Sentimental in the City: the podcast that breathed life back into both me and this newsletter

It’s a mid-week evening in the depths of the third lockdown in March and I’m standing at my kitchen sink doing the washing up, which I’ve let pile up over the course of the day. Suddenly a sob rises in my chest and I’m crying my eyes out while clutching my tea towel. The reason? I’m listening to two women discussing how the topic of babies and fertility can fundamentally affect female friendships on a podcast playing from my phone, which is leaning against the window sill.

Sentimental in the City is a spin-off of author Caroline O'Donoghue’s book-related podcast, Sentimental Garbage and in it she teams up with fellow author Dolly Alderton for a nine-episode mini series dedicated to Sex and the City. The premise is to dissect each season of the famous show for “the great American novel it truly is”. The episodes are long and brilliantly nerdy. It’s a proper deep-dive and they truly over-analyse the show but also relate it back to their own experiences and how society sees women. I think that’s what makes it so relatable and makes you really feel all the emotions. As well as causing me to sob over the sink like the cliche of a 1950s housewife, Dolly and Caroline have also made me absolutely cackle. I honestly did proper belly laughs and even had some big epiphanies about things I’ve experienced in the past and why I do the things that I do.

The other reason the podcast made such an impression is that March was a tough month for me, and for many others. Lockdown was still dragging on and we were all still mainly stuck at home. I missed my friends terribly and was struggling with being single and childless. Listening to the series while rewatching the show gave me something to focus on and honestly made me feel less alone. It genuinely was the thing that got me through the end of the last lockdown and I couldn’t not discuss it in this newsletter. I also know I will definitely revisit it. It’s such a comfort listen.

For all its faults (and yes, there are many), Sex and the City was the defining TV show for women of a certain age. Like Dolly and Caroline, I began watching covertly at home as a teenager, rushing to grab the remote control fast enough to put the volume down whenever Samantha had one of her famously loud sex scenes lest my prudish parents overhear and think I was watching porn. At university, my friends and I would watch together, which just added to my enjoyment. At some point I acquired the DVD boxset of all six seasons but it wasn’t until I began rewatching while living in South Korea that I really began to pay attention to the messages in the show. I was in the middle of the worst heartbreak of my life and was separated by hundreds of thousands of miles from my best friends and so having it on was such a comfort to me. Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha were my de-facto besties during a really terrible time – and I’ll never forget that.

Watching again in my mid-thirties has given me a whole different perspective. Some of the themes – or THEMES! for those who have listened to the podcast – that passed me by when I was younger have taken on new meanings now I am at the age of the characters in the show. As Dolly says about the fourth series of SATC: “It is about ageing and friendship. Ageing is a pressure cooker for friendship and I think there is a reason why this series feels so much more serious and poignant … It’s about those friendships. The big moments of tension and make-or-break are really between the girls and that is way more compelling than the romance.”

Caroline agrees and says the further you get into your thirties, real life stuff starts to happen. The fourth season of Sex and the City is when the first character loses a parent and the women are shown dealing with that shock. Other characters make life choices that the others struggle to understand such as Charlotte giving up work, Carrie’s struggles with commitment and the pressure to get married and Samantha’s bisexuality. There are also the contrasting storylines of Miranda’s pregnancy and Charlotte’s infertility issues, which are so moving to watch back now.

Dolly just hits the nail on the head with what she says here about how this can really affect friendship groups: “You get into your thirties and people start wanting babies or not wanting babies, trying for babies or accidentally having babies. Babies and fertility is a primal thing. You can’t anticipate what it will do to a group of women who all love each other. I know lots of women who have had fertility issues and they basically can’t be around the women they love the most who are pregnant or have children. It’s so beyond reason and so beyond a question of love. It is primal, deep suffering.”

I am going to copy this particular line again:

You can’t anticipate what it will do to a group of women who all love each other.

This to me sums up exactly what it’s like to hit the period in life where people are either having babies or not having babies and I know from the emails I get and the conversations on the Facebook group that many people grapple with this. Even those who couldn’t be happier to be single and childfree have to face up to the fact their friends’ lives are changing in ways theirs just aren’t. There is a period of adjustment. A shifting of the sands. In some cases, a total vacuum. It’s impossible to predict what things will be like in the aftermath. I have close friends who have had children and if anything it has actually brought us closer, whereas with other friends, it has put a distance between us that feels far too great to ever breach. Raising the subject is almost a taboo. I have braved it on occasion to the mixed reactions. As Dolly says in the podcast, babies and fertility can cause a lot of issues with friendships in their thirties that just isn’t really talked about.

Another thing I didn’t truly appreciate when I was younger was just how much of a single woman icon Samantha is. By the end of the first film, she has made the decision to prioritise herself over staying in a relationship she was unhappy in. She delivers the line: “I love you but I love me even more.” Earlier in the TV show, she actually said a almost the exact same thing when she dumped the philandering Richard after realising she valued her self-respect more than staying with a man who she couldn’t trust. She says: “I love you too Richard but I love me more.”

Yes the character is famous for her over the top sex scenes, but actually I love that so much of her journey through the show and films is actually about her learning to love herself and learning to create a life that is enough even though she chooses both not to have children and not to have long-term relationships.

Rewatching the show and listening to the podcast also made me excited to relaunch this newsletter. It was a speech made by Dolly in the 6th episode of the mini-series that got me wanting to fire up Substack and write to you all again. They are discussing the episode A Woman’s Right To Shoes, which is the episode where Carrie’s shoes are stolen at a baby shower and her friend is incredibly judgemental about the amount of money they cost her and then Carrie later tots up just how much she has spent celebrating her friend’s life choices. Here’s a refresher if you need it:

Dolly says: “This episode just clarifies so much and becomes more and more impactful for me with every year that I get older, and I think about this episode and the messages of it so much. I think really it's not about the shoes, it's not about the money, it's a social commentary and cultural commentary about why it is that when women choose to have children and marriages, we still deem their lives to be more important, significant, sanctified, urgent, special and in desperate need to be celebrated than women who don't.

“There are very few things that make me so angry. I'm generally a very placid person, but it boils my piss to such an extreme degree that it's still so accepted and it's so deeply, deeply ingrained in us that we're not even aware that we are in this cult that means that we dismiss the lives of childless and single women all the time. All the time. This western world is just not designed for single, childless women, to not only be celebrated, and to thrive but really to live happily and, to be totally honest, comfortably. The end. Rant over.”

I honestly cheered out loud when I listened to her saying that and had to rewind and listen several more times. I just really felt like she summed up the reason why I started this newsletter in the first place and why this newsletter is still so needed. It boils my piss too. As she says it’s not that all people who are married with kids treat single people badly at all, “it’s more just a ubiquitous attitude that’s in the atmosphere even now in 2021”.

This is the key for me because that attitude seeps into so much. It seeps into everything from how single women are portrayed in the media to how we are spoken about by older relatives – and it even seeps into the decisions women make when trying to decide whether to leave an unhappy relationship. This to me is why the stigma so badly needs to be broken.

I am so glad that Dolly and Caroline created this podcast and reminded me of what’s important in a moment where I had gotten a bit lost with my purpose and was feeling quite dead inside to be honest. This is going to sound ridiculously sentimental (LOL!) but they – and the SATC girls – helped bring me back to life and I’ll forever be grateful.

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts if you listened to the podcast or have rewatched the show recently.

Sorry, not sorry if you have never seen it and this has gone over your head!

Have a good week,

Nicola

Twitter: @Nicola_Slawson | Instagram: @Nicola_Slawson

What made me think

20 years of Bridget Jones: Why does she still shape the way we view single women?

Another piece of cultural history that makes for interesting watching in 2021 is Bridget Jones. This great article delves into the long-term impact the book and film has had on the way we view single women. The author writes: “In the end, Bridget doesn’t “fail” because she winds up with Mr Darcy, something feminist critics have argued undermines the entire premise of a strong female role model given that her single identity is only ever seen as a kind of purgatory: a space in which Bridget is stuck, burning through one pack of Marlboro Lights at a time, until she finds a partner. In this sense, the film presents singleness as a state of waiting. This is a trend observed in the academic paper, “Singlehood, Waiting, and the Sociology of Time” by Kinneret Lahad, who writes: “The single woman is constantly being asked whether she is ‘still single’ or being bid to get married next or soon.” The implication being that there is a time limit.”

Things you should check out

  • A new agony aunt column is going out to paying subscribers this week so watch out for that if you are signed up or subscribe if you haven’t already:

Words I love

I can honestly say, I’m in such a great place. Yes, it would be lovely to be in love and to have a partner. But then at the same time, when I think about some of the guys that I used to entertain. If they had gone the way I had wanted it to go, I’d be absolutely miserable. I’d be reducing myself to appease some dude’s ego and I can’t do that, I refuse to do it. Being in this space now, I can see I wasn’t aware of my power and my magic. That’s why I’m not stressing saying, ‘Oh my God, I need to get married or when am I gonna meet the one’, because where I’m at, I’m genuinely so happy within my own ‘sauce’ and delighted being by myself.

– Clara Amfo, speaking on the aforementioned podcast.

About me

For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you would like to support what I do, please consider subscribing to be a paid supporter of The Single Supplement. If you would prefer to make a one-off contribution, you can also buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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