HBO’s Girls Exposes Pretty Lies

April 19, 2012

Not being one of the media darlings who got advance copies of HBO’s new show Girls, I had to wait for Sunday’s premiere before weighing in. I enjoyed the first episode very much, which surprised me – I wasn’t a fan of Tiny Furniture, the film that put Lena Dunham on the map and brought her an offer to collaborate from Judd Apatow.  I found Girls well written and funny – a sort of bizarre, young singles’ Curb Your Enthusiasm, coupled with a sad poignancy. Creator, writer, director and star Lena Dunham is telling the world just how effed up life is for Gen Y, with its anemic job market and crappy sex.

The first episode gives us a look at two very different couples, neither of which seems long for this world. They represent very well the contemporary diametric in sex and relationships, with its masculinized women and feminized men.  Still, either or both of these couples could limp along for ages in a very meh sort of way. This is courtship by inertia.


Marnie is dating Charlie, a boy so head over heels in love that he needs a constant “fix,” touching, stroking, grinning at his beloved. At one point, the morning after Marnie has avoided him by “accidentally” falling asleep in another room while watching Mary Tyler Moore, she  hands him her dirty mouthguard. He happily takes it and then signals his intent to kiss her good morning. 

Comin’ atcha… Here it comes…MWAH..that was my kiss blowing up on you.

We cringe with her, and we’re not surprised when she discusses her growing repulsion with Hannah shortly afterwards.

Hannah:  You literally slept in my bed to avoid him.

Marnie: I know. Hannah, I’ve turned a corner. His touch just feels like a weird uncle putting his hand on my knee at Thanksgiving. 

Hannah: (Sigh.) What does it even feel like to be loved that much?

Marnie: It makes me feel like such a bitch because I can feel him being so nice to me – and yet it makes me so angry!

Hannah: I think you need to admit something to yourself, which is that you’re sick of eating him out. ‘Cause he has a vagina.

That night, Charlie tries to get kinky by proposing a little role play, and Marnie suggests it might work if he pretends to be a stranger. “Like, someone who acts completely different from you.” Ouch. 

In the other corner, we find Hannah and Adam, f*ckbuddies except for the buddy part. They can’t have been at this for long, because Adam appears to observe the tattoos on Hannah’s body for the first time. Nevertheless, he’s indifferent enough to make it clear he’s already tired of her. He never texts her back, and when she stops by one day because she was “in his neighborhood” her affable eagerness provides a discomfiting contrast to his bored contempt. 

Hannah: I like you so much, I don’t understand why you disappear.

Adam:  What are you talking about? I’m right here.

   …You modern career woman, I know what you like, you think you can just come in here and talk all that noise?

   …Lie flat on your stomach, now reach back and grab your feet. Now stay in that position but take all that shit off.

Frank Bruni, writing The Bleaker Sex in the New York Times, describes the unfolding sex scene as he takes her from behind, looking bored:

“So I can just stay like this for a little while?” she asks. “Do you need me to move more?”

He needs her to intrude less. “Let’s play the quiet game,” he answers.

From the PC vantage point of a gay male who has no dog in this fight, Bruni asks, “You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of “Girls” engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?”

Meanwhile, in an eerie recollection of my recent description of the Goldilocks dilemma – women trying to find men worthy of both lust and attachment in just the right mix – writer Annie James channels Goldilocks in a post at The Frisky, identifying with the nice guy vs. asshole quandary.

Judging from my social media streams and a litany of text messages from friends, most of us watching “Girls” were struck by the dilemma of dating the asshole versus dating the nice guy and how neither is a viable option.

About six months ago I started seeing a sharp-mouthed, emotionally-damaged gentleman with his own serious commitment issues. He didn’t return emails or calls or make plans with me.

“What do you like about me?” I asked him. “You’re brunette and you have a vagina,” he replied.

When I asked what he expected to get out of our relationship, he told me to stop acting like a turkey. Then he shrugged.

“I don’t date girls longer than a fiscal quarter … and I don’t trust women. I’m easily bored.”

I was a little in love.

The meaner he was, the harder I fell. He once called me a retarded slut right after we had sex. On second thought, he might have still been inside me at the time. I was angry and disgusted. I stormed out of his house. I texted him some nasty expletive along with: “I should come up there and smack you.” He evenly replied: “You don’t have the code to get back in. Stop being a turkey.”

Wow, that is some tight Game right there. James (who’s in her 30s, by the way) sounds like she may have dated a certain prominent Game blogger who shall remain nameless. Predictably:

For the exact length of a fiscal quarter, he built barriers, I tried to tear them down and my cravings reached a fever pitch. At the close of four months, as promised, he informed me that we should no longer date over the post-modern Post-It note: GChat.

“It’s not like I owe you anything,” he typed, not even having the courtesy to include a sad face emoticon.

James decides to try the nice guy next:

He would meet me anywhere that was convenient for me. He texted. He emailed. He told me I was smart and pretty and that he thought every little thing that I did was awesome. He wanted to meet my friends. He wanted to meet my dog…He kissed me on the street outside of the bar [one] night. “I don’t want to play games. I really like you,” he said.

I hated him. Like another character in “Girls,” Allison Williams’ Marnie, who can’t stand her too-adoring, too perfect-seeming boyfriend, I was disgusted by his niceness. Similarly, there wasn’t an ounce of my loins that could quiver for this man. I even tried the age-old libido lubricant beer goggles in an attempt to spark some physical passion.

Five shots of Jameson later I couldn’t even fathom a cuddle. He made my skin crawl.

In an effort to understand her many failed relationships, James consulted Helen Fisher, an expert on the brain and attraction, and got a real answer:

When a person feels rejected, brain regions linked with craving, addiction and obsession become active. You can’t stop thinking about the person. You become obsessed. Someone is camping in your head and you can’t get them out. Anytime there is a real barrier in the relationship and you are not sure if you can win the relationship, it heightens the craving. The less you think you can win the person, the hotter the craving.

Of course, Fisher is describing the dopamine reward system here. I’d b willing to bet James is a DRD4 mutant. Acknowledging that she is likely to pull her hair out and become a madwoman if she keeps going for guys who call her a retarded slut, James holds out hope that the perfect man, the one who is “just right” will show up. 


I’m looking forward to the rest of the Girls season, as Lena Dunham continues to expose the reality of the schizophrenic demands women are making of men.