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Sex and the City - How Charlotte Was Wrong About Everything

Sex and the City’s Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) is a hopeless, old-fashioned romantic. She unabashedly dreams of getting married, having children, and living out a classic ideal of romantic love. This beacon of optimism acts as a stand-in for viewers who can identify with her conventional desire for a perfect-looking fairy tale. But if we look closer, much of the series is devoted to disproving the various “love myths” that Charlotte believes in. Here’s our Take on how, by showing how Charlotte is wrong about everything to do with love—but still right to believe in it —Sex and the City guides us to a deeper understanding of what romance is really all about.

TRANSCRIPT

Charlotte York is a hopeless, old-fashioned romantic. While the opening premise of Sex and the City is ostensibly that women don’t need to be defined by traditional monogamous relationships, Charlotte acts as a foil to her three best friends by unabashedly dreaming of getting married, having children, and living out a classic ideal of romantic love. On a show which initially seems to espouse a cynical view of love, this beacon of optimism acts as an important stand-in for many viewers who can to this day identify with her conventional desire for a perfect-looking, fairy-tale love. But if we look closer, much of the series is devoted to methodically disproving the various “love myths” that Charlotte believes in–like that finding your “happily ever after” means landing a perfect husband who will complete you, that you’ll be able to recognize this guy by his good looks or how much money he makes, and that you can only win him if you play by the “rules”.

Charlotte: “I thought you were serious about this guy, you can’t sleep with him on the first date.” - Sex and the City -1x6

Charlotte has to cure herself of her damaging romantic falsehoods before she can be ready to find the happiness she longs for. Meanwhile, witnessing this love re-education might help viewers pay attention to what unhealthy myths we too may need to let go of. Here’s our Take on how, by showing how Charlotte is wrong about everything to do with love–but still right to believe in it–Sex and the City guides us to a deeper understanding of what romance is really all about.

Charlotte: “I think that having it all really means having someone special to share it with.” - Sex and the City 3x10

Myth #1: You Need a Man to “Complete” You

Protagonist Carrie’s three best friends in Sex and the City exist to embody divergent viewpoints. It’s as if Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte are three voices in Carrie’s head debating and clashing over how the modern woman should approach life and love. Samantha believes the empowered woman has sex without attachment, showing a level of sexual liberation that was all but unprecedented on television at the time.

Samantha: “You can bang your head against the wall and try and find a relationship or you can say screw ‘em, and just go out and have sex like a man.” - Sex and The City S1x1

Miranda the feminist intellectual believes a woman is empowered through independence and not making sex or romance the central mental focus of her life.

Miranda: “How does this happen-four smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends?” - Sex and the City 2x1

Charlotte, on the other hand, represents that piece of the modern woman’s soul who still clings to old-fashioned concepts of romance. She’s been waiting her entire life for a knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet, and is convinced that she won’t be “complete” until that happens. Her perspective aligns with the values embraced by so many romance stories that lead up to a perfect happily ever after. But what’s so disempowering about this belief that she won’t be fulfilled until the “One” shows up is that it prevents Charlotte from feeling in control of her own destiny. Instead, she hands the keys to her happiness over to some dream person who may or may not materialize. Despite her successful career and meaningful friendships, on some level, she feels that she’s still waiting for her real-life to start.

One of the most important moments for Charlotte’s character arc comes when she suggests that perhaps finding the perfect man isn’t everything.

Charlotte: “Maybe we could be each other’s soulmates. And then we could let men be just these great nice guys to have fun with.” - Sex and the City 4x1

While Charlotte must go through a lot of ups-and-downs and flawed relationships before she can live according to this principle, she has glimmers of insight throughout the series that show her gradually understanding that she must take responsibility to complete herself.

Myth #2: To Win Love, You Have to Play the Game

When we first meet Charlotte in the pilot, she outlines a dating philosophy that doesn’t shy away from manipulation in the search for true love.

Charlotte: “Most men are threatened by successful women. If you want to get these guys, you have to keep your mouth shut and play by the rules.” - Sex and the City 1x1

Charlotte’s outlook is inspired by “The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right,” a self-help book released in 1995 which aims to help women find a mate by essentially teaching them how to trick men into pursuing them. Much of its strategy is based on the assumptions that men like a woman who is hard to get, and that modern dating life still boils down to the animalistic truth that men are the hunters, and women are the prey. Throughout the series, Charlotte molds her personality to fit into this framework, attempting to appear elusive in order to always leave men wanting more. Some of Charlotte’s “rules” about love are blatantly outlandish and weirdly specific.

Charlotte: “The number of dates that you wait to have sex with a man is directly proportional to your age.” - Sex and the City 1x6

And the comic way they’re presented encourages the audience to disagree with themdrawing our attention to the fact that, no doubt, we’ve heard or considered similar mantras in our own lives.

Charlotte: “It takes half the total time you went out with someone to get over them.” - Sex and the City 2x1.

Eventually, though, Charlotte’s life disproves all her rules. Decades of following them doesn’t get her what she wants, but after she abandons all of them by sleeping with Harry before even starting a relationship with him, this leads her to a true love.

Charlotte: “I think I may be falling in love with you.”

Harry: “I’ve been falling for you since the moment we met.” - Sex and the City 5x8

Myth #3: Men Must See You as “Marriage Material”

In the early seasons of the show, Charlotte is overwhelmingly focused on how she is perceived by men. She believes that in order to find the perfect man, she must be seen as the perfect woman. So she makes her own desires secondary in favor of crafting an image of herself as demure, desirable, and virtuous. In one episode, when considering a particular sexual act, she spends more time focusing on how her partner will judge her if she does it than on contemplating whether it’s actually something she’s interested in. Ultimately, her decision is made based on which choice she thinks will make her more “marriageable”.

Charlotte: “Men don’t marry the ‘up the butt’ girl.” - Sex and the City 1x4

So it’s only later in the series, once she lets herself focus on what she really wants, that Charlotte, at last, comes into her own.

Myth #4: The “Right” Man Must Meet a Strict, Superficial Criteria

One of the things that holds Charlotte back most is her focus on superficial, external qualities in her search for a potential husband. She believes that the only acceptable partner for her is wealthy, has a prestigious job, and is conventionally good looking. She also wants her future husband to come from a “good family”, with the subtext being that he needs to have had an upper-class upbringing as she did.

Charlotte: “Honestly, I don’t know how you can get serious with a guy whose entire future is based on tips?” - Sex and the City 2x10

Even when she does meet a man who’s expressly looking to get married and seems like a perfect match, she breaks up with him because they don’t have the same taste in dinnerware.

Carrie: “Charlotte broke it off then and there. It would never work. He was American Classic; she was French Country.” - Sex and the City S1x3

This nitpicking is why the show eventually matches her with Harry– a man who is the exact opposite of everything she thought she wanted but perfect for her in every way.

Myth #5: Finding a Husband Requires a Strategic Plan

In season three, Charlotte declares that this is the year she’s getting married, despite the fact that she hasn’t met the guy yet. This declaration reinforces that, for her, marriage is less about forming a meaningful relationship, than it is about achieving a milestone.

Carrie: “Charlotte treated marriage like a sorority she was desperately hoping to pledge.” S1x3

The moment also marks a turning point–because she’s admitting that she cares more about the practical and social win of being married than about fulfilling her long-held fantasy about meeting “The One.” She decides that getting married requires a meticulous strategy. She even rejects her single friends and decides to surround herself with married couples so they’ll connect her with eligible single men.

Charlotte: “If you really want to get married, you shouldn’t be spending so much time around dysfunctional single women.” - Sex and the City 3x7

There is something positive about seeing the drive which has characterized Charlotte’s professional life surface in her personal one–instead of just waiting, she’s demonstrating a will to take control of her future. Still, her belief that she can force fate’s hand is misguided: in reality, she meets her most significant partners through chance proving that real love appears on its own timeline.

Myth #6: A Relationship Must Follow a Specific Trajectory

When Charlotte meets Trey, she believes she has finally found the exact man she’s been looking for since she was a teenager. Not only does he meet her exacting criteria, but he also shows up via a classic romance-movie meet-cute, enhancing her belief that their union is meant to be.

Trey: “And there was Charlotte, lying in the middle of the street. And that’s how we met.” - Sex and the City 3x8

She deems him The One’’ after just a few weeks of dating. But Charlotte’s fixation on her marriage plan backfires on her. She doesn’t give herself time to really get to know Trey, so their relationship is founded only on flimsy external things in common. She loves that he comes from a “good” family, but finds that she loathes his snobby and overbearing mother. Obsessed with becoming engaged as soon as possible, Charlotte gets fed up with waiting for a proposal and takes matters into her own hands.

Charlotte: “Maybe we should get married.”

Trey: “Alrighty.” - Sex and the City - Season 3x9

But while she gets the outcome she desired, she’s then horrified that the way it happened contradicts her fairy-tale fantasy. She decides to lie about how the proposal took place.

Carrie: “From that moment on Charlotte will tell everyone that right in front of Tiffany’s out of nowhere Trey popped the questions and she said alrighty.” - Sex and the CIty S3x9

Reinforcing the superficiality of this relationship, which has all along been mimicking an empty, preconceived formula instead of unfolding organically on its own.

Myth #7: You’re Either a “Madonna” or a “Whore”

Charlotte and Trey’s lack of actual connection is expressed symbolically through their sex life. They agree not to have sex until their wedding night due to Charlotte’s desire to perform the role of the pure, virginal “Madonna” for her husband despite the fact that she is not actually a virgin. Sigmund Freud identified the Madonna/Whore complex as the problem of some men seeing women as either sexual “Whores” or pious Madonnas,” and thus being unable to desire partners they respect. This is exactly what we see happen when Trey deals with impotence due to viewing his wife as a sexless Madonna.

Samantha: “Trey sees you as his virginal wife, not his sexual plaything. You’re not going to get anywhere until you change how he sees you.” - Sex and the City 3x16

Eventually, Charlotte’s dissatisfaction in her sexless marriage forces her to face her own repressed needs, which she’s long been ignoring in order to craft her persona around what she thinks men want.

Myth #8: Wife- & Motherhood Require Sacrificing Selfhood

When Trey suggests that Charlotte quit her job to become a stay-at-home wife, Charlotte uses a superficial interpretation of feminism to try to back up her decision.

Charlotte: “The women’s movement is supposed to be about choice. And if I choose to quit my job, that is my choice.” - Sex and the City 4x7

But her clashing with Miranda, the most overtly feminist character on the show makes it clear that Charlotte is working so hard to convince herself because it’s not really the choice she wants. Charlotte’s letting her preconceptions of the perfect domestic life supersede what her lived experience has proved actually makes her happy. She gives up that which provides her with a sense of self, outside of her dreams of becoming a wife and mother.

Charlotte: “Also, I’m on the board of the Lenox Hill Paediatric AlDS Foundation.”

Carrie: “Charlotte heard herself lie. She just couldn’t bring herself to say her new resume objective would read: ‘Wife, mother, and part-time bowl glazer.’” - Sex and the City 4x07

While Charlotte is right in theory that being a stay-at-home wife and mom isn’t incompatible with feminist ideals, her commitment to old-fashioned conceptions of marriage and motherhood lead her to feel it’s necessary to erase her individuality. When her marriage doesn’t work out, Charlotte is left in a strange limbo–she’s financially secure, with a large perfect apartment, but without anything to do or any outlet for her skills and drive.

Myth #9: Appearances Are Everything

Despite the fact that Charlotte and Trey’s relationship rapidly crumbles throughout seasons three and four, she remains dedicated to keeping up the appearance of a happy marriage. She’s devoted to making her marriage work not really out of love for Trey, but out of a refusal to accept that their reality doesn’t match their picture-perfect image and that their union was a mistake. By the time House & Garden magazine comes to do a feature on their home, the couple is separated and headed for divorce, but Charlotte still poses with him for the photoshoot rather than appearing in the piece alone as a single woman. This moment captures Charlotte’s long-standing impulse to cling to the illusion of a perfect relationship, even when the real thing doesn’t exist.

Carrie: “But all over America, little girls in their mothers’ pearls saw the picture and thought, ‘That’s what I want.’” - Sex and the City 4x14

All along, Charlotte’s fatal love flaw is that she’s so focused on the superficial signifiers of fairy-tale romance that she ignores the real elements of a relationship that actually matter.

So when she finds herself drawn to her divorce lawyer, Harry, this attraction is a challenge to all of the love myths that have long governed her dating life. Unlike Trey who only looked good from the outside, Harry appears embarrassing in Charlotte’s eyes, nothing like her expectations for what her perfect man should be like. But he’s compassionate and challenges her, and they have a great time together.

Carrie: “He makes me laugh and he says what he means. And I feel like I can be myself around him.” - Sex and the City 6x2

This time she doesn’t make him wait for sex in order to preserve some image of herself, but this far from dampens Harry’s feelings for her, and she says it’s the best sex she’s ever had.

Charlotte: “It’s the best sex of my life. I think I might really like him” - Sex and the City 5x8

Eventually, she even decides to convert to Judaism to be with Harry, demonstrating her willingness to move beyond the particular set of traditional values she’s always based her life around. Still, Charlotte struggles to reconcile her genuine feelings with her lingering false love assumptions. Her old biases come back when she feels Harry’s taking too long to propose to her.

Carrie: “Do you know how lucky you are to have me? Do you know how we look? Do you know what people out there think when they see us together, do you?” - Sex and the City 6x4

Once again, she’s so eager to get engaged that she loses sight of the prerogative to nurture real love. In the end, though, her passion for Harry is what finally brings about the undoing of all Charlotte’s damaging love myths. After Harry leaves her following her outburst, she comes to understand how little the superficial elements of a relationship really do matter to her. We can see how much she’s changed when she rejects a handsome, Ivy League-educated man who checks all her boxes and can’t relate to other women she hears disparaging men for being fatties and baldies.

She even realizes that it’s not necessary for her to get married to be happy in love. And when Charlotte and Harry do get married, their happy wedding full of mishaps is a clear juxtaposition to her perfect-on-the-surface wedding to Trey, which was preceded by her realizing she had no intimate connection to her husband-to-be.

Carrie: “You already had the perfect wedding…and the marriage, not so perfect. You know I think this is a good sign. I think the worse the wedding, the better the marriage.” - Sex and the City 6x8

Near the end of the series, Charlotte’s ideology about what it means to be a woman is challenged in an even more painful way through her struggles with infertility.

Charlotte: “Fifteen percent chance. Fifteen percent chance of ever having a baby!” - Sex and the City 4x11

She has to confront her old-fashioned assumptions about what motherhood must look like. And her “happy ending” in the series finale comes in seeing a picture of the baby girl she’s going to adopt.

Charlotte: “That’s our baby.” - Sex and the City 6x20.

It’s a moment that’s emblematic of the joy she experiences when she stops holding herself to a too-rigid, preconceived plan.

It would be easy to assume that today’s modern empowered woman is above many of Charlotte’s outdated hangups and preconceptions. But her obsession with fairy tale love is as alive as ever in our culture today, and our world of dating apps remains fixated as ever on the superficial. Ultimately, Charlotte endures as a relatable character due to what’s both her most limiting flaw and her greatest strength: her romantic idealism. While for a long time it holds her back through a restrictive vision of what her “perfect” life should look like, her undying belief in love also ensures that she never gives up.

Charlotte’s journey proves the words of Sufi poet Rumi: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” As she breaks down the false myths about love that are in fact keeping her from being ready for real connection, Charlotte acts as a model for viewers who may be unknowingly serving their own bad relationship rules. So to this day, we can learn from Charlotte’s resilient ability to keep hope alive, while breaking down the barriers that are holding us back from finding true fulfillment.