Science says comparing yourself to others is a sure road to unhappiness. Comparing yourself to fictional characters, responsible for nothing, with no consequence to their actions and only answering to the whims of the people who wrote them might be even worse.
Re-watching Sex and the City Seasons 1-6 (SATC) this summer, I haven’t so much been questioning why I don’t have a wardrobe equal to Carrie Bradshaw’s, why I don’t have brunch with my friends every weekend or why I don’t get dates. I love my wardrobe and I know why I don’t have brunch or get dates more often: I’m not interested. It’s just not part of my lifestyle or plan at the moment.
Six seasons didn’t make me wish I had a life similar to the SATC characters. Instead, six seasons made me wish I wanted a life like theirs and question why I don’t. Shouldn’t I want to see my friends more? Shouldn’t I have three friend to complete me? Shouldn’t “having a boyfriend” be one of my goals for the upcoming months?
I am pretty content with my life at the moment, and I have been for a few months now. No, I don’t “have it sorted” but I feel I am exactly where I should be and more importantly, exactly where I should be to get to where I want to be next.
Last month, I launched the new website I had been working on for six months, Women in Foreign Policy (#wifp). The aim is to inspire girls and young women to pursue a career in foreign policy by featuring women already working in the field. It’s been a lot of hard work and I still spend at least 15 hours on it every week. This block of time, though a significant part of my not-at-work hours, has made me less stressed because I have finally landed on a project that crystallises much of what has been important to me for the past few years and which I had been struggling to articulate: foreign policy, women’s rights and women in the workplace.
Women in Foreign Policy demanded a new prioritisation of my life, which was easy and natural as soon as I had decided to launch the site. Out went the TV series, the friends I had been seeing by habit rather than for pleasure, the cinema sessions. After the website became a definite, these things were not sacrifices, not even compromises. I had taken one big decision, which meant all the other, smaller decisions required as a consequence were easy to reach.
As a result, the lifestyle I am leading, in many ways a slight extension to what I have been doing for years but with more purpose, is the opposite of what SATC argues for.
SATC is all about human interaction. There are scenario reasons for that. My weekends, between barre classes, sugar-free cooking and typing on a computer wouldn’t make for good TV. As an introvert, I recharge by spending time on my own, writing this blog, reading a book, and so on. Social situations exhaust me, sometimes even when they involve my favourite people.
Introverts are absent from SATC. Susan Cain, who has made a career arguing the introverts’ case in books and TED talks, said to The Guardian that “society has a cultural bias towards extroverts”, a phenomena particularly visible in American series and films. So with every SATC episode I watched, I felt I should reach for my phone and text a friend to meet up. I never did, because launching the site on my self-imposed deadline of 1 September was what mattered most this summer. Seeing friends was for previously-agreed dates, not for last minute whims. Judging by SATC, this makes me a terrible friend but in my book, it’s because friendships need investment and I invest best when things are organised.
Of course, interactions with men to romantic ends, something my life has been void of, are as important in SATC as interactions with friends. As much as I enjoy the characters of Big, Petrovsky and Steve, I have no interest in getting a real-life equivalent - it’s not part of my current life plan. Although most friends and family have stopped bringing up the topic beyond an irregular tease, SATC made me feel that, just a few days after my 28th birthday, I should be yearning for a mate or fear ending up an old maid.
By myself, I feel good about those decisions. Being forced to question my choices, even by a TV series, is good. It’s part of the reason why I am where I am now rather than in the dull lull I was in two years ago, a dissatisfaction I could have carried forever. However, although I am truly happy with my decisions, I need to learn to be at peace with them, even when the representation of a different lifestyle reverberates the image of my life as a boring, lonely and odd choice.