From the Staten Island ferry, surveying the isle of Manhattan, one woman turns to another and says, "Who woulda thought an island that tiny, would be big enough to hold all our ex-boyfriends?". The rhetorical question comes from Miranda and the woman who shrugs in agreement is Carrie - two of the central characters of the long-running TV and film series "Sex and the City". (And arguably, despite their fictional nature, some of the most famous city-dwellers ever.) Four impossibly glamorous and moneyed New York women have been searching for a bit more than sex in their city now for over ten years. Their fictional trials and adventures watched by similar girls around the world, have defined an age of dating, sex, relationships, and being female in a big city.
For some reason, London has never countered with its own version of the programme. The closest the BBC has ever got is "Mistresses"; working to a similar "four-women-many-men" formula, but set in the somewhat less glitzy city of, er, Bristol. But here in London we live our own girly dramas, with a vast cast of millions. Many Londoners identify with the lives and storylines of the ladies of Sex and the City. They share their hideous dating disasters, weep over lost loves and relay hilarious stories of their more amusing encounters. And us London girls too feel the claustrophobia of sharing our city with our ex-lovers, and even their friends.
Many a night out with one's own friends can be utterly wrecked by a chance encounter with an ex or one of their closest (and hence likely to report back to said ex) friends. Our own rounds of Cosmopolitans have morphed into hysterical blind panics when one of our number catches a glimpse of someone they had rather not have seen. "Ohmgod, there by the bar! It's James/Ed/Fred/Whoever! Has he seen me? Can he see us? Do I look hot enough he'll regret ever dumping me?"
I have recently had a spate of run-ins with ex-boyfriends' friends - old school chums, gap year travel buddies, former housemates. Wherever I have turned there has been a potential spy observing my every evening out, ready to relay details of how I looked and who I was with. The past month has even seen me creep around the theatre (in a ridiculous manner echoing the classic farce I was there to watch), dreading the intervals in fear of being spotted by an old university friend of a former Accidental boyfriend. Worse still, it later dawned on me, he might have seen me and reported back my peculiar behaviour; walking along staring at the walls or peering nervously around corridors from behind a programme.
London is not merely a playground for the young and single, but also a graveyard full of the ghosts of dead relationships. Any one of our ghosts may pop up when least expected or prepared for; usually when one looks tired and scruffy in the supermarket rather than when one is looking stunning on a night out - sod's law! This is a terrifying and somewhat depressing thought sometimes. Yet as the scriptwriters behind Sex and the City know only too well, occasionally such chance encounters can force us to confront and make peace with our ghosts and our past, and they may even heal longstanding hurts and help us move on. And for those painfully embarrassing incidents where one can see no hope of salvaging one's reputation or personal pride, there are usually a few friends you can round up to listen to your woes. And if they're really good friends they'll feed you enough gin to erase the memory altogether.