Reveling in the Mistakes of Our Girls

The first episode of Girls premiered in April a few weeks before I was set to graduate college. I was on the precipice of making big decisions regarding whether I would stay in Michigan to save money or seek an internship opportunity in New York City. I wanted the New York of Annie Hall, a film I watched weekly with my best friend, Maria, that second semester as graduation loomed. I wanted the New York of When Harry Met Sally because, as an English major, there was no more important icon of elegance and ambition than Nora Ephron. I knew what I wanted might not exist. That the New York I pined for was too cinematic, too grandiose—but I wanted the banter, the skyscrapers, the romance. After four years at a liberal arts college of one thousand four hundred students, I was bursting with daydreams of attending Zadie Smith readings and concerts at Bowery Ballroom. I lusted after the pop culture that thrived in New York. I spent afternoons finishing my thesis while wondering, endlessly, if the boy who’d transitioned from lead role to guest star would be in my story come fall. But, most importantly, as graduation drew closer and closer, I held close to the six girls who, condensed, were my entire world. I loved—and still love—those six girls immensely, intimately.

Girls carries a lot of baggage in 2017. It was a hit that spawned an industry of thinkpieces, backlash, and praise, but I didn’t start watching Girls because of Tiny Furniture or critical acclaim. I didn’t know who Lena Dunham was. Honestly, I tuned in because it was a Judd Apatow–produced HBO television series that suggested from its trailer I might find comedy and heart. The boys seemed cute and attainable. I didn’t think it would be the next Sex and the City. And that’s never what it became. (Thank god.)

Girls is not an aspirational portrait of New York. It is not always steeped in our reality, and yet its comedy and drama is a reflection of our own modern horror. A single episode has a multitude of possibilities—be it bottle episode or road trip or fever dream. At times, Girls is not even very invested in timelines or chronology, yet it has always been emotionally honest. By painting with large brushstrokes the lives of these four women, Girls was able to ambitiously access the humor involved in growing up. It allowed me to revel in the mistakes I was making, but perhaps also realize I needed to learn from them if I didn’t want another childhood friend’s mother to suggest I reminded them of Hannah Horvath (I really think this is just because of my interest in literature, or at least that is my hope).

The writers of Girls were always best at synthesizing, creating small moments that spoke to being young, single, emotional. They expertly conveyed failure, loss. In episode three of season one, as I watched Hannah and Marnie dance around their apartment to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” I already missed my girls. Maria’s sincerity. Rebecca’s laughter. Elizabeth’s spirit. Chloe’s strength. Kayla’s creativity. Mac’s spark. Nostalgic about anything and everything in the last month of college, I was already an emotional mess about losing the smallest conveniences. I was not ready to say goodbye to our drunken dancing on the chairs of our dining room as we pregamed beer pong, Franzia dripping from the box onto our carpet, heavy dance steps shaking the light fixtures. I already missed the immediacy of our life, being able to solve every problem by stumbling into their room and demanding their attention, affection. Soon, I’d have to learn other ways to deal with my frustrations outside scream-singing Adele’s “One and Only” or Lady Gaga’s “Yoü and I” around my apartment with them. Those early episodes of Girls spoke to the companionship of friendship and how it could often replace romantic love—and perhaps served as a cautionary tale, of what could happen to us if we lost sight of what we each brought out in each other.

I’m a romantic who thinks she is a cynic. There’s no behavior on Girls that was a better reminder of this than Hannah and Adam Sackler’s relationship throughout the series, and my desperate pleas for it to survive. Adam Sackler is every boy I’ve ever pined over—broad shoulders, messy hair, infinite passion. I’ve never felt more understood by the Girls writers than when Hannah appeared at Adam’s apartment asking, begging for him to be a reliable fixture in her life without the label “boyfriend,” just a boy she could count on to both fuck and to enjoy her company. It endeared me, because it was me. The refusal to realize she was asking for everything while thinking she was asking for nothing. This is reiterated time and time again on Girls as there are ultimatums given by Hannah to her parents, by Hannah to her best friends. I’ve been this girl, but I’m not really embarrassed. I’m trying to learn how to articulate what I want, how to glean what is too much or too little.

Shoshanna Shapiro, pink lip gloss and smart skirts and bold hair accessories and overflowing fervor, is possibly my favorite Girl, if I had to choose one. Her earnestness was immediately contagious. It was well intentioned. Vicious and biting only when necessary (or drunk), ambitious and driven, Shoshanna is so often over the course of the show desperate for her life to begin. She wants to lose her virginity, wants to meet her soulmate, wants better friends, wants to find her dream job. Portrayed by Zosia Mamet, Shosh made declarations. She was strident, sure—quite possibly when she shouldn’t be. I marveled at the bravado, and maybe watched from between my hands in embarrassment. But I am still a little in awe of Shosh. I have spent years trying to learn how to find my voice with boys, parents, employers. The detractors of her character found her cartoonish, but for me, I always related to her ambition. Millennials are often misrepresented as people who care about nothing, but the truth is that we quite possibly care too much. Shosh’s passion for purses, Ray’s campaign, or Hello Kitty was always a great catharsis from the cynicism on Girls. Shoshanna made me think it was OK to admit, “You hurt me, OK? You hurt my feelings. But I can deal with it because I have my big-girl pants on.”

The best-written characters on Girls, no argument, have always been the men. Adam Sackler, Elijah Krantz, and Ray Ploshansky are three of the best-written characters on television in the last ten years—not just on Girls. Adam Driver deserves an Emmy for his portrayal of Adam Sackler over the course of six seasons. Most of my favorite moments for Lena Dunham on the show are opposite Adam Driver. His allure onscreen is undeniable, as every director in Hollywood has sought his strength and vulnerability; there is quite possibly no CV that has gotten more eclectic. I just want to watch his face. I want to watch his heart get broken. I want to watch him fall in love. I want to watch him laugh, his grin wide and wild. There’s nothing like watching him grapple with dialogue. Lena Dunham brought men to our computer screens with real sensitivities and insecurities. The men were just as naive, unmoored as the women. Over the course of six seasons, the scenes that broke me down most involved Hannah and Adam trying to relate to one another, trying to understand their magnetism, and trying to make a relationship work despite their career aspirations. I don’t know how to leave boys; I let them leave me. I let them make the final call. I often tell friends I’m happy to be single because it allows me to have a single-minded focus on my career, but when does that change? It was devastating, gorgeous, and poignant this past season to watch Hannah leave behind all her romantic aspirations with Adam from season one to create a new life for herself (even if I disagreed with the conservative Apatowian family values of motherhood that brought us there).

I took that internship post-graduation much to the chagrin of my family. I attended readings at Housing Works and McNally Jackson. I met Zadie Smith. I ate at Katz’s Delicatessen (without my own Harry Burns). It may have taken me two more years to officially move back to New York from Michigan, but I did it. I got a sublet in Bushwick. I packed my books and clothes into three suitcases, and I’ve managed to establish a life here much larger than the four walls of my apartment. Sure, I spent a summer terribly lonely looking for work, but my girls were in constant contact to keep me grounded, sane. To remind me I had value when prospective employers told me the opposite. Skype dates, phone calls, text messages, Tumblr reblogs, Facebook messages, Snapchat conversations—we’ve done it all.

They remain omnipresent despite our physical distance. I’ve even walked around Manhattan with that boy I devastatingly thought senior year would disappear from my life. I am not a Hannah, as my friend’s mother once said. I am not a Shoshanna, even if I do speak too fast. My best friends are not a Marnie. I don’t think it’s possible to meet a Jessa. And, quite frankly, that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t mean I was prepared to lose them. I’m happy to have spent the last six seasons watching Lena Dunham find her voice, her characters. Narcissistic, vulnerable, thoughtful. The last ten episodes transcended all my expectations. I’m gonna miss Elijah’s biting honesty, Shosh’s verve, Ray’s sarcasm. I’m gonna miss the soundtrack (especially Banks’s “Crowded Places” and Waxahatchee’s “With You”), thinkpieces (how will I spend my Mondays?), and the Girls who helped me come to terms with how messy and complicated my twenties are and will continue to be.