Carrie Bradshaw is obnoxious.
The Sex and the City protagonist is needy, painfully unaware, and self-centered to an outrageous extent. She consistently prioritizes herself over her friends; she manages her finances pitifully; and her romantic life is often in shambles. However, despite her shortcomings (of which, oh ho ho, there are many), she has become a cultural icon of the early 21st century for 20-something and 30-something women everywhere. With zingy one-liners that are sometimes politically incorrect and certainly kitschy, she shows us that it’s okay for us not to have our lives together — even at an age (gulp, 32? 35? 38?) when we are expected to know what we want and where we’re going. She shows us that when it’s time and if we’re wearing cute shoes, life will work out its kinks.
Even in 2014, ten years after its series finale premiered, Sex and the City still resonates with audiences that can relate to the slew of love, dating, and life problems that Carrie and her friends — Charlotte, Miranda, and the inimitable Samantha — face. These four steadily sleep their way through most of Manhattan until they find that “true” love*, but they also date some interesting characters along their journey. Let’s take a closer look at the main men in Carrie’s life — around whom Sex and the City revolves.
*This writer believes that Samantha got the best deal. Where can a girl find herself a Smith Jerrod?
1. Aidan Shaw (played by John Corbett)
For Aidan, Carrie is the one who got away, but the truth of the matter is that he was much too good for her. The most emotionally available of all her romantic conquests featured in the series (and arguably the only one without a few dusty skeletons in the back of his closet), Aidan loves Carrie more deeply than she deserves. A Southern boy at heart and a furniture designer by trade, he takes care of her — buying her apartment when her building goes co-op and she can no longer afford rent; checking up on her friends when they’re sick or injured and she’s too busy to play nursemaid herself; and taking her back even after she cheats on him with Big, the ex to end all exes.
Aidan’s relationship with Carrie implodes in his face after he proposes to her — for the very same reason that initially attracted her to him. He is the archetypal Nice Guy, and while that was a refreshing change from the previous men in her life, Carrie grew sick of it. After all, the girl has poor judgment when it comes to two things: Manolo Blahniks that she can’t afford (on a freelance writer’s salary? Let’s be real) and men with deep pockets but even deeper emotional issues.
Ultimately, the only problem with Aidan is that he should have run as soon as the Carrie Bradshaw Hot Mess Express started heading his way.
2. Bill Kelley (played by John Slattery)
Carrie meets this aspiring politician at a NYFD fundraiser in Staten Island, where the two of them are judges for a sexy fireman contest — the stuff of real love. Bill Kelley, who looks oddly like Anderson Cooper, relentlessly pursues Carrie until she agrees to go out with him — calling her incessantly and, once, even camping outside of her apartment in his black car. Most people would probably find this behavior creepy (like, can the man take “no” for an answer?), but Carrie finds it endearing and finally decides to date him!
For at least the first few weeks, their relationship is smooth sailin’. Carrie enthusiastically takes to her new role as Political Girlfriend — joining Bill’s campaign to become the new city comptroller with Kennedy-esque grace and enthusiasm. But, in Carrie-land, nothing is ever easy, and there is one issue that quickly rears its ugly head, putting an end to their short-lived romance. Like most politicians, Bill loves control. For him, this translates into unconventional — scratch that, downright freaky — bedroom behavior that sends Carrie packing her bags and ready to find someone else who is a little more vanilla in that area.
3. Jack Berger (played by Ron Livingston)
Oh, Jack Berger, that handsome devil! Berger, as Carrie calls him, is the only man she dates during the series who seems to be on her level intellectually. He understands her humor (a prerequisite for any relationship to work, naturally), and the two fire witty remarks at one another all day long. Like Carrie, he’s a writer — even publishing his own guide to romance and dating, the male answer to Sex and the City. He’s sharp. He’s charmingly sarcastic. He’s got great eyebrows. Despite their initial problems (sadly, Berger is prone to occasional bouts of performance anxiety in the bedroom), he and Carrie really seem as though they could make it work with one another.
For many (and by that, I mean, for me), the brooding, tortured writer persona is attractive. But, Berger takes it a step too far — as Carrie has the misfortune of discovering a few months into their relationship when he becomes increasingly temperamental and insecure around her. He throws a tantrum when she tries to buy him an expensive shirt that neither of them can really afford. He becomes petulant and threatened when her book sales soar while his plummet. He ends it after attending an event with her and realizing that her reputation as a writer far exceeds his. Berger is excellent in many ways (and so, so cute), but Carrie is too much for him. The man needs to learn how to handle having his girls on top.
4. Aleksander Petrovsky (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov)
Ugh, ugh, ugh. From the moment his wrinkled, post-prime face appears onscreen, Aleksander — otherwise known as The Russian — seems both pretentious and off-putting. However, Carrie quickly becomes smitten with his Old World charm or maybe his commanding, authoritative presence around her just causes her daddy issues to bubble to the surface. “Let me feed you, even though we’re at a fancy restaurant, and that’s kind of weird,” he instructs and she obliges. “Bail on your friends to stay in bed with me all day,” he instructs and she obliges without a second thought. “Put your entire life in New York City on the backburner and move with me to Paris indefinitely,” he instructs and she obliges — leaving her friends and quitting her decade-long job as the Sex and the City columnist.
While Carrie makes Aleksander her top priority during their relationship, he prioritizes his artwork above everything else — something his ex-wife, actually, warns her would happen during a lunch that he skips so he could attend to problems with the opening of his new art exhibit. Let’s think about that again: Aleksander organizes a lunch with her ex-wife and his current girlfriend (how European of him) but doesn’t even show up, leaving the two of them alone together. Okay. He might have been hot stuff during his youth — in fact, he was apparently a frequent face at Studio 54 — but when he dates Carrie, he is only a needy, selfish old man.
5. John James “Big” Preston (played by Chris Noth)
Sex and the City begins with Carrie and Big’s relationship, so it seems fitting that the series should end with them finally getting back together and living happily ever after (well, at least, in theory). Though they break up when Big moves abroad and both start seeing other people, neither of them forgets the other. Unfortunately, Big is a man who likes to have his cake and eat it too — or, in this particular case, have two cakes and only eat one. After marrying a 25-year-old, he realizes that he is both deeply unhappy in his marriage and still attracted to Carrie, whom he romances despite knowing that she is dating Aidan at the time. Not only does their affair cause his own marriage to dissolve but it also causes Aidan to break up with Carrie (until he gets back together with her later in the series, that poor putz).
Throughout the course of the series, Big treats Carrie terribly — so much so that her friends despise him, as these things go. Most people grow out of the paralyzing indecisiveness that is a hallmark of youth, but Big doesn’t. He’s a scared, little boy trapped in man’s lumbering, Big ‘n Tall body. He is unable to commit to her, but he consistently reappears at intervals in her life — when she is dating other people, when she is happy without him — and messes with her head. He strings her along for many years, ensuring that she never gets over him enough to be able to invest herself in any of her new relationships. And in the end, this tactic works. When he finally realizes that he wants to be with her and finds her in Paris, she melts in his arms like ice cream on a hot day — the Eiffel Tower twinkling behind them, the MC Solaar song “La Belle et Le Bad Boy” playing in the background.