Carrie Bradshaw should’ve ended up with Aidan.
Aidan never wavered. Aidan was madly in love with her, despite the fact that Carrie cheated on him multiple times, broke his heart, and was overall, well, pretty awful to him.
As far as I’m concerned, the major difference between Aidan and Big — besides the fact that, you know, one of them is a beautiful, kind furniture designer and one of them is a feckless, mean businessman — is that Aidan loved Carrie more than she loved him.
On the contrary, if Big loved Carrie even a sliver as much as she loved him, they would’ve ended up together long before (spoiler alert!) the series finale.
So in the words of Ms. Bradshaw, “this had me wondering,” can a relationship ever truly be equal? The answer’s pretty complicated.
It’s okay to not always feel like you have the upper hand.
According to New York-based relationship expert Rachel Sussman, LCSW, if you feel like the Aidan in your relationship, you may just like the “chase” — and that’s okay, if that’s what you’re into. Take, for example, a friend of mine whose boyfriend, Ian*, 26, recently told her “I love you more than you love me, and that’s okay.”
“Only someone with a lot of confidence can say that, and some people like that,” Sussman says. “It keeps them on their toes, and they might like the challenge of trying to make their partner fall in love with them.”
“It doesn’t bother me to admit that I love her more,” says Ian. “I’m a confident guy, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I’m comfortable admitting that if she wants to leave, she could leave and could probably do better than me.” He adds, with a laugh, “I just hope that doesn’t happen, obviously.”
Although, in our exchange, Ian admits he feels like the “lesser” partner, he also makes clear that he believes his relationship is actually fairly balanced overall and that he gets plenty of love from his partner (even though he gives her more verbal affirmation — since that’s his love language, as he puts it — than she gives him). Overall, he says, he puts his partner’s happiness before his own, but he also gets happiness in return, which is really all that matters.
That said, if you find that you’re constantly feeling like the lesser person in your relationship — as in, you feel like you’re fighting for your partner’s affection and not getting as much out of the relationship as you’re putting into it — you may have to start looking inward.
“If you feel like your partner is ‘playing games’ with you and you realize this is a pattern for you in relationships, that’s a psychological problem that will eventually turn into intimacy issues,” says Sussman.
Jean Fitzpatrick, a New York City-based relationship therapist, adds that sometimes breaking that pattern is just a matter of rejiggering your priorities. “It’s easy for people dating to get caught up in box-checking about appearance, career, money, and so on.” When someone ceases to check boxes, it doesn’t mean you are dating down or “settling,” it just means you are changing your priorities and look for someone who’s — most of all — kind, adoring, and available, according to Sussman.
In the case that you’re currently in a committed, imbalanced relationship that’s taking a toll on your mental health and self-confidence (you feel as if “you’re always knocking at the door and you’re not sure you’ll get an answer,” as Fitzpatrick puts it), it’s important to consider whether it makes sense to stick around. In a healthy relationship, you should feel like your needs, wishes, and dreams are a priority to your partner, even if you don’t necessarily feel like you have the upper hand.
Feeling like you have the advantage in your relationship isn’t always a good thing — and it’s usually temporary.
If you feel safe, sound, and secure in your relationship, and your partner worships the ground you walk on, great! According to Sussman, being able to accept this kind of love (without getting scared off) means you’re likely emotionally intelligent, mature, and in the right place for a serious relationship.
“Ask yourself, ‘Is this relationship built on honesty? Do I trust this person with my life?’” Sussman says. Maybe your partner doesn’t check off all your boxes — but if you answer “yes” to those questions, “that’s a great place to start.”
That said, if you feel like your partner is far more committed to you than you are to them, you might want to examine why that is. “You may enjoy the attention and feeling of power over another person,” says Fitzpatrick. “You don’t risk being vulnerable.”
You might have intimacy issues of your own if you keep finding yourself in acutely imbalanced relationships. In most cases, though, having the upper hand is a normal — and often temporary — feeling.
“I knew pretty much right away that [my partner] was more into me than I was him,” says Ken*, 32, citing the fact that he was introduced to his partner’s family within a month of their starting to date. “Now I just appreciate how different this relationship feels from past ones and how much he’s matured and grown with me.”
After two dogs, a down payment on a home, and a year into their relationship, Ken feels like his relationship is pretty much on an even keel — he and his partner have built a life together, after all, and rely on each other for emotional support equally. I can’t help but think of Big, who very clearly pushed Carrie away throughout the six seasons of “Sex and The City,” only to finally accept her love at the end. Perhaps Big evolved into an emotionally intelligent businessman by the end of the series.
These roles ebb and flow, and relationships evolve.
The reason one person tends not to maintain all the power in a relationship is that relationships of this kind rarely work long-term. For example, in the case of an extreme relationship imbalance — where one person has two upper hands, if you will — that person usually ends up feeling bored or uncomfortable, according to Fitzpatrick.
So if your relationship has lasted this long, it is probably more equitable than you even realize. As any healthy relationship evolves, these roles will ebb and flow.
“Sometimes one partner has more bandwidth to express intense feeling, sometimes it’s the other,” says Fitzpatrick. “Relationships regularly move from harmony to disharmony and back again, and the better partners get at navigating this dynamic, the happier they are.”
Sussman agrees that “good relationships get better with age,” and says she’s seen couples start off imbalanced (one person is more in love than the other) and then those roles change — the love catches up, and it balances out as the couple grows and matures together. I suspect that’s the case with my own year-long relationship. At first, I couldn’t help but feel that my partner’s love was more intense, but now it feels commensurate to mine. I’m in a place where I’m able to give him the same intense love in return.
“In the healthiest relationships, when you tally the columns up, it should always equal 100,” Sussman says. “It might not always be 50/50 — sometimes it’s 60/40 or even 70/30 — but in the end, if both parties are satisfied, that should be good enough.”
Maybe Carrie and Big added up to 100, then, in the end. It certainly didn’t start off that way, and “I couldn’t help but wonder” if Carrie simply wasn’t, much to my chagrin, ready for Aidan’s (perfectly) intense love during the earlier seasons. Perhaps she only pined for Big because they both had their own intimacy issues to sort out, and she loved the chase (and what a long, long chase it was). But in the finale, when Carrie and Big were both finally ready for that can’t eat, can’t sleep kind of love, maybe they found their near-50/50 balance at long last.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.