Girls Finally Gets Serious About Relationships

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Feb. 4 2013 11:30 AM

Girls Finally Gets Serious About Relationships

girls episode 4
A functional relationship, at dinner.

Photo by Jessica Miglio

In last season's finale of Girls, globetrotting, irresponsible Jessa tied the knot with agonizingly awkward hedge-fund poser Thomas-John in a wedding full of discordant hip-hop, a truly great-looking cake, and the promise of a lot of trouble to come between the obviously apocalyptically mismatched couple. That trouble arrived on the show this past episode, as after a period of feigning marital bliss, Thomas-John took Jessa to dinner to meet his parents only to realize, as he told her, "You're my worst nightmare."

The viciousness of their breakup was one of the best things the show's ever done, a reminder that while Jessa may be off heroin, she's still an emotional junkie, chasing the highs she (and a lot of other people her age) seem to think are the key marker of a good relationship. It was also great in counterpoint to Ray and Shoshanna's reveal that they love each other, the first example on Girls of a functional, organically-blossoming relationship. So let's look at both duos.

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Jessa's dinner with Thomas-John and his parents seemed designed to show off how Jessa's self-absorbed charm can curdle. "What am I going to eat at a steakhouse?" she complains to him before they leave, trying to seduce her husband into ditching his parents. "I only want spinach, but I know they're going to force meat on me. I can't even eat meat unless I'm menstruating." When they arrive, having kept his parents waiting, Jessa tells them as if it's cute, "I'm late, I'm always late to everything, it's awful." But Thomas-John, repeating "It's awful," suddenly realizes that, while she doesn't really mean it, he does. Jessa is casually insulting ("I hate this restaurant but I don't even care because I'm so happy to meet you guys") and blithely privileged (explaining that her mother tried working once but ended up uninterested). As Thomas-John's mother grows increasingly horrified at what her son has gotten himself into, Thomas-John realizes that he agrees with her.

By the time they get home and start the fight that will end their brief marriage, it's clear that Thomas-John and Jessa, so different, were both done in by chasing elusive emotional peaks. "You think you're such a fucking free spirit because you shacked up with me for two months," Jessa spits at her husband, throwing her commitment to having experiences at him as proof that she's more authentic than he is. "You know what the best thing about this is?" he spits back. "You have another fucked-up story to add to your collection." They're both right.

Across town, Ray and Shoshanna are discovering that, while they thought they were just having a good time, they've actually stumbled into something serious. Last season, as they negotiated sex, an irritated, still-virginal Shoshanna told Ray yes, she'd do it, provided he "just stay out of my emotional way." But in a casual dinner party conversation this past episode, Shoshanna realizes how logistically and emotionally enmeshed they really are. Turns out, Ray is basically homeless, which means that, by staying every night with Shoshanna, they are living together. "I would have liked to be informed of that fact so I could have, like, bought new sheets, or called my aunt for advice about living with a man for the first time," Shoshanna faux-whispers to Ray.

Once she's over the shock, Shoshanna asks Ray the real question on her mind as they wait for the subway. "Why didn't you tell me that you had no house?" Shoshanna wants to know, which is really a proxy for "Why aren't you sharing everything with me?" The answer is scarier than anything Thomas-John, the hedge-fund unicorn who can easily pay his new wife to go away and to have his tattoo removed, has faced with Jessa. Loving Shoshanna has made Ray confront his own aimlessness, and he's terrified to let her see the extent of it. "What makes me worth dating?" he asks her, agonized. "What makes me worth fucking anything?" All Shoshanna can offer up is that she's falling in love with him, but that's the right thing to say. And the truth.

This week, Slate's TV Club asks, "Will the characters on this show ever grow up?" In this episode, for this pair at least, it's happening. Relationships don't work the way Hannah told Elijah they do, during their fight as he moves out: "That's what a boyfriend does, they pay for things." They aren't about new sheets, or matching honeymoon ink, or baskets of puppies, or any other kind of performance (see: Marnie and Booth Jonathan). Jessa may end up with a better collection of experiences for her memoir, but anxious, neurotic Shoshanna's done something harder and braver than her more adventuresome cousin, who she once gawked at with awe: She's looked at someone she loves, and not been scared away.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

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