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Girls in the City

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05/02/2013

Girls in the City photo

I began mentally preparing myself for 30 the minute I turned 26. The further I climb into my 20s, the more I find myself looking back.

I recently spent an evening out with old high school friends at the J. Parker, a tiny but trendy bar-restaurant atop the Hotel Lincoln, trading memories and exchanging tidbits about old classmates' whereabouts. Our evening of cocktails and conversation left me feeling somewhere between old and young; invigorated and drained. Perhaps a BuzzFeed.com article I found recently best describes our state of being, Life In Your Early Twenties Vs. Your Late Twenties.

My friends and I lamented that at times we feel we've squandered our 20s: we haven't traveled enough; we haven't let go enough; we've been too career-driven, etc. During that time in our lives when we have supposedly had the most flexibility to pick up and move to different cities or change our life courses in a fleeting moment, we haven't necessarily grabbed ahold of those opportunities.

Time seemed to move like molasses when I was in high school and college. Each year had an epic quality and defining expectations. After graduating from college, the years progressively lost that sense of definition. Perhaps it's different for those who move immediately on to graduate school or get married young. But, for others who lunge forward into the single working world, life takes on a completely different pace. The 20s can be frightening, exciting, ridiculous and altogether exasperating.

When my friends and I discovered Sex and the City during our undergraduate years, we were convinced we'd found the holy grail of womanhood. No television show or movie from our generation had ever deeply examined the female experience from a female perspective so honestly and cleverly. Sex and the City re-awakened a socially acceptable dialogue about sexual experience, feelings in the work place, relationships and more. Sex and the City had a national, and perhaps even global, resonance with women (and some men). I could sit and watch the show as comfortably with my girlfriends as I could with my mother, and all would find it equally enjoyable.

Sex and the City was to women what Seinfeld was to the general populous—a catalogue of human experience to which one could refer at any moment. To this day, I still reference various episodes of the show when recounting dating experiences. While each of the four characters represented a definitive female point of view, the composite of these women encompassed much of the female experience. Together, these four women were every woman; together they represented the hopes, fears, insecurities, and dreams of every woman.

Sex and the City examined the lives of women in their 30s. For women in their 20s, this show was relatable, but also a glimpse into a distant future 10 to 15 years away. That glimpse into our future, 30-something selves was unattainably stylish, witty, and heart-breaking. The show acknowledged and spoke to an ever-growing population of single women in their 30s trying to navigate their way. How those women got there, however, was unclear.

We 20-something women had yet to find a show that examined surviving our present—until HBO's Girls. If you are old enough to have seen Sex and the City in its entirety (and then the edited version in syndication), and still find Girls relevant to your life today, you are probably hovering precariously in your late 20s, as I am. I don't quite feel like I fit into Carrie Bradshaw's world, yet I've grown past some of the early-20s angst of Girls' character Hannah Horvath-while still clinging joylessly to some of her growing pains. Many friends my age similarly feel a kinship to the relatively new HBO series, as Girls only recently finished airing its second season. We have yet to see the complete evolution of the characters' and their respective journeys.

Various articles have drawn parallels between the two shows, and it's not surprising that they should. Both shows are based on female writer protagonists accompanied by three loyal friends with strong personalities. Both groups of women struggle in search of their identities, their careers and loving mates.

Sex and the City had a classic, cinematic element of escapism, with Carrie—a newspaper columnist—impeccably dressed down to her multiple pairs of pricey Jimmy Choo shoes. The show painted a glamorous love story about female friendships and living in New York City, upheld even when the characters' own love stories were more trying.

Conversely, Girls opens its first season with Hannah—also a writer—begging her parents for money in order to survive in New York. She and her early-20-something friends are getting by, sometimes with the help of their parents, and other times accepting odd jobs, including clerical work, babysitting gigs, ushering at a restaurant and working at a coffee shop. Girls character Shoshanna Shapiro—the younger and Jewish equivalent of Sex and the City's WASP Charlotte York—lives a seemingly cushy, yet neurotic, life as a college student, funded by her parents. However, the rest of the characters find themselves floundering financially in a very expensive New York City—often at odds with their ability to survive within it.

Sex and the City's Carrie is impossibly composed; Hannah is impossibly disheveled. Carrie's wardrobe inspired a nation; Hannah's incessant nudity makes a nation squirm before its television. Both shows undoubtedly push the boundaries of sexual expression on television. Sex and the City's escapist Hollywood veneer and Girls' often jagged and awkward approach both resonate with modern women.

That said, both shows, which claim to be about the women, steadily focus on the men. Sex and the City's premise is an ongoing quest for Carrie and her friends to find true love. Similarly, seemingly career-driven Hannah and her friends find themselves derailed by the happenings in their love lives—and often clinging to dysfunctional romantic relationships in the face of other difficulties. The reality of these 20s and 30s years, however, is an ongoing tug of war between self and the search for one's mate. In an age when most women are not simply going to college to obtain their "MRS" degree, the journey to finding both professional and romantic fulfillment is both complex and bumpy.

Both shows adopt a female perspective to explore family relations, female sex fantasies, STDs, pregnancy scares, dysfunctional dating, abuse, band-aid marriages, and more. So much is learned about these "girls" and women through how they choose and mis-choose their men. The confusion and pressures we "girls" experience as we try to catapult ourselves into womanhood, at times seduces us into settling, suffering disappointment, and then finding ourselves forced to press the re-set button.

I appreciate that Girls sets a less glamorous and more realistic tone for what girls can expect in their "adult" 30s. At the same time, it also abandons a core loyalty shared by Carrie and her female soul mates. While female friendships are not always as idyllic as those shared by Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha, the cold and selfish abandon carelessly dealt between Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna sends the message that friendships are expendable. No television show can fully prepare us for how quickly the gap between the 20s and 30s closes. Thankfully, real life girlfriends are there to catch us when we falter.

And, when in doubt, there's always MTV's Teen Mom, which provides invaluable validation for our life choices.

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