Love, labels and letting go: What HBO's 'Girls' taught me about adult friendships
"Are you going to call her for your wedding?"
What seems like a common concern from my husband-to-be, is actually masked in layers of complexity. Let me explain. This is my ex-bestfriend we are referring to. Back in the day we had joked about how the boy I would get married to would never get a say during my wedding, because when you have your best friend, who else do you need, right?
And yet, when I chance upon our last conversation, I see anger, and subsequent radio silence.
Such is life, I deduce. You win some, you (terribly) lose some — words for the global, urbane woman to live by.
This fleeting moment in the madness that is my wedding prep, reminded me of a highly awkward scene in season 5 of HBO's Girls; a show I deeply connect with, for its ethos of the modern-day woman.
In it, Hannah (Lena Dunham) bumps into her ex-best friend and ex-boyfriend at a play, and notices that they are now romantically involved. Stumped with betrayal, anger and vulnerability, all she can muster up is an authoritative "hey" to both of them.
Her ex-best friend looks at her longingly, and says nothing. The next few seconds probably have the most resonating emotions in the whole show, where Jessa (Jemima Kirke) debates whether to turn around to talk to Hannah, or to walk away. She sort of half turns, but then turns back, dawdles around, balancing on her feet and then finally walks away.
If you have been watching Girls since season one, this moment will be extremely heartbreaking for you. And if you have lost a friend, even more so. Sometimes the reasons for your parting aren't even as important as the pain behind it.
Hannah and Jessa are two characters who you'd never expect to break up. They're each other's 4 am friends, the I'll-help-you-pee friends; almost sisters. You don't expect a boy to come between them, and he (Adam Driver) doesn't. It's the weight of their own expectations that gets the better of them.
Doesn't that sound familiar? You probably have your own story to tell, one of a friendship lost, and a resting I-don't-give-a-f*ck-face gained.
There will be countless articles and personal essays walking you through a break up with a friend (it will tell you that this hurts much more than one with a romantic partner). You will suddenly look up from concentration one unassuming afternoon, and delve into a deep sea of nostalgia, only to find that the past is a box of memories that you open at your own emotional risk.
Loss of friendship often tends to catch up with you much more slowly, and painfully. It is for this reason that season 5 of the HBO series is so complexly beautiful. Because just like a relationship, the magic and spark of the first few seasons is over, and now you are invested in every character's graph, good or bad. It's a fitting culmination of all the prior seasons.
You make that journey with a Marnie (Allison Williams), an aspiring singer who pledges to stay alone after a bad divorce from a psychologically troubled artiste, yet can't keep her hands off of the drama. Or a Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) who is broke, unemployed with an NYU degree in marketing, and juggles between Japan and New York to find some meaning to her life.
But what Girls helps you most with, is in understanding female friendships (at the backdrop of romance, a falling economy and the deconstruction of the familial unit). It toys with the idea that your girlfriends are your first family, but also with the idea that you are ultimately by yourself, and you always will be.
And isn't that the learning of life? I would put that on a poster above my bed so I could wake up to this curt yet effective thought: you are on your own. This is also Hannah's learning at the end of season 5, as she walks away from the screen with a handful of pleasant memories, but an ultimate realization: As your baggage walks behind you, you walk ahead; partly free, partly changed.
There's a beautiful scene in episode nine of the fifth season, where Hannah chances upon Adam and Jessa (her ex-bf and ex-bff) and she is so stoned, that her tumbling emotions come out as the giggles. For a moment, as the audience, you can't tell if she is laughing or crying, or both.
That 30 second scene will teach you a lot about the binaries of relationships. You can detach yourself from someone who you would call your 'bff', but their slightest quirks, and the most blandest of nights you spent with them, will hang onto your consciousness much like the last awkward text you sent them.
While you are now reduced to birthday wishes and Facebook memories, you will recall late night, muffled discussions from back in the day, about David Lynch's Blue Velvet and how your best friend thought she was going insane after having watched it. You will remember laughing to yourself wondering how lucky you were to find someone just as neurotic as yourself.
This unspoken bond is best depicted in a heartwarming scene between the conventional 'bffs' in Girls: Marnie and Hannah. When Marnie leaves her husband in Season 5, she has had the worst day. She gets mugged, ends her relationship with not one but two people, and at the end of her turmoil, walks to Hannah's house and crawls into bed with her and falls asleep. Hannah only turns around for a second to wonder who the stranger in her bed is. Upon seeing Marnie, she turns back and also falls asleep.
Friendship can be complex, and yet so easy, just like the above scene.
In your late 20s, you realise that the macaroni-coated picture frame with your best friend is no longer a testament of your bond. It's a superficial, dusty thing lying in some corner of your parent's apartment, oblivious to your real life. Life happens, things change, you get the drift. After the whirlwind that is your 20s, you are left with fragments of has-beens. Best friendship is a label you learn to question, and you savour the handful of friends you are left with, not putting an iota of pressure on them, for fear of it cracking.
But it can also be as easy as sending a bouquet of flowers to your former best friend and your former lover, to show your (struggling) support at the shacking up, just like Hannah does with Adam and Jessa.
Girls teaches you how to let go.
When Girls first came out I found myself often comparing the 4 leads to the characters in Sex and the City. Marnie is the righteous one, almost like Charlotte; she's creative and traditional. Hannah is the protagonist, so much like Carrie, the show revolves around her quirks. Samantha and Jessa are similar in their rejection of the conventional, and both Miranda and Shoshanna are ambitious, neurotic and great friends to have.
And yet, through the five seasons, not only has Girls completely deconstructed the stereotypes formed by each character, it has also shown that we are quick to slot people into categories: the token gay best friend, the emo musician, the drug addict ex-wall street guy. Maybe because they make our lives easier? What happens when one of these is your very own "the one that got away?"
Amid all these familiar labels, Girls showed me that the core four women remain the same. Their lives, and their choices adapted with the plot, but their feelings towards one another hardly changed. That's the thing about friendships. Whether they are close ones, or acquaintances, they are a tangible part of our lives and it's time we treat them as not a secondary, but a primary influence on our emotions.
Give Girls a chance, if you haven't already. You will find a familiar voice in there, one that justifies your late night conversations to yourself, and as you analyse the complexities of adult relationships, Girls will walk along with you.
Allow Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa into your life. You will be creating bonds with people who may seem like faces on a screen, but they are, in reality, fragments of you.