We couldn't help but wonder ...

By Maggie Malach
June 06, 2019 12:05 PM
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SEX AND THE CITY, Sarah Jessica Parker, (Season 5), 1998-2004, © HBO/ Courtesy: Everett
Credit: Everett

What Is It: Attempting to find love the ways the women of Sex and the City did (a.k.a. no apps allowed)

Who Tried It: Maggie Malach, PEOPLE Staff Editor, Digital Platforms

Level of Difficulty: 10/10 (Current mood: Hungover Charlotte’s reality check)

“Year after year, 20-something women come to New York City in search of the two Ls: labels and love,” Carrie Bradshaw declared in the opening of the Sex and the City movie. That claim might be just a tad inflated (“labels” falls below “career opportunities” and “proximity to $1 pizza” on my list), but any single person living in N.Y.C. can attest that the dating scene is intense. I moved to the city just out of college, right when Tinder was changing the game entirely. Within a few years, it seemed that the M.O. at bars devolved from standing with your squad, making eye contact with a kinda cute guy across the room … to standing with your squad, swiping on your phones.

This was so different from the easy, breezy meet-cutes and witty banter that encompassed six seasons of Sex and the City (not to mention two very lengthy feature films). Obviously, I expected to hop off the plane at LGA with my dreams and my cardigan, and immediately meet a charming single man whose dating issues fit neatly into an ongoing theme in my friendship circle. Technology was never supposed to be a factor. Carrie literally hid from her computer when Aiden messaged her on AIM (may it rest in peace). I doubt she’d be equipped to juggle a bevy of apps in our post-Internet reality.

I couldn’t help but wonder, Is it possible to still find love the way Carrie & Co. did, or are single women doomed to an eternity of left swipes?

Armed with my Macbook and a Manolo Blahnik-free closet, I set out to find my Jack Berger. (Also open to Aiden, but I’m not here for the Mr. Big plotline. Don’t @ me.) The way the four women met men ranged from the reasonable (making eyes at an art gallery) to the unreasonable (falling in front of a moving cab, seducing a sandwich, picking up a widower at a cemetery) to the only-in-New-York (lusting over firemen at a Staten Island bar). I picked three of these tried and true methods and put them to the test.

SPEED-DATING (BUT, LIKE, TRUTHFUL)

What Went Down on Sex and the City: Miranda Hobbes basically lives out every speed-dating cliché (the bell!) and, worst of all, finds that men aren’t interested in dating a Harvard-educated lawyer. In a moment of desperation, she lies and claims to be a flight attendant — and suddenly her luck turns. (Spoiler: The “doctor” she meets while speed-dating turns out to be a manager at the Athlete’s Foot at 81st and Broadway.)

What Went Down IRL: “What have I gotten myself into?” I thought as I descended the stairs into a dimly lit champagne bar in midtown Manhattan one Monday evening. The organization hosting the event prided itself on being less of a cattle call and more low-key (no bell!), so I channeled my inner Charlotte and tried to be optimistic.

For the next hour, I sipped a glass of bubbly, chatting with a rotating cast of single men for about six to seven minutes until an organizer smoothly guided them to the next seat. Like a night out at the bar or a night in with Bumble, I found that some of them were charming and easy to talk to, while others … interrogated me about my independence (“Tell me, Maggie, how do you know you’re truly fulfilled?”) or just plain interrogated me (“So, what do you think we have in common?”). TBH, it was like living in a weird alternate-universe version of The Bachelorette, minus Chris Harrison’s soothing narration and ABC’s pre-screened suitors. I expected the whole night to be way more awkward than it actually was, which is a huge plus. However, I didn’t find myself interested in any of the dates, so when it came time for me to pick my top 5, I opted out.

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Credit: Maggie Malach

All of my Charlotte optimism harnessed, I found myself back at speed-dating a week later. New night, new location, same single Maggie. Overpriced prosecco and scorecard in hand (as seen in the very hastily snapped photo above), I sat at a long table that felt like the assembly line I’d originally envisioned. And with two lines of single people shouting at each other, this definitely felt more like the situation I was hoping to avoid. Surprisingly, the proximity seemed to loosen everyone up — this event was definitely more fun than the first. But I’m a believer in chasing a “spark” (the zsa zsa zu, as Carrie coined it in a season 5 episode), and spark at speed-dating I did not.

FLEET WEEK

What Went Down on Sex and the City: Carrie meets a very cute sailor when he literally chases down a cab for her and invites her to join him at the Fleet Week festivities. She accepts and later casually finds him in the middle of a massive party. (This whole episode might be the least realistic thing to happen in the entire series.) He’s charming AF, but — tragedy! — isn’t a fan of the city. This, in effect, completely turns off Carrie, whose voiceover cheekily informs us that her One Great Love is New York City. The scene closes as a high heel-clad Carrie walks through an empty Times Square.

What Went Down IRL: While many things have changed in the more-than-20 years since the show debuted (you can’t smoke in bars, and Uber has made the pursuit of a cab somewhat less dramatic) one thing has hardly changed at all: Fleet Week, a time when Navy ships pull up and handsome guys in uniform disembark in search of a good time. Luckily, N.Y.C. had my back, as the annual event rolled around just as I was beginning research on this project. While many, many aspects of Sex and the City are exaggerated or just plain inaccurate, the sacred ritual of Fleet Week is just as glorious in real life as it is in the show.

However, it doesn’t take a devout SATC fan to realize that a rager in Times Square would never be Carrie’s scene now. With that in mind (and the fact that the weather was that perfect warm temperature before summer’s humidity sets in and ruins everything until October), my friends and I decided to start our Fleet Week trolling on a rooftop bar at a Lower East Side hotel. It was far away from the chaos of Midtown, but had a Fleet Week drinks deal, so we figured we’d see at least one sailor taking in the incredible downtown Manhattan views. But, alas, it wasn’t to be; the bar was filled with men, but none of them in uniform.

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Credit: HBO

Not to be defeated by the night, we engaged in a tried-and-true New York coping mechanism: pizza. As we polished off the crusts while enjoying the beautiful weather as we walked, I spotted a sight so beautiful it could have been a mirage: “Ladies, seamen, 12 o’clock!” I cried, pointing to the street corner where, indeed, a group of sailors stood perfectly framed in a streetlamp’s glow. Sure, it wasn’t a debonair sailor selflessly stopping a taxi, à la the show, but it was about the most divine intervention a single girl can ask for in these modern times. I can neither confirm nor deny that I dodged oncoming traffic on Orchard Street to make introductions, but once we had started chatting, it seemed only natural that we invite them to join us at karaoke.

And … that was it. The sailors maybe’d out of karaoke and the single guys who were in attendance weren’t quite as gentlemanly as the one pursuing Carrie. But like SATC‘s queen bee, I chose to end my night walking home (well, across town to the 1 train, anyway), heels be damned. And wouldn’t you know, as I was striding down Houston Street, I found a lone playing card on the sidewalk. A moment of Sex and the City kismet, as Berger collected lost playing cards and insisted they are all over the city. (They are not, by the way.)

STATEN ISLAND BAR (NOT INCLUDED: SHIRTLESS FIREMEN)

What Went Down on Sex and the City: The ladies bravely travel where no brownstone-dwelling Manhattanite has ever gone (that would be Staten Island), thanks to Carrie’s gig judging finalists for the New York Fire Department’s annual male calendar. (“Reminder, I am not going to Staten Island to meet men,” Carrie tells her friends. “I am going to judge them.”) This experience can be boiled down to two components: Staten Island iced teas and lots o’ abs. Joining her at the judging table is local politician Bill Kelley. By the end of the episode, an inebriated Charlotte has announced to the Manhattan skyline that she’s getting married this year and Carrie — after almost losing a Choo running to catch the Staten Island Ferry — misses the boat, but is swept up by her aspiring-comptroller-in-shining-armor, Kelley.

What Went Down IRL: With no shirtless men to ogle (sigh), I was forced to blaze my own path into Staten Island. Accompanied by a group of friends who selflessly gave up their afternoons in the name of scientific research, I boarded the ferry in a final attempt to find love. Our destination: a bar specifically chosen for its proximity to the ferry and its dive-like qualities. If we couldn’t have shirtless firemen, we were determined to at least be blessed with drink specials. And drink specials we found! However, our dive bar was suspiciously absent of any male under the age of 52. Still dazed by the discovery of $3 Bud Light drafts, we wandered to a gastropub in the hopes that there might be one single guy in our demo. No dice.

Being a single woman living in Manhattan already taught me that, yes, asking for a conveniently located single man (or any single man, really) is too much to ask. I soothed the cruel sting of defeat with a fish sandwich and fries before we ran back to the ferry (literally — we almost missed our boat, so I’m totally counting that as a Sex and the City parallel). “Where’s the party?” someone shouted at us as we ran toward the St. George Ferry Terminal.

The Verdict: I confirmed one brutal truth: You can surround yourself with available people (except in Staten Island, which I still maintain was borderline uninhabited), but that doesn’t mean you’ll meet someone you like, much less find love. However, I found myself accompanied by female friends who supported me in my quest. From talking me through speed-dating conversation openers (hypotheticals = bad) to trekking to Staten Island with me, I was constantly reminded to cherish the platonic relationships in my life. Cheesy? Yes. But Sex and the City served a solid dose of cheese alongside every gratuitous shot of Carrie’s footwear. And while I don’t have her $40,000 shoe closet, I do have a lot of irreplaceable people in my life. And that’s just fabulous.