My Girls

By Olivia Anderson

I don’t have anywhere near as much time as I’d like to watch TV these days (because, you know, priorities…) but there are a few shows that I will make time for, HBO’s “Girls” being one of them. Season after season I tune in and follow along laughing, nodding and cringing, but something is always missing, and I wasn’t quite sure what it was until recently.

Now that “Girls” has wrapped up its sixth and final season, TV and pop culture buffs will reflect on the contribution Lena Dunham and co. have made to the cultural zeitgeist of the last decade. This nuanced little show has regaled its audience with its distinctive depictions of love, sex, mental illness, artistic pursuits, parenting and more recently, issues related to sexual consent, pregnancy, divorce and ageing. It’s received just as much criticism (there are a whole lot of hate-watchers out there) as it has praise, and I fully concede that I live in the same privileged, entitled, white Millennial universe that these young women inhabit, which is exactly why I can relate to so much, particularly to the more recent seasons.

There is a lot about “Girls” that makes sense to me – I’m loathe to admit – and I’m not the only one. I have spoken to many friends who have connected with the flawed, and often infuriating, Hannah Horvath and her so-called friends, even if they don’t really like them; their escapades all at once truly ridiculous and very real. On top of all that (and despite its exclusion of so many types of girls), few critics could argue with the fact that “Girls” has produced some of the best capsule episodes of any show of the last few years – think Marnie’s reconnection with ex-boyfriend Charlie in season five or Hannah’s run-in with Chuck Palmer just a few episodes ago. In short, I’m really going to miss this little weirdo for many reasons (not in the least for its expansion of my Spotify playlists). BUT there is one extremely important thing I don’t relate to, and that just doesn’t ring true to me – the show’s depiction of the qualities – or in this case, inferiorities – of female friendships.

A rare moment of common sense…
The “Girls” girls, while admittedly at least five years younger than me and in a different social context, don’t really seem to get the “things” – the support, the catharsis, the laughs, the relief, the empathy – that I have always valued in my female friendships. I know this sounds incredibly corny and you may be wondering why I don’t just stick with watching Beaches or Steel Magnolias, especially as one of the more common praises heaped on “Girls” is that it is remarkably realistic in its portrayal of the complicated, isolated, disconnected nature of modern relationships, because, well, bitches be bitchin’. But at many points throughout its tumultuous six seasons I have found myself musing that perhaps if Hannah, Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna had been “better friends” then they may have just been “better girls” too.

So with this in mind, I asked a cross-section of women and girls in my life what they get from their female friendships that they don’t necessarily get from the other important people in their life…

I am truly heard…

I can dissect the minute details of a recent event without fear of glazed eyes and yawns…

I can bitch about my husband/kids/parents/friends without the assumption of divorce/insanity/impending murder…

On the surface, the responses were varied and rich, encompassing a whole range of caring and empathetic behaviours, but there was actually a very distinct theme, most succinctly summarised by my twenty-year-old cousin…

They tell me I’m right…

They tell me I’m right. Or alright. Or going to be alright. Or right as I am, right here, right now. This is not to say the best girlfriends are the ones that allow you to act like a narcissistic twit (well not all the time) – it means they give you a chance to air your most anxious, self-conscious thoughts without judgment or belittling. It means they let you be your most interesting, most revolting, most authentic self. The best girlfriends are the ones that hold you in such high regard, they can substitute your self-esteem at the times you can’t manage any.

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Squint and we’re in Brooklyn.
You see, there are more than enough people in your life to smash you with their well-meaning (or malignant) truth-bombs; you won’t want for those who will highlight your shortfalls and inadequacies, and you’ll have plenty of folk to tell to you when you’re being indulgent, reckless, inappropriate, and rude. And that’s fine, necessary even.

But, my gosh, the “Girls” girls made dishing up steaming hot truths an art form – I mean, Shoshanna made a whole personality out of telling her friends off.

Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, couldn’t muster a platitude when her daughter was several weeks post-natal and struggling big time, as most new mothers do. Their relationships were less “you’re right” and more “you’re fucked”. And while it was immensely entertaining – Marnie’s water-off-a-duck’s-back obliviousness to pretty much everyone and everything, and Hannah’s plaintive, skewed, victim moaning – they all ended up pretty much alone. All four, while relatable, were largely unlikeable, because how can an audience like characters that don’t like each other? The lack of patience, respect, recognition or mere compromise within their relationships didn’t represent a reality I’m familiar with.

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Never quite in sync…
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that my reliance on my girlfriends has actually increased as I’ve matured, rather than fading to the sideline, as partners, careers, and children have emerged. Where once I relied on my girlfriends to literally keep me from drunkenly falling overboard on a university boat cruise (a university I didn’t even attend, no less), I now rely on them to help me dissect the motives of my children’s inexplicable behaviours, without telling me I’m “overthinking it” (even if I am). Gone are the days of enthusiastically choreographing, without a hint of irony, uncomplicated dance routines to Beck songs, but the camaraderie and the effort remain, and increase with each passing year. And thank god, because the alternative as it’s presented in “Girls” – fading friendships, growing up and old without true solidarity – looks kind of, well, lonely.

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Me sans gal pals…
Perhaps the sum total of the “Girls” girls’ friendship, all but dissolved by the final episode, is an extension of the supposed individualistic and narcissistic nature of Millennials. Or perhaps it speaks to the belief that through all life’s trials we really are truly alone, an idea encapsulated in the penultimate episode with all four girls dancing in the same frame, but most definitely separated.

But I’m decidedly more hopeful. I’ll get by with a little help from my girls, and while I’ll miss you, you beautiful little half hour of shame, embarrassment, insanity and drama, at the end of my own series, I don’t think I’ll be dancing on my own.

 

 

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