I’ve lived in New York City for the better part of ten years, arriving at the ripe old age of 26. And though I know what it’s like to be a 20-something in the city, I’ve often wondered what it must be like to grow up in the city. I’ve observed Father and Son in matching jerseys and caps, riding the 7 on the way to a Mets game. I’ve rolled my eyes at teens posturing in front of Lower East Side bodegas after school. And I’ve spotted toddlers in diapers eating popsicles on park benches in front of Brooklyn basketball courts.
What must that feel like? I’ve thought. To be a kid growing up in New York City. What would that be like?
Since then I’ve gotten older and my definition of “kid” has changed. Now 20-somethings are “kids” to me. And I know exactly what it feels like to experience New York City as that kind of kid. That I can relate to. This is exactly why I like to watch Girls.
I don’t always love Girls—sometimes the show grates on my nerves—but sometimes there are episodes, like last night’s season finale, that hit all the right notes.
Don’t worry, no recap (and only one spoiler). I’d rather focus on the part that, for me, was the most memorable in a long while. A part that from behind humor and embellishment came forward to touch well on a subject that many young women can relate to.
How many have turned down a job offer in another city because they didn’t want to leave a boyfriend? How many are now deeply regretting having passed up a similar opportunity ten years later? And how many have put their careers and dreams on hold to follow a boyfriend to another state or country so he could pursue an opportunity? Or worse yet, stayed behind and clung to a long-distance relationship rather than forge her own path?
For every young woman who does something like that, there is another who leaves her man behind and “leans in”. That’s the kind of empowerment Lena Dunham seems to have been championing when she wrote Shoshanna’s storyline into last night’s season finale of Girls.
Shosh, who has been unsuccessfully job hunting for the past few episodes finally gets an offer—in Tokyo. The dream marketing position is offered to her by SNL’s Aidy Bryant who perkily sits with a neon nameplate sign as a backdrop on the office wall behind her and admits that she’s never been to Japan but Skypes with the employees there sometimes.
Now Shosh has to decide whether to stay with her boyfriend who also offers her a job at his company and tells her she can move in with him to keep her around, because “I’m going to be in love with you soon,” or take the job in Japan. Two points: First, my theory of assholes is spot-on; the asshole-ish-ness of a young man mostly in love with himself, even if he’s almost in love with his girlfriend, shouldn’t be underestimated. Second, some young men, whatever their hidden sensitivity, would do well to realize that girlfriends aren’t prizes to keep around and hold back from dreams—or dream jobs—until those feelings actually surface.
The best advice comes surprisingly from Colin Quinn’s Café Grumpy character, who encourages her—as Sheryl Sandberg would say—to "lean in." His wife left the book out and he read it because he found Sandberg’s bio photo attractive.
“This is your lean-in moment,” he counsels Shosh. “You don’t want to spend your life dependent on some guy. Some nerd.” And then he reminds her that if this boyfriend of hers is worth his salt he’ll let her go and be waiting at the airport for her when she returns.
“I’m moving to Japan,” Shosh announces when Jessa finds her in their apartment later.
This says a lot about courage in a modern, timely way: that it’s worth taking a risk and “leaning in”, and that the ones who love you most won’t try to hold you back. Each girl who embraces that risk is another who will never have to wonder about what she might have been.
I wonder, those real New York City kids—I bet they're tougher than the rest of us. I bet they grow up learning this lesson. If only I'd been a New York City kid, maybe I would have learned it before the age of 26.