Sexed Up

There's nothing real about the characters in Sex and the City, says New Yorker Ariel Leve. Not their love lives, not their emotions, and especially not their shoes or hair.

If there were a TV show about the real Sex and the City, nobody would watch it.

For a start, all four women would either be in therapy, on antidepressants, unable to get out of bed -or all three. More importantly, they would just never get to see each other. In real-life New York, the only time you ever meet up in a group is if someone is having a birthday. And even that requires two months of co-ordination.

Meeting a friend in a one-on-one situation is hard enough. When I returned to NYC after spending a few months in London, my best friend squealed into the phone: "I'm so happy you're back! I can't wait to see you!" I asked when we could meet.

"How about three weeks from Thursday?"

Trying to get three people together is more arduous than negotiating peace in the Middle East. There's a flurry of e-mails modifying and rescheduling the plan. Then someone (usually the friend who has just come off medication) becomes irate, labels the plan-changer (usually the one with a job) difficult and self absorbed, and proceeds to call the others to gossip about how flaky and unreliable she is.

At this point, it becomes clear: why bitch over the phone when we can do it in person -and the whole cycle begins again.

My friends and I aren't any less obsessed with relationships than the girls on SATC, but we are definitely different. For one thing, we don't take the getting-asked-out stage for granted. When you like the guy, it's as big an event to get the date as it is for things to work out. The SATC girls just accept men asking them out right and left as a fact of life. But the big difference is that the men on the show aren't nearly as odious as they should be. The show's idea of a bad boyfriend would be a dream date for most of my friends. Where are the insecure men who can't get an erection because they're on Prozac? Or the ones who think going down on a woman is something they should do as a courtesy -like quid pro quo? Where are the ones who get irritated if results aren't achieved quickly enough, give up, and act like martyrs for having tried? My friends have all been out with guys like these. Tragically, they would all go out with them again.

In truth, we have gradually lowered our sights so much that we have started to believe the losers we go out with really aren't so bad. Behaviour that was once inappropriate is now permissible. Take my friend Heather, who is going out with a married man. She had accepted his unavailable status and come to terms with her conviction that every man cheats. Things were bliss. This was until she found out he was cheating on her. He admitted that in the year they had been dating, he had cheated on her with four other women. She was very upset and described his behaviour as "rude". Didn't rude used to mean interrupting someone when they were speaking, or not opening the car door? When did the barometer drop so low that "rude" is now used to describe the actions of a man who is unfaithful to his mistress?

Still, his rudeness wasn't enough to make her move on. It was only four, she said, so it wasn't meaningful, and best of all, at least he was being honest. Men who are "honest" aren't talked about nearly enough on the show. In my life, with my friends, "I'm just being honest with you" goes a long way. It's what comes before the sting. My friend Lisa had a guy tell her to her face he was just using her for sex. When she told me this, she was pragmatic and said: "At least he's being honest." When did we start giving so much credit for honesty? Shouldn't that be a given, like breathing?

Men in New York are quick to label women "demanding" about the most basic things.

They whine about everything from having to give oral sex to calling back. You're likely to hear them moaning: "She's so high-maintenance -she expects me to call her back the same day." What used to be communicating is now considered stalking.

My friends are all extremely attractive, intelligent women, but when it comes to the pool of men they have to choose from, it's slim pickings. My best friend, Jenny, is a successful television producer. Her last boyfriend was a high school dropout and former heroin addict who lived with his mum in a trailer in New Jersey. Whenever she started obsessing that maybe she had said the wrong thing, or that he was losing interest, I'd remind her that we were talking about a guy who regarded paging through the TV Guide as reading.

However, compared to some of her other men, the illiterate ex-junkie was a prince.

There was the impotent puppeteer, the unemployed actor in Debtors Anonymous and, my favourite, the diabetic who injected himself in the stomach with insulin at the table in a restaurant on their first date. As Jenny described it: "Here I was, worried if I looked sexy enough, when he just lifted his shirt up and jabbed a syringe into his gut." Among my friends, body and food issues are a constant, not a B-plot in one episode. I do not have a single female friend who does not have some sort of eating disorder. We all hate something about our bodies, and have such a love/hate relationship with food that we can't stop discussing it for longer than 15 minutes. When we have a friend who's lucky enough not to have this struggle, we talk about how lucky she is to be skinny, while simultaneously comforting ourselves by pointing out that, although she is thin, she is still miserable and depressed.

Jenny is not a confrontational person. It takes a lot to get her upset, and only once in our eight-year friendship have I witnessed her losing it. We were watching an episode of SATC in which Carrie was excited about a date that evening, and was discussing with Miranda what she should wear. As she was talking, she reached for a greasy chip. Jenny sat up. "Bullshit," she hissed. "There is no way she would eat french fries on the day of a date."

No less outraged is my friend Rachel, whose issue is with the hair. "Why is there no frizz?" she asks. "It's 90% humidity, and Carrie's hair stays immaculate. It's inhuman." Frankly, if the show were more accurate, at least one of those four TV friends would always be eating a salad, two would talk about nothing but yoga, and all would be venomously jealous of Carrie. And another thing: my friends do not wear heels to breakfast, brunch or a casual dinner. If they do, it means they are going somewhere afterwards, or (in my case) they have just bought the shoes and are attempting to break them in.

There are bound to be things on Sex and the City that are unrealistic, by the nature of it being television (there's always a taxi, for example). But what frustrates me is that everyone applauds it for being "so real": the women's love lives, their friendships, their emotions. There are moments of truth and authenticity, but for the most part, life in New York is nowhere near as glamorous nor exciting.

Then again, I have had sex in a fire station. But that's another story altogether.