Sex And The City’s Cab Light Theory, Revisited
“Men are like cabs. When they’re available, their light goes on.”
In a 2000 episode of Sex and the City, Miranda Hobbes declared that men are like cabs: “When they’re available, their light goes on. They wake up one day and decide they’re ready to settle down, have babies, whatever, and they turn their light on. The next woman they pick up — boom! That’s the woman they marry. It’s not fate. It’s dumb luck.” Thus, cab light theory was born. More than two decades later, a similar sentiment is sweeping TikTok, with people claiming “men marry the woman in front of them.” Both ideas are rooted in the reductive, heteronormative stereotype that men are uninterested in commitment until they suddenly change their minds, at which point, literally anyone will do. It’s unfair, sure, but I couldn’t help but wonder… Is there a grain of truth to it?
Therapist Michelle Herzog gave me a straight answer. “This simply isn’t true. There are plenty of men who are willing and interested in being in a committed relationship and are actively seeking a romantic partner,” she says.
Of course, not every man is as allergic to commitment as Mr. Big, and not every woman has been dreaming of her wedding day since birth. Attitudes about dating aren’t one-Manolo-Blahnik-fits-all. But in general, men are slightly more likely to be single than women (39% to 36%), according to 2021 data from Pew Research Center, and a 2019 study published in Sexual Medicine found that while women are more likely to be anxiously attached (i.e. crave close relationships), men are more likely to have an avoidant attachment style (i.e. fear commitment). And recently many men have taken to TikTok claiming that guys instantly know when they meet the love of their life.
“These theories resonate because of how we’ve socialized men and women to approach relationships,” Natasha Ceballos, LCSW, tells Bustle. While cab light theory might ring true in your experiences, it relies on enforcing stereotypical gender roles.
It also diminishes women to passengers along for the ride. “In this metaphor, the other person is the driver [who] gets to determine the trajectory of the relationship unilaterally, when ideally, a relationship is a partnership in which we both determine the journey and often take turns taking charge of decisions,” says Shadeen Francis, LMFT.
The last thing you want to be is a “flashing yellow,” as Carrie Bradshaw puts it.
This concept continues to circulate and resonate in part because it neatly sums up so many people’s struggles with dating — a tiring process that’s only gotten harder since Miranda’s heyday. The tougher it is to find a happy, healthy relationship, the more tempting it is to buy into the notion that you just haven’t met the right guy with his cab light on yet. It’s comforting to believe that your future partner is out there somewhere — you just have to be patient until the timing is right.
Historically, men have been the wealthy, land-owning, desirable gender, but as economic factors shift, the dating scene is likely to do so as well. Per a 2022 Pew Research Center study, women are now out-earning men in 22 metropolitan areas, which has wide-ranging effects, including on home ownership. As writer Jenny Bicks tweeted this month, referencing a January study by LendingTree, “24 years ago I wrote an episode of SATC where Miranda is shamed for buying an apartment as a single woman. Now single women outnumber single men in being homeowners.” So it should come as no surprise that a 2022 Psychology Today article went viral for claiming that men are increasingly single and lonely because they can’t meet women’s rising relationship standards.
Even if cab light theory feels real, try not to cling onto it too tightly. “There’s been a general frustration with dating, leading to dating burnout, repeated rejection, low self-esteem, and so on,” Herzog says. “The more we elevate theories like this one, the more we fuel the toxic dating culture we’ve collectively created.”
Still, let’s not dismiss the idea entirely. “What the cab light theory brings is a reminder that you need to be on similar timelines,” Francis says. Rather than assuming what someone’s looking for based on their gender, have a conversation about it. “Be clear with yourself about what kind of relationship you’re looking to create with another person. Communicate your needs,” Herzog advises. The last thing you want to be is a “flashing yellow,” as Carrie Bradshaw puts it — confused and sending out mixed messages. Don’t worry about whether someone else’s light is on. Instead, embrace your rightful spot in the driver’s seat.