Absolutely Have Your Midlife Sexual Re-Awakening, But Don't Be a Miranda
The highly anticipated HBO series And Just Like that just wrapped, and throughout it, one conversation was an absolute constant: What is up with Miranda?
Sex and the City's Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) was known for being smart, driven, and practical. Her intellect, coupled with the fact that she was somewhat cynical about love, often rendered her incapable of veering from judgment when it came to her friends' romantic choices. Remember when Carrie wanted to run away to Paris with Petrovski? Miranda would not back down from a lawyer-esque line of questioning. "What are you gonna do over there without your job? Eat croissants?" she said, sparking an epic fight before Carrie, of course, went anyway.
Fast-forward to 50-something Miranda in And Just Like That. She's gray-haired, behind the times (on race, sex, school, and drugs, among other things), and she's the one her friends are not-so-subtly judging. (If you're not up on the HBO Max series, consider watching before you read on.)
She's in a sexless marriage, under-stimulated, and no longer in love with her husband, Steve (arguably the nicest man the show has ever seen, though also newly hapless in the reboot). Miranda drinks constantly, and the highlight of her and Steve's life together is a "dessert ritual" on the couch. Steve is perfectly content to ride out the rest of their days right there, but Miranda is out-of-her-mind bored and wants more out of life. Her dissatisfaction with the mundane tasks of motherhood, and a marriage with no more excitement, love, or even maintenance sex, can't be ignored. Fans of "the old Miranda" find this depressing or even so unbelievable it must be a continuity error or poor writing, but the boredom, the mental load, the loss of self — it's actually quite real. It's all part of why, according to a compendium of research on the subject, women are filing for divorce at way higher rates than men.
What viewers have been understandably the most vocal about, isn't Miranda's deep unhappiness with her life — that's a story so many of us have lived — it's how she handles it.
The new Miranda is anything but practical, and she doesn't want to be. She meets Che, a non-binary comedian, and falls madly in love. Suddenly, the bored, depressed mom feels alive for the first time in years. She's going out at night, she's shot-gunning weed, she's having what appears to be her first orgasm in decades, and she's accessing long-dormant hope that she may not be chained to a life where happiness is only found at the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry's. This begins an affair where, it seems, possibly for the first time in her life she's thinking of no one but herself. She even has sex with Che in Carrie's kitchen, while Carrie is recovering from major surgery. And in the final episode, we see Miranda make the major decision to leave her New York life behind (yes, including Steve and their teenage son, Brady) and follow Che to Hollywood, where they have been asked to come film a pilot. That choice, and everything that led up to it, shows us just how much the cynical Miranda has evolved. Miranda stans (and Steve's!) have been taken aback, to say the least.
There's a lot to critique about the new Miranda's choices — having passionate, adulterous sex while your newly widowed friend wets her bed awaiting your help to the bathroom isn't great. It is possible to embark on a breakup that is delicate to all involved, including children. Peaceful co-parenting is a thing, and so is coming out later in life without doing anything promiscuous or disrespectful first. But the backlash at this joy-seeking Miranda has been so fast and so furious, it drowns out the conversations we should be having about her monumentally important storyline. Those are conversations about how deeply challenging it is to be a woman who dares to continue seeking joy later in life. Those are conversations about what it means to embrace a massive and life-changing sexual awakening as both an older woman and a mother — identities that routinely dictate the rest of women's lives.
Looking past those indispensable conversations, simply because the new Miranda (a character, not a real person, let's keep in mind), made mistakes, would be a shame. It would do a disservice to any woman who is on the precipice of a major life change, or who is waiting for the right time. Make no mistake: Women quietly drowning in unhappy marriages are everywhere, and they are watching our collective rage at a fictional character who tries to rediscover love, sex, and joy. Those women don't need one more ounce of judgment. The truth is, shame is already deeply entangled with being a woman who dares to acknowledge her unhappiness and do something about it. The martyrdom myth persists that once we are mothers our happiness no longer matters. Therefore, women who leave their partners, whether gracefully or chaotically, are endlessly scrutinized. The echo chamber of "Miranda sucks now" does not help.
There should be liberation, yes, but in real life, leaving a marriage doesn't look quite so exciting. It requires an unearthly level of soul-searching. There is deep, gnawing guilt, which wasn't fully represented on the show — it's that same guilt that keeps many people in unhappy marriages forever, so it's important to acknowledge. Maybe fans needed to see more of that struggle in order to keep rooting for Miranda. Viewers might've felt better about a Miranda who exited her marriage differently, one who left before she became so unhappy that she fell clumsily into an affair; a Miranda who analyzed her future actions well before making them and maybe saved her family from hurt. The response to Miranda's storyline this season felt as if people wanted to see her suffer, and that's the part that didn't sit well with me.
As a woman who left her marriage without a lot of wrongdoing — no cheating, no antics — I still felt that judgment, even rage, that I was seeking a kind of happiness not everyone understood. When I started dating again, I learned that I had to do it quietly, eventually accepting I could only be open with a handful of other divorced women I knew. Friends who had been with me for my entire life didn't want to know about my new experiences. Some no longer wanted to know me. I got quiet and my circle shrank. Maybe Miranda knew this was coming for her regardless of how she behaved. Women judge other women all the time for liberating themselves.
Still, Miranda could've done it all better, and yes, she does seem like a different person now. But she addresses it best herself in the bathroom scene of the finale as Carrie's throwing a whole mess of misplaced anger straight in her face. "Am I not allowed to change a little bit or a lot?" Miranda asserts. And I felt that. Every woman who has dared to remake something or everything about her life at a point when society told her she was done changing felt that.
The answer is, or should be, that as women, as mothers, we should all be allowed to evolve, even drastically. In fact, it's endlessly important that we do. Not everyone will like it. Most people won't. But you should still do it anyway. Just, instead of hating on the new and reckless Miranda, take a lesson from her story and do it better.