Lessons from Sex and the City: Hoping Against Soulmates

May 20, 2007

I turn on Sex and the City and it’s the first episode of the fourth season, “The Agony and the ‘Ex’-tasy,” in which they confront that classic question: do you believe in soulmates? I can’t seem to stop talking about The One, and it’s not the most encouraging topic, as this episode makes clear. Carrie gets a mailing from a dating service full of warnings about letting her soulmate “slip away.” Miranda declares that “soulmates only exist in the hallmark aisle in Duane Reed Drugs,” but it turns out that the notion is not so easy to shake off.

Miranda’s main problem with the idea of soulmates is that it makes you feel an essential dissatisfaction with yourself and your life as it is. You constantly have to be looking for that magical solution, that person whom you may well never find. Charlotte wants to believe “that there’s that one perfect person out there to complete you,” but Miranda points out the risks of this: “And, what? If you don’t find him–you’re incomplete? It’s so dangerous!” “You’re still looking outside yourself and saying that you’re not enough,” she says, in a very empowered, accept-yourself kind of moment.

But Charlotte’s rebuttal is disconcertingly resonant: “Are you enough?”

There are practical reasons to ignore the idea of soulmates–a soulmate is just too hard to find. “It’s so unattainable; you’re set up to fail,” says Samantha, and Carrie chimes in, “The idea that there’s only one out there, I mean, why don’t I just shoot myself right now?” And real-life people don’t behave like soulmates; they mess up and they hurt you, sometimes repeatedly, like Big does to Carrie. After a disastrous sexual encounter with Trey, Charlotte says, “I thought Trey was mine but I don’t think that a soulmate would __ on your leg.” Some behavior should just be a tip-off.

The soulmate theory also has the potential to undermine the worth of other relationships–romantic and otherwise. I hate to quote from Carrie’s abysmal voiceover/column, but, let’s. “And if you loved someone and it didn’t work out,” she wonders, “does that mean they weren’t your soulmate? Were they just a runner-up contestant in this game show called Happily Ever After?” Ignore that last awkward and cheesy metaphor and just consider the sentiment. How do we assign value to the people in our lives? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently in light of a past relationship; in the year and a half since it ended, I’ve gone from thinking nostalgically of the relationship as a positive experience that just didn’t work out, to feeling that it was a huge mistake and a waste of two years of emotional investment, and, more recently, to relenting a little–maybe it just was, and there’s no need to assign it a value in the scheme of my life attempts to find The One.

Especially since I don’t believe in The One. Carrie says, “I’d like to think that people have more than one soulmate”–Samantha pipes in: “I agree, I’ve had hundreds!”–“And you know what, if you miss one, along comes another, like cabs!” But it’s scary to admit to the arbitrary nature of dating, because, even if we don’t use the term “soulmate,” most of us hope and assume we will find someone to settle down with, that we will get married and stay married. Marriage is predicated on the notion of a unique connection with someone; most relationships don’t work out, but in the end, one must.

Near the end of the episode, Carrie sits alone in a restaurant at a table for ten, her own birthday party gone terribly wrong. After waiting for an hour for her friends she goes home, and although they show up later with all kinds of good excuses, she feels incredibly depressed, worried suddenly that she has no man in her life. It’s easy enough to take generic feelings of loneliness/depression and interpret them as a problem of being alone. When you’re in a relationship, it becomes clear again–you can get depressed even if you have a boyfriend, and sometimes because you have a boyfriend. Relationships don’t solve anything, unfortunately.

But a combination of relationships get us through those difficult moments. Charlotte suggests that the four of them could be each other’s soulmates and relegate men to a secondary role in their lives. I mean, okay, we could do that. Or, we could stop using words that don’t apply to the realities of our lives, and, in the process, give ourselves a break.


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