Female friendships are intricate and complex. They are not easily put in a box and tied up with a sweet and quirky bow. Yet, television largely continues to portray them as such. Television shows put a significant amount of pressure on these friendships to be strong and perfect, constant and unconditional, an unfair expectation for relationships which require effort and work and often end naturally. The strong suit of HBO’s “Girls” was deconstructing this ideal television friendship to depict the reality of the often muddy waters of female bonds.
The friendships in “Girls” were never overly saccharine. Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna were a tight-knit group who, over six seasons, grew with and eventually away from each other. Even before the unfortunate but necessary fate of the foursome was revealed in the series’ penultimate episode, audiences were treated to tumultuous and tender moments between these women as they navigated the harsh realities of adulthood.
What “Girls” did so well was show the smaller moments of bliss and of pain within these bonds. When Jessa’s marriage ends, Hannah consoles her as they sit in a bathtub and “Wonderwall” plays in the background. When the girls fight, it highlights the characters’ different personalities and fleshes out why there are cracks in their relationships through discussions filled with pent-up frustration. Female friendships are so fascinating because they are multi-layered, fierce, loving and often ludicrous. In my own experience, they are bonds that form in random ways for unexpected reasons. It can be as simple as proximity in a dorm and as odd as a penchant for watching old “Saturday Night Live” sketches. These friendships give and take. They bend and sometimes break.
Watching and growing up with “Girls” through my high school and college years helped me understand that the friendships I have do not have to be perfect, though television has often told me otherwise. Most television shows depict cookie cutter friendships that are tested with ridiculous competition or the stealing of a boyfriend, though the latter storyline is admittedly featured on “Girls” but with much more nuance. As fierce as female bonds might be, they can often be littered with less concrete but all the more biting issues of communication, disagreement and latent frustration.
Female friendship is not a sorority, nor is it constant drama. It does not fit perfectly within the narrative of “Sex and the City” as a collection of distinct personalities become soulmates, or “Friends” where three women with an untested bond will always be there for each other. It’s not the “Real Housewives,” either, where there is constant bickering and unsolicited viciousness. In reality, even the strongest friendships, just like any other relationship, take work.
As for the friendships that are not strong, and perhaps only continue due to a fear of letting go, “Girls” deconstructs the idea that every friendship must last forever. The harsh truth is that you can outgrow friendships and, if you don’t recognize this you, like Hannah, might end up accidentally walking in on a former friend’s engagement party. The people we are when our friendships begin are not necessarily the ones we will be a few years later. For me, this happened at the end of high school, when my and many of my friends’ lives were dramatically shifting, and a few of us naturally went our separate ways. “Girls” helped me to see that this was okay.
Every friendship and every bond is far from static, as they go through fluxes of contentment and uncertainty. What “Girls” got very right is that these bonds are between layered people; they’re emotional and vivacious with hopes and goals, fears and annoying habits. They, like many young women in college and beyond, are caught in the dicey process of transitioning into adulthood and, as they fought this confusion they were drawn together. Several of these friendships ended by the end of the series, but this wasn’t due as much to a specific animosity as it was to the development of these women into separate, more fully-formed adults.
As the era of “Girls” has ended, my hope is that other television shows continue to celebrate nuanced female friendships and consciously remove this pressure for these relationships to be simple and pristine because, for the most part, they are not. Some are fleeting, some are forever and some are very fragile, and we deserve to see this represented on screen.