Screenwriter Dana Fox Teaches Us How to Be Single

In the first episode of HBO's Sex and the City, back in 1998, Carrie Bradshaw announced the dawn of a new era: “Welcome to the age of un-innocence,” the sex columnist boldly declared. “No one has breakfast at Tiffany's and no one has affairs to remember.” Eighteen years later, in Warner Bros. feature film How to Be Single, also about a quartet of single women in New York City, we seem to have devolved into a new era of romantic “un-innocence,” that's even less tender and more Tinder. 

Sex and the City is beloved by me, but I think we're in a slightly different time,” screenwriter-producer Dana Fox (The Wedding Date, Couples Retreat, What Happens in Vegas) told SF Weekly in a recent interview. “There's so much more of the Internet and the swiping, and we've sort of crammed it all into this science. It's all online and everyone's looking at their phone all the time.” She also divulged the secret to being single in 2016 and why the most important relationship you can have is with yourself.

[jump] How to Be Single could have easily been a rom-com, but it's not. 

90 percent of all these rom-coms that existed before us wouldn't happen today because everyone's staring at their phones. So half of these connections that you'd make, where you'd be walking down the street and making eyes at someone, you can't make them now.  I think about that a lot, and for me, it's important that this movie isn't a rom-com. It's a comedy, and it has a lot of heart and romance in it, but it's more of an R-rated comedy kind of thing that people want to see. How could you talk about what it's like to be single right now and not be able to drop F-bombs every time you want to and be able to talk about sex because that is what it is to be single right now.

Aside from technology, what else has changed since Sex and the City went off the air in 2004?

There is something both good and bad happening today, and I think it's a double-edged sword. One of the good things is that the point of everything is not just necessarily to couple up and be married and have kids and get it all over with. For people today, your friends are your family, and this urban tribe that you have can be enough for a lot of people. So women are in the workplace more. You can have sex with people for sex and have friends that make you feel like your soul is fulfilled.

So I was interested in playing with those kinds of things and creating a realistic portrait of what it's like to be single for a lot of people at a lot of stages in their lives. Some of them are desperate to be married, some of them never ever want to settle down and some of them are total workaholics and forget to settle down. Our main character, Alice, played by Dakota Johnson, wants to be out there, but also wants a safety net. So the minute that that safety net gets pulled out from under her, she's like, 'Holy shit, get me out of here. I can't handle it.'

What is your personal experience with this?

Women in the Sex and the City years, we were all spewing this kind of thing of, 'Oh my God, you have forever. Don't worry about it. Work your amazing job, hang with your friends, work your high heels, do your thing forever and ever and then you can have kids whenever you want to.' But it's not actually true, man. There is a little bit of a ticking clock. 

I've been a workaholic since I was 13, so I know what it's like to wake up at 32 and say, 'Oh shit, I forgot to get married. I forgot to have kids because I was so satisfied with my life and I loved my friends.' But there's also something a little bit sad about losing that sense of urgency. In my personal story, I ended up having a ton of fertility problems.

With all that you've learned from your own experiences, can you tell us how to be single? 

Honestly, I think the answer is different for every single person. But figure out how to authentically be who you are and try not to beat yourself up too much. I think people beat themselves up too much for not winning in the way society tells you is the way to win. But instead of beating yourself up, try to find your joy in what you do for a living or in your life. Don't give yourself a hard time when you fail. Just stand back up, dust yourself off and get back in the ring. 

Carrie Bradshaw announced at the end of Sex and the City that the most important relationship one can have is with oneself. How to Be Single seems to have a similar message. 

I try to sneak deep messages into my movies under a lot of comedy, so people are having fun and they don't even realize that I've actually said something to them. But I felt like it was very important to get the message out there that you can't find 'the one' till you find yourself.

That was my personal journey. I had a lot of relationships with guys, where I'd give them the version of myself that was the best for that particular guy. But then I couldn't sustain it because it wasn't fully me. So I got my heart broken. I got stomped on by this guy, completely lost my shit and then I built myself back up. What I realized was that you have to let your freak flag out and you have to find a guy who thinks your particular brand of crazy is sort of adorable because you're not gonna not be crazy. We're all pretty crazy, so the key is figuring out how to fully be yourself, and then you'll attract a person who actually wants to be with you every day.

Is this harder for women to do?

For women, it's hard to do, because they're sent signals by society or how we're raised that we have to make ourselves into certain things to make ourselves attractive to men. I feel like the scary part is knowing yourself and seeing yourself for who you really are and actually acknowledging all the shit about yourself that's real, including all your faults. A lot of people just don't get to that, because we feel like we have to edit it out for people to like us. Am I speaking some real shit or what? Comma, this is a comedy, Bridesmaids meets Love Actually!

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