with Carrie on the phone saying, “I’m lonely. Do you ever get lonely?” Here we immediately realise that the first person Carrie thinks to call when she is alone. She arrives at his apartment shortly after confirming that it is “not that type of meeting.” And here we get the impression that they are now just friends. Big then announces he is moving to 3000 miles away. Carrie is clearly devastated:

“You can’t leave New York” This implies she wants to say “You can’t leave me.”

Carrie then finds a record of “Moon River” which is a classic romantic New York song from ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961). Here we see Big as the old fashioned romantic as he reminisces what the song means to him: his parents love. Surprisingly Carrie remarks “So corny” to which he replies “Classic.” We are melted by this new side of Big.

This episode then becomes Carrie and Big’s relation. New York appears to be a magical kingdom far, far away where anything is now possible.  Carrie admits the affect Big has on her:

“I feel safe around him. He’s this great man in my life and he’s leaving.”

Big leaving is the “end of an era” and she owes it to them for one last Big night out. (Is this really maybe the final chapter Carrie and Big? He is not her happily after ever if he is leaving…) However, the dinner, drinking and dancing reignites that Big has the archetypal qualities to fulfil the romantic fantasy. Carrie buys beautiful Christian Louboutin shoes which triggers the Cinderella story to the viewers. They indulge in an exquisite carriage ride through Central Park which they both clearly enjoy but can’t help but smirk at. This again shows the struggle for a fairytale romance to take place in the 21st century. Carrie then gets a call on her mobile which means she has to abruptly end the date. The 21st century has ended her classic romance. She calls Big her “Prince Charming” as she alights from the horse drawn carriage. As well as the romantic swooning that we see Carrie experience in this episode, we see what she experiences with Big that she doesn’t have with any other guy-great banter! The pair are at ease with each other and don’t hold back on the flirty banter. He is drawn to Carrie’s intelligent quick-witted charm and she uses wonderful imagery in demonstrating how big a part of her life Big is:

“You can’t leave New York. You’re the Chrysler Building. The Chrysler Building would be all wrong in a vineyard!”

It is insanely obvious that Big could fulfil Carrie’s romantic fantasies. Perhaps at this moment, Mr Big IS perfect for Carrie.

Carrie’s quest for Mr Right is itself an obstacle. Up until now, the classical romance didn’t seem plausible with Big. This is the turning point as we realise that what they have maybe is more than uninhabited sex and they clearly belong together. We can’t help but wonder, “Can you make a mistake and miss your fate?”

It pains us to see Carrie say Goodbye to Big. The episode ends with Carrie finding the “Moon River” record with a note saying “If you ever feel lonely…” and a plane ticket to where he is. It is comforting to know how easily Carrie can be reunited with her true love and we are left with the lingering thought that their classic, romantic night together was not their last…

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