thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

True Life: I’m A Character From Girls

In Girls on January 22, 2013 at 11:59 am
Guest Contributor Rachel Louchen
just one example of hannah's fine cardigan style

Last Sunday was a big night for Girls. The show made a killing at the Golden Globes while the first episode of its hotly anticipated second season ran simultaneously on HBO. But while I enjoyed the show’s first season—Chris O’Dowd, please be in every show ever—I have not been looking forward to its return. That’s because I fear that along with it will come a fresh slew of comments about how similar I am to the show’s protagonist, Hannah Horvath.

This is not a self-assessment, but something that has been told to me dozens of time by dozens of people. On paper, I can see the similarities. Up until recently, I was a 24-year-old aspiring writer living in Brooklyn (Greenpoint, no less)—much like Hannah. Like her, I’ve had questionable relationships with guys who were decidedly not good for me, and I am definitely into contrasting patterns style-wise. However, I worried that the comparisons between me and Hannah reflected more than the surface-level paralells—which in itself makes me too close to Lena Dunham’s over-analytical heroine for comfort.

My first thought after watching the pilot was that I found Hannah an immensely unlikeable and self-absorbed character. So you can imagine my surprise when, not even 24 hours after the show premiered, I was inundated with emails and texts from friends comparing me to her.  They ranged from mildly annoying—“Hey, this girl on TV talks and dresses like you”—to full-blown off the mark: “I didn’t know you were on a television show.” Where was this coming from? Okay, maybe the job interview scene where she makes a date rape joke was in line with my ongoing problem with discerning what is and isn’t appropriate for a given situation. But I find that quality more Bridget Jones than Hannah Horvath.

I especially didn’t feel like I had anything in common with Hannah when it came to financial independence The pilot opens with Hannah’s sweet and supportive parents announcing they are no longer going to financially support her. She responds by being flabbergasted, shocked, and totally entitled. As a girl who always pays the rent check and successfully budgets, I couldn’t relate to her. I couldn’t even sympathize.

Nor could I relate when she asks her boss at her internship to pay for her work—even though I’ve been in that situation a few times. But I asked for pay because I felt that the quality of my writing merited it. Hannah, on the other hand, asks because she no longer has the life of luxury her parents’ support gave her. When her boss turns her down, she responds not by going out to look for a serving job, but by showing up at her parents’ hotel room rambling about what a great writer she is…while on drugs.

This was the person in whom my closest friends saw much of me? Yet when they watch Reality Bites, they never draw the parallels between me and dearest Winona?

As I continued watching the show, which I genuinely did enjoy, I watched closely to see if Hannah had any redeeming qualities. The first season’s episodes detailed a truly messed up relationship with her pseudo boyfriend, who alarmingly, didn’t really even seemed to care about whether she was around or not, which did not deter her from pursuing the relationship. Yikes. And most alarmingly of all, while Hannah stakes a lot of pride on being a writer, we rarely see her working on her writing.

But my real problem with the Hannah comparisons had nothing to do with being a writer or my outstanding ability to dig myself into a conversational hole. It definitely had nothing to do with my style of dress. The problem, I realized, was that I saw similarities between myself and Hannah that I’d rather stay in my blindspot. For starters, much like Hannah, I sure like talking about myself.

When I get a casual “How are you?” from friends or strangers, I definitely tend to give an overly detailed response.  When friends talk to me about their problems, sure I listen because I have to but I’m often not giving it my full attention, I kind of space out. I want it to be my turn, my time to talk and tell people how I handled the same situation they were in, the correct way. The amount of times I have brushed aside a friends problem to talk about a minor incident in my life is truly cringeworthy. Number 1 rule in being a good friend: my problems are not more important than theirs.

Just as I began to face my Hannah problem, I had to contend with an even more revealing episode. In the penultimate episode of the first season, Hannah’s roommate Marnie confronts Hannah about how self-absorbed she is. Hannah admits in turn that she finds her problems much more important than Marnie’s.

That was a point I never wanted to get to. I know my problems are not more important than anyone else’s.  And as I shied away from that vision of my future, I also had to admit that I saw part of myself in Hannah after all. I was a girl.

After that, I made a commitment to be a better person—and in a very specific way. I started keeping up with people, asking first about what’s happening with them, and following up on things we have talked about in the past. When my boyfriend comes home from work, I’m first to ask him how his day was, instead of rambling about mine. When friends are going through a tough time, I call them before they call me.

This definitely hasn’t happened overnight.  I was deeply into complaining about my life, maybe even addicted to it. But the first part of change is accepting and acknowledging the problem, and I was ready to mend the error of my ways.

These little changes have been well-received by my friends and family. I’m not even constantly going on to people about my mission to be a better person—not out loud, at least.

As Girls’ second season begins, I’m a bit nervous about what Hannah is going to get into next. Still, I’m pretty sure I won’t receive an abundance of comments comparing us this go-round, since it’s been a busy few months of changes for me.  That means both that I’m being more conscientious about being a good friend, and that I’m less worried about how people perceive me. Should anyone tell me this year that I remind them of a certain girl, I’m prepared to just smile and say, “Yeah—I do own a lot of colorful cardigans.”

Rachel Louchen is a writer originally from Connecticut who lives in Great Barrington, Mass. Despite living in the beautiful Berkshires, she does not hike, ski, or camp. For more on the things she refuses to do, specifically get a cat, follow her on twitter @fancyrachell

  1. omg
    i love this

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