Season One, Episode Six

“Secret Sex”

The I Couldn’t Help But Wonder Project revisits Sex and the City episode by episode

“We talked about art, and sex, and the Torah.”

We open with Carrie doing the photoshoot for the ad for her column that will wind up on the side of the bus in the opening credits. She gets to keep the dress, which is perfect timing because she’s having her first real date with Big later and, as Samantha later describes it when she’s getting ready at her apartment, the dress is “tits on toast.” It’s a compliment I don’t quite understand, but I love nonetheless. The dress, a silky pink minimalist slip number, is a Naked Dress, and it launches the girls into a conversation about how long to wait to have sex with a guy, because obviously that’s going to be on the menu tonight. Carrie insists she won’t be sleeping with Big, but just wanted to give him a preview. One day, I hope my preview will be strutting up to his door in a Naked Dress and a huge fur coat. Big opens the door, looks her up and down, and says:

BIG: Interesting dress.

CARRIE: Meaning?

BIG: Interesting dress…Don’t worry, I am perfectly capable of restraining myself.

CARRIE: So am I.

And then bam! They’re smooching and stumbling their way to the bedroom. Cut to them panting on the floor. The power of the Naked Dress.

Despite poo-pooing The Rules in her earlier conversation with her friends, Carrie is still anxious about whether or not sleeping with Big on their first real date was a mistake. In a world where most relationships fumble backwards from a hookup into eventually forming into something of a romance, the whole conundrum feels a bit quaint. But, even as someone whose only Rule about when to have sex is “I’ll have sex with them when I want to,” it’s still something that crosses my mind now and then. If I sleep with someone on the first date and they’re someone I’m feeling hopeful about, there is a part of me that wonders if guys can’t help but sort girls into two categories based on how quickly you have sex: girls you date, and girls you fuck.

Wrapped up in similar worries, Carrie awkwardly agrees to Big’s suggestion that they go get some Chinese food. As they’re getting to their table, Carrie runs into Mike, an old friend, and goes over to say hello. He’s with a woman, but he doesn’t seem too eager to introduce them. He compliments her Naked Dress and, after a beat, Carrie takes the introduction into her own hands. She meets Libby, who at least appears to be his date.

Mike and Libby is one of the most heartbreaking stories in this entire series. When Carrie calls Mike a few days later to catch up and they end up in Bed Bath and Beyond together, as you do, he reluctantly explains their situation. He says she’s not someone he “dates openly.” He met her six months ago, in the wake of a heartbreak, when he was wandering around an upscale food store and she offered him some cheese samples. She charmed him with her knowledge of cheese made by monks, and they quickly fell into bed. Here’s why he likes her: “She’s smart, and incredibly sweet.. She’s one of the only women I’ve ever met who I’ve felt I could just be with. She’s warm and unpretentious, and she’s the best sex I’ve ever had in my life.”

And here’s why he doesn’t: “Look, she’s not beautiful.” That’s why he knows she’s not the one he’s going to be with in the long-term. So he keeps her a secret.

That’s all of our biggest fears, isn’t it? That we have a charming personality and are great in bed and make a man feel good, but he doesn’t find us physically attractive enough to want to be with us? Or, worse, that he’ll use us for all of our best qualities in the meantime, but is too ashamed to be seen with us that we’re kept hidden. We always tell ourselves that our looks don’t matter as much as all of the rest of us, that guys don’t really care about our appearance and that all that matters is our sparkling personalities. But that’s not really the case, is it?

I don’t get to the point where I expect a man’s friends to know about me all that often. But, especially since distance has been a factor in most of my more serious relationships, I am definitely not unfamiliar with the feeling Libby had at the table in that restaurant. Take, for example, when I was visiting someone in college and we ran into one of his friends on campus. I recognized this friend from photos on Facebook. I knew his name, I knew his major, I knew where he was from. I knew several funny stories involving him, because the guy talked to me about his friends all the time. They talked for a couple moments before I was introduced. I looked for recognition in his eyes when he heard my name. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But the thing is, we’ve all done it. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I haven’t exactly been eager to introduce certain people to my friends, or for word to get out that I was seeing someone. There have of course been first dates that didn’t quite meet expectations, and I’d try to project to everyone around me that we were not together, as if they were paying attention to me at all. We’ve all hidden people for some reason or another, whether it’s because we’re shallow assholes or something a bit more complicated.

It’s something that’s been plaguing Carrie ever since she learned about Mike’s secret feelings about Libby. She hasn’t heard from Big since their date/sleeping together and thinks maybe she’s been tossed aside. She invites Samantha over to reveal the poster that’s going to be on the bus and asks her if she’s ever had secret sex. Samantha, of course, has not, but she wants to know if Carrie’s heard about Charlotte and the rabbi. She hasn’t, and we quickly transition to one of the best stories in this entire series.

Charlotte had seen the work of a Haisidic Jew (not actually a rabbi) and arranged a visit to his studio in Brooklyn. She becomes “intoxicated by his talent, his strangeness and the smell of his wool” and they make out. It’s the funniest sight to see her in post-coital bliss in his arms, and you wonder if (spoiler alert) it’s a bit of foreshadowing for Harry. This is where we should all remember that Charlotte, despite her prudish exterior, is actually the sluttiest one on the show, and God bless her for it.

As Carrie is writing her latest column about our abilities to compartmentalize sex, she finally gets a call from Big.

BIG: Well, at the risk of sounding trite, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.

CARRIE: I adore trite.

I couldn’t explain why I love this little exchange of dialogue so much, but I do. They arrange another date — a real date this time, where they go and do things before they have sex — and Carrie is relieved that she seems to have escaped the curse of sleeping with him on the first date. She’s relieved, that is, until they’re walking around and he runs into a man and his wife and he doesn’t introduce her. Then he says he can’t attend the party she’s having to watch the bus with her ad go by, where she was planning on him meeting her friends. The Chinese restaurant they return to suddenly seems seedy, secretive. She calls Mike when she gets home and asks her why he brings Libby there. He confirms that he takes her there because it’s pretty obscure, not the type of place he’s likely to run into anyone he knows. I.e “a kind of a place where men take women they don’t want to be seen with in public.”

We have a quick interlude to check in on Miranda, who met a guy when she accidentally punched him in the head during a kickboxing class, and now she’s snooping in his apartment the morning after they have sex for the first time and he lets her stay when he has to go to work. She finds spanking porn and is unsure whether or not she should incorporate that into their sex life, lest he finds out she found (and stole, to watch with Carrie) the porn. I would think if anyone would be into dominating a man a little in bed it would be Miranda, but she seems torn.

Then we have the bus party. Mike arrives sans Libby, because even though he finally got up the nerve to invite her to something out in public, she tells him she’s leaving him for someone who doesn’t have his problems with intimacy. Go Libby! Charlotte says Big isn’t there because they’ve had sex. Then the bus with her ad pulls up and someone’s drawn a dick on her face. It’s all very upsetting.

Miranda botches letting her date know that he’s into spanking. Carrie gets drunk and heads over to Big’s.

CARRIE: I just came here to tell you that if you’re embarrassed or ashamed to be involved with me in any way then we can no longer see each other.

[She pushes past him and pours herself a drink.]

CARRIE: You don’t introduce me to your friends. You bring me back to that restaurant where men take women they don’t want to be seen with. You won’t come out and meet my friends. You have me in a niche for certain events, certain restaurants, certain people like I’m only a particular fragment of the kind of person that you think you should be dating.

I think this is the kind of honesty that leads people to complain that Carrie is too neurotic for their liking, but I’m touched by it. I admire it, even. It’s not easy to be that open, and getting it all out there makes things easier to deal with. You can actually get the answer you’re looking for all at once instead of groping around for hints of bits and pieces. Thankfully, this time it works out well for her.

BIG: Oh, okay. Well, I think Fung Wah is the best Chinese food in the city so that’s why we went there. And uh, oh, the guy we met in the street, I couldn’t remember his name — which probably means I have Alzheimer’s so that’s what that was about. And this afternoon I had court-side tickets to the Knicks. And that’s all, folks.

Sometimes, the only thing more nervewracking than getting the answer you feared is getting the answer you hoped for. Instead of relief, Carrie feels a “hard knot of fear” in her stomach as she looks up at him and says, “So you and me, maybe this is for real?” They kiss. It’s a special kind of torture falling in love with someone you know is going to break your heart.