Is There Still Sex in the City?
Is There Still Sex in the City? is not a work of non-fiction. It’s a novel, populated, one imagines, by fictionalised versions of people that the writer Candace Bushnell (also appearing here in a fictional avatar) actually encountered and events that actually happened. Even if we allow for that tiny bit of exaggeration that goes in the name of artistic licence, the book is remarkably depressing.
If Sex and the City (1997) took a caustic, unsentimental approach to the dating scene of a certain class of white people in Manhattan, this follow-up is mellower. After a series of Bad Events — her mother’s death from cancer, followed by her dog’s sudden demise from a suspected aneurysm on a New York sidewalk, and her divorce from her husband of 10 years — Bushnell takes off for the country, swearing off men, dating and sex. This is partly motivated by her personal losses, and partly by her sudden relegation to the class of the invisibles. When Bushnell decides to draw up a new mortgage on the apartment she had shared with her husband, her bank informs her that she can’t get one since “the algorithm” no longer deems her qualified for one. “I no longer checked off any of the right boxes,” she writes, “I was (a) a woman (b) single (c) self-employed, and (d) over 50.” This bit comes up in a passage that is otherwise written so matter-of-factly that one almost misses the blunt truth: the world has no place for single, non-traditionally employed (or unemployed) women over a certain age.
The bucolic interlude lasts only a short time and Bushnell is soon lured back to the city to explore what dating is like when one is older, wiser and, as she says, “a tiny bit nicer and forgiving”. The writer plunges into the confounding world of dating apps, cubbing (young men are “cubs” and the older women they’re attracted to as “catnips”, not “cougars”), and MAM — Middle-Aged Madness. Throughout, Bushnell retains her sense of humour — even when she’s told by her gynecologist that her vagina is “not flexible enough”, and she’s stood up by a Tinder date with the world’s most implausible excuse, and, later, when she is scammed into spending $4,000 on skincare products.
This is a golden opportunity to meditate on the value of making peace with the passing of youth, and losing unrealistic ideas about lasting love. Bushnell does retain enough of the cynicism that had marked her despatches from ’90s Manhattan, but she stops short of dwelling on what it means to be an ageing and — increasingly — irrelevant person in a world that no longer has patience. Because, ultimately, that is what this book is about — aging in a world of young people, all of whom are eager to get somewhere, whether its the next promotion or the next hook-up. Perhaps, living the truth is scary enough, without having to contemplate it at book-length.