The Only “Girls” I Need Share My Surname

After watching the first three episodes of HBO’s “Girls” twice, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the show. I can see the truth in many of its criticisms, but I can also see the value in much of its praise. In particular, Heather’s post about finding value in the strong female friendships the show portrays struck me in an interesting way. I began to think that perhaps the reason I don’t necessarily identify with “Girls” is because most of my close friends are, well, dudes.

My best friend and me graduating from college.

This has pretty much always been the case. From kindergarten until now, I’ve always felt stronger connections with men than with women. And since this realization I’ve been trying to figure out why this has been the case. I think it’s been a combination of competition (what with the ever-ubiquitous array of female body image issues and popularity contests), the particular mental strengths and weaknesses I exhibit (spatial and mathematical intelligence is an overwhelmingly male trait), and a very interesting interaction that I can remember down to the second.

Fifth grade. (Gosh, that was a horrible year for me, wasn’t it?) The most popular girl in the class was named Brianna, and her best friends were Michaela and Sarah. At lunch, we would all go out and play four square (the game with the ball and the four squares drawn in chalk on the sidewalk, not the smart phone check-in game). The rules of four square are simple: you bounce a ball around and try to get people “out” of their squares  by hitting the ball towards them in such a way that prevents them from hitting it back toward you.

Because Briana was the most popular, she was in the “A” square, Michaela was in the “B” square, and Sarah was in the “C” square. Everyone else lined up for our chance in the “D” square, only to be taken out each time and to go to the back of the line. Until the one day I accidentally (seriously) got Briana out of the “A” square. All the girls walked away, to a different four square court to play the game, and left me alone in the original court. They didn’t talk to me for weeks, if memory serves. I think it was then that I stopped trusting women—I never had that feeling Heather described, that they would always be there for me, so I tended to abandon the females in my life (creating major friendship rifts and then opportunities for reconciliation, but I’ll get into that another time).

There are a couple notable exceptions to this rule: my mother and my sister.

My sister, Kimberly, is two years, two months, and one day younger than I am. She is an aspiring actress living in New York City. She, like me, has a multitude of things on her mind at any given time. For sake of keeping her privacy, I won’t talk specifically about her personal life, but Kimberly has had some hurdles to jump in her life. People keep telling me how brave I was to move to Philadelphia after college, but Kimberly moved to New York freakin’ City at age 18 to go to college. She auditioned for shows, got herself a job and friends and roommates, and basically owned her college experience. Now she’s focusing on her career full time, becoming a real adult. She’ll be 21 in a couple weeks. I love her very much.

But Kimberly and I were not always close. Indeed, when we were younger, we used to fight a lot. And not just verbally, physically too. I still have scars from some of those fights. But I think that came from a fundamental misunderstanding of each other. We’re very different people. I used to think to myself that I wouldn’t be friends with Kimberly if we weren’t sisters.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

See, growing up, we moved around a lot. Part of the reason I don’t have long-lasting female friendships is because I don’t have a lot of long-lasting friendships. In the pre-Facebook days, it was pretty hard to stay in touch with people in Hong Kong when we were living in Connecticut. The only person who was around the whole time was Kimberly. And yeah, that definitely contributed to my frustration with her and our relationship. She was always there, no matter what. She was the constant. And at the time I saw it as a bad thing, but now I don’t know what I would do without it.

The photo album caption for this photo is, “baby sandwich.”

To be honest, I couldn’t have moved to the east coast if she wasn’t here, if I didn’t see her a few weekends a month. Siblings can be the annoying thorns in your side, but she knows me better than anyone else (except my mom, which I’ll get to in a second). I’ve known her for her entire life, we’ve shared some pretty incredible experiences (snorkeling in Australia, for example), and I know that no matter what happens, she will be there for me. I always thought she wouldn’t understand what I was going through, that she was too self-absorbed or that she didn’t have the experience necessary to bring me up from my lowest lows. But often, she’s the only one who can. She believes in me in a way that not many other people do. And I believe in her. And we have this weird telepathic connection such that when I’m feeling sad, I get a call or a text from her. And vice versa. It’s awesome.

And I could write pages and pages about my mom. She’s such an amazing woman, coming up from so much hardship and putting herself aside any time I’m freaking out about my job or my roommates or a boyfriend. She, like Kimberly, always has my best interests in mind. Honestly, I’m going to cut it off there, because she deserves her own blog post. The maternal figure is sacred in my mind, especially because of how she always understood me, even though most people didn’t. Because she pushed me to be friends with Kimberly when I didn’t want to. Because even in my deepest moments of despair, she believes in me. She sees all the beauty in the world that is sometimes hard to grasp. I have so much admiration for that.

I didn’t realize how my relationships with my mom and sister had changed my outlook on friendships with women until I watched “Girls.” I realized that although most of my close friendships are with men, I’ve definitely been fostering more relationships with women. And I feel like I have my newfound appreciation for Kimberly to thank for that. She brought me out of my fifth grade four square darkness and into the light. Women can be catty and competitive, but if you give them a chance, they can also be extremely caring and loving.

So ultimately, I don’t feel the exact same camaraderie that Marnie and Hannah share in “Girls.” But I feel like I’m getting there. As a wise women once told me, “You just… you just have to focus on your mind.” It didn’t make sense at the time (seeing as it was skiing advice from an eight-year-old Kimberly Diamond that caused my dad to almost fall off the ski lift laughing), but maybe that’s what I’m coming into. Being myself and being able to open up to women in my life is something my mom and sister have taught me, and I think will make me a better person in the long run.

‘Girls’ Reminds Me That Even If I Hate My Life, I Love My Friends

Life sucks, but at least our friends are amazing and beautiful and we love them to death.Much has been made of HBO’s new series “Girls,” with critics (including our very own Laura Donovan) unable to come to a consensus as to whether it’s a groundbreaking and real depiction of a floundering generation or a moronic, whiny collection of #whitegirlproblems that didn’t deserve ever to see the light of day.

Personally, I fall, more or less, into the first camp – I think the show says a lot of important things about the ways in which young, educated people are feeling about the bleak employment and cultural and romantic landscape we seem to have been randomly vomited out into. If “Girls,” and for that matter, my life and the lives of many people I know and love, had a tagline, it would be something like, “This isn’t how we expected it to turn out.” And sure, maybe that’s because we were ’90s kids and our expectations were unreasonably high, fueled by the sweet but misguided parenting strategy of, “You can do anything you set your mind to because you are SPECIAL and UNIQUE and the UNIVERSE KNOWS IT.” No I can’t, no I’m not, and no, really, it doesn’t. I am, you are, we all are average and relatively insignificant and by and large unskilled and unspecial in the grand scheme of things (sorry to be such a Debbie Downer but it’s true), and I think Lena Dunham’s writing conveys the gap between who we thought we would be and the normal/sucky people we ended up being brilliantly.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here. There’s no use dwelling on the massive disconnect between who I want to be and who I am, and who these TV characters wanted to be and who they are. It’s the plague of my generation but it’s not really worth harping on about, at least not on this corner of the Web that we’ve set aside for serving tea and, hopefully, some loveliness to one another.

No, what I want to talk about here is what Dunham calls the “real romance” of her show: the relationships between the female protagonists, and especially between Dunham’s character, Hannah, and her best friend Marnie (the ravishing Allison Williams). I knew the show was a direct reflection of my female friendships during two small but, to my mind, heart-stoppingly beautiful scenes in the first episode: first, the shot of Marnie and Hannah in bed together, in deep platonic love, limbs wrapped carelessly together in a posture that spoke directly to the deep, abiding and completely unselfconscious affection the best girl-on-girl friendships are made of. Later, the two sit casually in the bathtub together, Marnie shaving her legs, Hannah naked and eating a cupcake for breakfast. The comfort and tenderness with which the two treat each other, emotionally and even physically, tugged at my heartstrings in a way few onscreen romantic, especially heterosexually so, relationships ever have.

This, to me, is what “Girls” is about, and this is what makes it great television. It’s the same thing that was compelling in “Sex and the City” (a show that bears little other resemblance to “Girls,” save that it is also set in New York City and also starred ladies). I never cared much about the preposterous romances on that show, either (Miranda and Steve were sweet, I guess) but the women loved each other fiercely and eternally, and that, I think, is why so many female viewers stuck around – it was refreshing to finally see a depiction of the true love we felt for our closest friends, the bonds that went so much deeper than the silly, vapid, backstabbing excuses for female friendships that worm their way into most romantic comedies and other films ostensibly aimed at women.

This week’s episode of “Girls” contained another scene that spoke directly to me and made me ache for the days when I lived in a big rundown house with the lady loves of my life. In the last scene, after both Hannah and Marnie have gone through various bizarre, off-putting, and downright hellish encounters with the idiotic men in their lives, there’s nothing left for them to do but dance like crazy people in Hannah’s room, sloughing off the icky feelings of men who treat them badly by reveling in their true true loves – each other. When Marnie backs up into Hannah and the two put their arms around each other, I knew this show had won me over for good, because all I wanted to do at that moment was find my girlfriends and put my arms around them and say, “This is for keeps.”

At first it made me mad, but now “Girls” just makes me sad

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 humans, 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.”

Angela and me in the south of France, May 2010! J'aime bien les baguettes!

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.

Lena Dunham

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.

This post has been republished from Laura Donovan’s personal blog.