“It’s hard to find people who will love you no matter what. I was lucky enough to find three of them.”

— Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City, Season 3, Episode 12

We said Sunday dinner was about cooking, but it was about friendship.

Better known as “Sex and the City Night,” the evening focused on our quartet, just as “Sex and the City” focused on its own. We ate dinner then gathered ’round the TV.

As single women in our thirties, Sex and the City validated our lifestyle like no other show had. After years of explaining away why we weren’t married, Sex and the City said we no longer had to. The show didn’t just make it OK to be single in your thirties. It celebrated it. Suddenly, we realized: Our worth would never be tethered to a wedding ring, whether we had one or not.

“OK, so tell us,” Lynne was saying.

We were sitting in Sally’s dining room. Salmon salad with blue cheese and walnuts. It was her turn to cook.

“You guys, it was awful,” Sally said. 

Lynne’s ears perked up. The only thing Lynne liked more than a good date story was a bad date story.

“We get to the movie, next in line to pay, and he starts patting his pockets. Then he’s like, ‘Would you mind paying? I forgot my wallet.'”

“So … you paid for both of you?” Sue asked.

“What else could I do?”

“That is so wrong,” Lynne said. “He asked you out.

“Do you think he really forgot his wallet?”

“He works in finance, for crying out loud.”

“Did you kiss him?”

Lynne always asked this question.

“No, I didn’t kiss him.”

“What if he’s a good kisser?”

This is why Lynne’s love life was thriving while ours were not. In “Sex and the City” speak, Lynne was our Charlotte and our Samantha. We lived vicariously through her. Guys went gaga over Lynne’s adorable looks, perky personality and easy laugh. Naturally flirtatious, she had long brown hair, wispy bangs, and a magnetic spark. 

As a speech therapist in the school system, Lynne had a traditionally female job that didn’t threaten anyone’s masculinity. That’s just how guys liked it. Sally, meanwhile, worked as a financial advisor. She’d never need a man to take care of her. That was great for her bank account, not her prospects. In the Sex and the City era, financial independence was a dating liability. One look at Miranda’s love life could tell you that. Sue was financially solvent as well, becoming more so with each passing year. 

As for me, the Metromix gig offered a “Carrie Bradshaw” lifestyle, complete with grand openings, wine dinners, and skip-the-line privileges. The only thing missing were the Manolos. Couldn’t pay rent, but getting on the guest list wasn’t a problem.

By our early thirties, friends had tied the knot, moved to the suburbs and settled down. As the marriage trend grew, being single  became a situation to be navigated. What is life in your thirties if you’re not married? We were making it up on the fly. With no shortage of things to do, we did them all. 

When our twenties came and went with no proposal, we put our hopes into the next decade. That was the wrong approach. As Sex and the City showed, our time was better spent choosing ourselves than hunting for a man. But in choosing ourselves were we accepting failure? Can you choose yourself and a man at the same time? It was a question for Carrie Bradshaw. But we didn’t need Carrie to answer it. With or without a man, we chose ourselves.

The list of deadbeat dates grew longer by the year. We approached it with humor and kept things moving. Sue was connecting with a guy who liked to chat about indie rock. He’d message her endlessly over email, then never take the next step. Things were going well between Sue and another guy. Then it came out he worked as a DJ. The relationship died on the dance floor. 

Back then, I was too enamored with Dennis to entertain guys in Chicago. With the exception of Brian at the gym, the ones who asked me out were losers anyway. Dated one guy who shaved his chest. It was so prickly, I couldn’t stand it.

There was an incredulity to our Sunday chats, as if we knew the punchline before the story even started. Fortunately, it was nothing a graham cracker crust and dollop of Cool-Whip couldn’t fix. Lynne baked the goods every week. The rest of us took turns cooking.

Looking through old cookbooks, the Sunday dinner recipes are easy to spot, their pages stained with red wine, soy sauce, mashed avocado. They’re the remnants of French onion soup gratinee, Thai crab spring rolls,  California burgers. Eyeing the Thanksgiving dinner recipe from The Barefoot Contessa, recall the first turkey I ever made. Preparing it in Sally’s kitchen was a group effort, and that made it worthwhile. 

Cooking is giving. Even when you think you don’t have anything to give, you do. Sex and the City gave, too. It accepted us as we accepted each other. Exactly as we were. The show gave us something else, you know. Something I’m not sure we would have given ourselves. Time together, week after week.

Oh sure, there would have been the occasional brunch. Birthday dinners, walks along the lake. But nothing as regular as this. Sunday dinner added another dimension to our friendship. Meals shared, and moments. In our single, thirtyish, Chicago lives, Sunday dinner was the glue that held us together.

True friends are hard to find. I was lucky enough to find three of them.

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