The immediate post-collegiate years, generally the early 20s of young millennials’ lives, are painfully, honestly difficult. That is perhaps the reason I was so dead set against liking HBO’s Girls—which was just nominated for multiple Emmys. The show’s creator and star, Lena Dunham, portrays the trials and tribulations of four post-grad, early 20s, white, upper-middle-class city dwellers who so closely resembled myself. (Unpaid internship and all.) It was too honest. Too resonant. Too real. Surely, that’s not what my life looks like to others. Is it? Hannah is so selfish, Marnie so pretentious, Jessa so unwilling to grow up, and Shoshanna so spoiled. I (and my friends) couldn’t possibly be those people.
The truth is I’m not. And neither are my friends and peers. Not entirely, at least. Dunham’s girls are exaggerations of us, the kids who were told we were special, amazing, important and talented from the beginning of time—obviously defined as the second we were born. Duh. So why wouldn’t we expect to get what we wanted, when we wanted, without delay or difficulty or jealousy of others’ successes? No, our outlook isn’t entirely of our own creation. But Dunham sure does make us look like a bunch of assholes.
My cousin (who was obsessed with the show) insisted that I give it a chance. I was very resistant. “It’s funny,” she said. “It’s supposed to be satire. Just watch it.”
So I did. And was pleasantly surprised as Dunham made me laugh at things I could earnestly relate to. As hard as it was to swallow my pride, I must admit the chick is on to something.
Dunham closely explores a scenario of horribly hilarious, depressing and exonerating events that alter the life paths of most twentysomethings. And even though it’s highly satirical, there are five truths, albeit hard to face, that we young women can learn from these fictional ladies’ dysfunctional lives.
1. You will break up with your first real boyfriend. If you haven’t, you’re not finished growing up. Just as Marnie realized, we outgrow the people we were once very compatible with. When you figure out who you are and who you want to be, it’s bound to happen. And as Hannah so eloquently suggested, you should just end the festering wound. You’ll probably panic, and beg him to come back, but then quickly realize all over again why you set him loose in the first place. Then you will be incredulous when he finds someone else, and you’ll feel shitty all over again. Stick to your guns. There’s a reason you’re not in love with him anymore. Don’t try to make yourself be in love just because you forget what it’s like to be alone. You will find love as an adult. Just be patient. (You’re likely to meet a lot of jerks before that happens.)
2. Your parents don’t want to bankroll your life. This one particularly sucks because of the aforementioned unpaid internship situation. If you’re one of the lucky ones with a paying job, congratu-effing-lations. (See? That’s the jealousy I was talking about. Rears its ugly head.) To all you unpaid interns out there: Keep on truckin’. You’re probably laboring for free because it’s something you truly believe in and value and so are dedicating yourself to finding a meaningful way into your chosen profession. Kudos! As for paying the bills, uh, I have minimal advice. If it helps, you can usually push back student loans for six months as long as you’re “unemployed.” And when your parents ask if everything is really alright with you financially, be honest. They probably don’t want you to be homeless, and your roommate most definitely wants the rent.
3. Your figure will not remain that of your 18-year-old self. So you gained some weight in college and got a bunch of tattoos to reclaim your body, or whatever. And you hate running. And your metabolism has slowed to the pace of a tortoise. Welcome to adulthood! It’s important to remember this is not the end of the world. Maybe lay off the emotional stress eating (often sparked by thoughts of unemployment) and drink less booze (ditto). I know; it’s hard. I don’t have any further advice for this as they just took away my building’s gym and sold the space to Trader Joe’s. Ugh, I could really use a slice of Brie.
4. You will make lots of mistakes. And it’s okay. That’s what growing up is all about. Just try to keep the social media exposure of said mistakes to a minimum. Also, avoid obvious ones. While it’s more likely that you’ve accidentally eaten a pot brownie than accidentally smoked crack, there is something to be said for being knowledgeable. Know what a crack pipe looks like. Let’s get our heads on straight here, ladies. The Discovery Channel does plenty of educational drug specials. On the flip side, however, you should embrace Shoshanna’s crack-induced revelation: If you want to stand in the front of your kickboxing class because you know you’re just as good as the girls who always go to the front: do it. YOLO.
5. You need to be careful who you date. Do not apply #4′s life philosophy to cavorting with older dudes. While Marnie thinks it’s probably very cosmopolitan of her (because she is so sophisticated) to accept martinis from a suited suitor, Jessa recognizes the guy’s douchiness from across the bar. Don’t be fooled. Men who appear to have money and class but prey on girls 10 years their junior are, most likely, huge losers who can’t find girlfriends their own age. (Because no thirtysomething woman wants to date a guy who does horrible mash-up deejaying as a hobby.) Don’t bother apologizing when you spill nice red wine all over his fugly white fur rug. Just run away as fast as you can. Better yet, don’t get dragged to his apartment in the first place.
I’d rather Dunham’s witty writing and the show’s spot-on acting weren’t as steeped in reality as they are, but maybe what our generation really needs is to learn to not take it all so damn seriously. As Dunham has shown us, our sometimes-sad lives are actually pretty funny. There is humor in the pathetic, painful and beautiful journey of developing from know-it-all teen to self-aware young adult. And if we can’t laugh at ourselves, then we really are the exaggerated caricatures I was so afraid of being like.