Girls Is Right: Friendships Are More Dramatic Than Romances

Our roundtable discusses "Beach House," the seventh episode of the HBO show's third season.
HBO

This week's panelists: Eleanor BarkhornAshley Fetters, and Chris Heller


Barkhorn: Late last season, Girls revealed the first sentence of Hannah’s doomed e-book: “A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance.” This is probably my favorite line from Girls so far, because in my experience it’s true: Friendships among college friends are quite dramatic, and certainly harder to navigate than most romantic relationships.

This isn’t because young women are “crazy” or “mean” or any of the unkind things people say to explain why women sometimes have trouble getting along with one another. It’s because there are very few universally accepted rules governing friendships.

People complain about how romance is lawless these days, but there are still several markers of commitment (or lack thereof): the “defining the relationship” talk; making a status change on social media; moving in together; the breakup talk. With friendship, though, there are no first dates or official declarations of devotion to mark the beginning of a relationship. Similarly, there is no clear way to break up with a friend, except in extreme situations—most of the time these relationships just fade away. And in between, there are so many impossible-to-answer questions: How do I know someone is my friend? How much can I expect to see my friend now that she has a new boyfriend? How do I keep a friendship alive when I feel it slipping away? What do I do when I can tell that my friend cares more about our relationship than I do?

This week’s episode, “Beach House,” does a beautiful job of exploring these last two questions. Hannah, Jessa, and Shosh head out to the North Fork of Long Island (not to be confused with the Hamptons) for a weekend at Marnie’s mom’s friend’s lovely home. We soon find out that Marnie is looking forward to this time as a chance to heal the girls’ strained friendships; she wants them all to write their wishes on pieces of paper and then throw them in a fire so they come true. Hannah, however, has been dreading this weekend. She wants nothing to do with Marnie’s healing activities. We’ve seen this tension building all season. Marnie helps plan a big birthday party for Hannah. Marnie wants Hannah to come over and meet her new cat. Marnie calls Hannah to talk. But Hannah has her own life to focus on and keeps Marnie at a distance.

An expert at avoiding unpleasant emotions, Hannah finds a way to sabotage Marnie’s plans: When she runs into her ex-boyfriend Elijah and his friends, she eagerly invites them over. They all drink and swim and dance rather than “heal.”

But, inevitably, the girls do talk about their relationship, in a big drunken argument after dinner. They take turns pointing out one anothers’ worst qualities: Shosh is dumb, Hannah is self-involved, Marnie is “tortured by self-doubt and fear,” and Jessa is a walking aphorism. But then the conversation turns, masterfully, to expectations. The girls are frustrated because they don’t know what they can realistically expect from one another. Marnie says she’s disappointed in Hannah; Hannah tells her to lower her expectations; Marnie says her expectations can’t go any lower. This gets at what I was saying before about why young-adult friendships are so challenging: There are no rules. Hannah ends the scene by storming off to her room and declaring, “I really miss my boyfriend”—an acknowledgment of the fact that, yes, her relationship with Adam is far more stable than her female friendships right now.

The episode ends on a hopeful note, though. In the final scene, as the girls are waiting for their bus back to the city, they silently act out the dance they learned the night before. Fragile as their friendships are, there’s still something holding them together.

What do you guys think of the way Girls portrays female friendship, in this episode and in the series overall? Does it strike a chord with you as it does with me? And what’s next? Do you think this episode signals a turning point in their friendships, or was this just a one-off show, similar to other intense-weekend episodes we’ve seen, like the Patrick Wilson one last season?


Fetters: “There are very few universally accepted rules governing friendships.” All too true, Eleanor—and I would say best friends are affected by this most severely.

“Best friend,” maybe for women especially, is a singular role that carries with it a number of designated expectations, just like “boyfriend.” It even carries some of the same expectations, like providing emotional support and hanging out all the time. But while there’s a clearly defined, necessary conversation in which you opt into being someone’s boyfriend, you can simply discover one day that you’ve become someone’s best friend; there’s no mutual opting in. And a boyfriend has the power to cease being a boyfriend of his own accord, but best friends have no such luxury: There’s no handy script in place for downgrading to just “friends” or “acquaintances,” so, often, you don’t cease to be someone’s best friend until they decree as much.

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