If anything is certain about HBO’s new show, “Girls,” it’s that the contentious program has caused a lot of chatter and stimulated the economy as such, at least for bloggers and Internet writers. My default reaction to immense hype is often negative, and even though the pervasive nepotism in New York crushes my soul daily, I found myself enjoying “Girls” quite a bit. Is it groundbreaking? No. Are the characters bratty and entitled? Yes. But they’re also human, and young ones at that. You’d be hard pressed to come across twenty-somethings who have everything together, especially in NYC, so the travails and misadventures of Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) aren’t completely unfamiliar to me.
Truth be told, I was Hannah a year and a half ago. Her character is an unpaid publishing intern who suddenly has to scramble to land a job to sustain her lifestyle in the most expensive city in the country. Her parents cut her off financially and express skepticism over her memoirist dreams, so she seeks refuge in the den of her useless, skeevy hook-up buddy, Adam, who carries himself as if he is far more stable than Hannah despite the fact that his grandmother pays for all of his essentials. He’s not a winner, but he kills time and briefly takes her away from her bleak existence.
The big difference between me and Hannah is that she’s more than a year out of college and still facing these issues. I, however, was in her boat for six months after finishing up my degree at the University of Arizona.
But I was a mess, so much so that I couldn’t even enjoy graduation. I remember telling family members that they shouldn’t even bother coming to my ceremony, as I had nothing lined up and therefore nothing to be proud of. When I traversed University Boulevard in my cap and gown on the big day, passersby cheered me on and clapped. I smiled, but had the urge to throw them for a loop with, “Why are you happy for me? My family invested so much in my education and I’ve been too scared to actually go out and find work.”
And so I played around all summer. I hung around my college town for two weeks before heading to France for a month and a half with two of my close friends. Though the trip was relaxing, I remember being unable to sleep most nights out of fear of what would happen upon my return to the States. I’d have to become a real adult and start working. I wanted to do the latter, but was unsure of how to go about it. So Angela and I talked for hours on end about our fears while the rest of the house slept. She had the security of returning to college in the fall, but felt uneasy about other aspects of life. Neither of us was at peace.
After France, I moved back into my mom’s house for a month with the intent of relocating to D.C. before the end of the summer. My mother gave me a deadline to get out, as she knew I sought more than what my hometown could provide for me, and my friend Anna and I booked flights to Washington to lock down a year-long lease on a two-bedroom apartment. My mom advised me to purchase a one-way ticket, as she didn’t want me returning home for my things until I secured a place to live, so with that in mind, Anna and I settled on a huge apartment in northern Virginia within three days of being in the D.C. area. The building was far from pretty much everything from grocery stores to the metro, but the neighborhood was safe, so we were happy. It took us a while to find jobs, though.
Like Hannah, I worked as an unpaid intern. Thankfully, I was in a position to do so until the company offered me a position, but I know I probably wouldn’t have been able to immerse into the industry of my dreams without paying my dues and concentrating on being the best intern in the world. Before I even started interning at TheDC, I spent my days theatrically moping in coffee shops about a silly college boy who treated me much like Adam treats Hannah. At the time, I carried a lot of resentment towards this individual, and while I still think the nonsense I put up with is awful, I know he is just a person. We’re all flawed and I’m no exception. That doesn’t justify what happened, but there comes a point where you just have to let go of your negative feelings and find someone else. I sure hope Hannah’s character does the same before the conclusion of season one.
This week alone, three older women asked me whether sex as a twenty-something is really as awful as “Girls” makes it out to be. These are all accomplished, high achieving ladies who lived the “Sex and the City” lifestyle during the program’s heyday and think a lot has changed in the NYC dating world since then. For one, men are slacking off. Women are dominating in the workforce, so many poor fellows feel emasculated. Rather than “Man Up” as the ever brilliant Kay Hymowitz suggests, they have chosen to mope and aim low. You’ve got these hard-working “career women” (to borrow a phrase from slimy Adam) who are slowly but surely taking over the professional world. It’s great for us girls, but not so much for the guys, even though they now have a pool of intelligent, beautiful, and ambitious women to choose from. They should be happy, but they’re not, so they make us pay for it by being rude and inconsiderate. Young dudes know they’re few and far between in big cities, so they don’t waste time with politeness or common courtesies. The older women I’ve chatted with were horrified to learn that Hannah and Adam’s interactions are fairly common in casual dating. While I can’t say any guy has ever spoken to me as Adam has spoken to Hannah (i.e., “You’re a junkie and you’re only 11 and you had your fucking Cabbage Patch lunchbox and you’re a dirty little whore and I’m going to send you home to your parents covered in cum.” I’ll just say now that that would NOT end well), I do know what it’s like to endure neglect and be blatantly two-timed just to get occasional fixes. It’s not a fun memory to resurrect, and one would like to think she deserves more than a guy who refuses to return her text messages yet contacts her once a month at an odd hour for a quickie.
Then there’s Hannah’s other female friend, Marnie who would probably rather employ a vibrator or choose a life of celibacy than sleep with her pansy, florid boyfriend. He’s too nice for his own good and she’s looking for someone who will make her work for his affection. She’s the kind of person you should despise, as she can’t appreciate someone sweet in an overflowing pool of jackasses, but I actually found her story line rather fascinating and hilarious. I’ve been in her shoes and can say wholeheartedly it’s more nauseating than hanging around Adam types. When I told an immediate family member about this, he said I must have low self-esteem if I can’t handle too much niceness, and while that may be true, I also need somewhat of a challenge and excitement. Where’s the fun in everything being handed to you? That’s Marnie’s line of thinking, and I get it.
When asked whether she’s anything like Hannah, Lena Dunham said she used to resemble her onscreen persona, but not so much anymore. She’s not late all the time, remaining in bed all day, or running around the house in nothing but underwear as she did in “Tiny Furniture.” As noted by costar Jemima Kirke, Lena Dunham has lost tons of weight since starting the series, not because she’s conforming to Hollywood’s standards, but because she’s so busy with work that she doesn’t munch away quite like she used to. I’ve gone through the same kind of transformation since finishing college. A lot of people commented on my tinier frame after I left UA, and I chalked this change up to healthier habits. I no longer feast on Canyon Cafe scones several times a week. I walk everywhere in New York City and work out at the gym as often as I can. I have more consistent hours and eat three meals a day now. Though I’m still bored to tears around nice, attainable young men, I don’t get hung up on anyone anymore, especially not the likes of Adam.
On the other hand, I can relate to “Girls” because I know all about residing in Brooklyn as well as having to rely on the G train for public transportation. Like Hannah, I wince at being catcalled on the street by random hobos. More often than not, I need to shut up, as my mouth has a mind of its own and I have a tendency to unintentionally spout bad jokes and offensive comments. I also have a bratty and impulsive streak. Sure I wouldn’t let a publishing house string me along for more than three months as an unpaid intern, but I have quit a job on a whim before, so irresponsibility isn’t lost on me. This, older family members have said, is the kind of entitlement I have. I may not ask for money from my mom, but I can be very “my way or the highway” at times, and it’s something I need to monitor closely.
“Girls” is not a pretty portrait of what it’s like to be a privileged post-grad in New York, but it’s a fairly accurate depiction of the experience. Though it brings me back to an uninspiring time, “Girls” resonates with me regardless — if anything, because I’m now finally able to laugh at the parade of mishaps and awkward moments that fell into my lap after I was forced to say farewell to the comforts of university life. And it feels good to finally find humor in the sea of uncertainty I worried would swallow me whole.