Every week until the series finale of Girls, Vulture TV columnist Jen Chaney will also serve as an advice columnist for various characters on the HBO series. This week’s advice recipient: Shoshanna Shapiro.
I’m not sure how I feel about writing to an advice columnist. Like, it feels like something that old people do. But I’m in a pretty desperate place, so whatever. I’ll give it a shot.
I recently got into a huge fight with my friend Jessa, who also happens to be my cousin. (By the way, and like, I realize this will sound really weird, but I completely forgot she was my cousin until a couple of days ago.) So Jessa tagged along — even though I did not really invite her — to this female-entrepreneurs mixer. These two ex-friends of mine, Rachel and Ziva — you know, the ones who invented Jamba Jeans — were there, and I really wanted to impress them. But Jessa, who Rachel and Ziva never really liked, pretty much ruined things. Jessa always ruins things.
That’s why the fight happened. After Rachel and Ziva said there wasn’t room for me in their lives anymore, Jessa and I left the mixer. While standing outside trying to hail a cab, I just lost it. I don’t know what caused it. Maybe it was the fact that Jessa actually stole a dish full of finger foods, including the dish, or the fact that my friend Elijah admitted that Marnie is cheating on Ray, my ex-boyfriend; or the fact that Jessa was trying to justify her relationship with Adam, as if that relationship, of course, explains every dynamic between her and every human being on Earth; or the fact that I was still stung from being rejected by Rachel and Ziva. Anyway, I completely blew up at Jessa. I told her that she ruined my life by drawing me into her dysfunctional social circle. (It’s so dysfunctional it’s barely a circle. It’s more like a sad, lopsided oval.)
Then I started crying. I screamed, “Get out of my face!” at her three times and also threw one of her sliders on the ground. It was not a good night. Jessa stomped away and yelled at me to grow up. That stung, too.
I guess I just feel like I should be a grown-up by now, like one of those women at the WEMUN (Women Entrepreneurs Meet Up Now!) mixer who has all their shit together and whose friends also clearly have all their shit totally organized into Container Store baskets and Elfa cabinets. I could have been one of those women. Instead, I started hanging out with Jessa and Hannah and Marnie and Ray, who is so great, but also a little aimless. I could have been a New York success story, like Rachel and Ziva and their denim leisurewear. Instead I’m just another girl working at a hip branding agency wishing she had a brand of her own.
I feel bad for yelling at Jessa, and for wasting a perfectly good slider. Should I apologize to her? (I mean Jessa, not the slider.) On one hand, I’m kind of not sorry I said what I said. On the other hand, I still want her in my life. She’s my friend, even though she’s so self-involved, she thinks that working in marketing is the same thing as, like, working at a farmers’ market. She’s also my cousin, apparently. Like, what do I do?
Current resident of New York, former resident of Japan
First things first: Should you apologize to Jessa? If you want her to remain a part of your life, which it sounds like you do, and if you have regrets about the way you behaved toward her, which it also sounds like you do, then yes, apologize. That’s what grown-ups do. But this sorry should be a qualified sorry.
You should tell Jessa that you feel badly for yelling at her, but also be honest about how frustrating it is when she doesn’t listen to you or demeans your sense of ambition or makes everything about her damn British-accented self. What was it she said right before you let the slider fly? She accused you of being a “jeans fucker,” which implied that you only want to bask in the borrowed glow of women like Rachel and Ziva. That’s not quite true. But it is partially true. A person can only snap the way you snapped when they hear fighting words with some grains of honesty in them.
I believe there’s a tenacity in you, Shosh, and that when you find something concrete to focus on, you become a positive, unstoppable force. The way you single-handedly rehabbed Ray’s coffee shop is a great example of this. But I also think Jessa wasn’t wrong when she suggested you want to be in the orbit of people who are admired, without actually doing work yourself that qualifies as admirable.
I know you just started a new job, but I can sense already that you’re only working at Silverhorn because it’s what you think you are supposed to do. You need to figure out what makes you happy while having a positive impact on others, and then pursue it immediately. What you are doing instead is trying to look and sound impressive to people you think are worth impressing, even though those individuals may be less dimensional than holograms of actual humans. Yes, I am referring here to Rachel and Ziva, who are so obviously the worst. My God, Shoshanna, I don’t get why you don’t see that.
No, scratch that — I do get why you don’t see that. It’s because Rachel and Ziva not only represent the road not taken, they’re also the girlfriends who broke up with you and did so in a way that specifically signals that there’s something wrong with you. I mean, it’s true that you’re not perfect. If I’m being honest, for the first three season of Girls, you drove me absolutely crazy. But the fact that these two women are still holding a grudge against you for bailing on a spring-break trip from so long ago suggests that they are the petty and insecure ones, not you.
It’s natural to compare ourselves to other people and conclude that we come up short. We all do this; I think women especially do this. I’d like to tell you that as you get older, you will stop this terrible habit. But I’d be lying. For as long as you live, you will sometimes mentally Photoshop yourself into split-screen images that place you next to friends, colleagues, and maybe other mothers if you decide to have kids someday. When you do this, you will inevitably see yourself as the sad, gross Before and everyone else as the flawless, self-actualized After.
The key is to manage that impulse, to recognize that you will sometimes compare yourself to others and feel lousy, but that doing so is human nature and should not define your sense of self. You have not only allowed other women, like Jessa and co., to define who you are, but also other WEMUN to do it, too. You’ve always gravitated toward the friends and career that project maturity, that make you feel like you’re advancing by association. But you still haven’t figured out what you need to do to advance yourself. You work in branding, but your brand is vapor.
That’s okay, because you’re young and you’re still trying to figure everything out. You should not expect to have “made it” already. You also shouldn’t conclude that you haven’t made it because of the people with whom you chose or did not choose to hang out. The bad news is: Who you are is all on you. The good news is: Who you are is all on you.
As Elijah so eloquently put it, “We can’t all be perfect, okay? Everyone has their own path. We can’t all be Justin Trudeau.” You immediately asked if he meant Justin Theroux, which was a ridiculous question. But actually, either Justin works in this scenario. We can’t all be the hot prime minister of Canada who can explain quantum computing off the top of his head, nor can we all be the talented star of The Leftovers who is married to Jennifer Aniston and has abs that could stop freeway traffic. Nor should we want to be. Both Justins already have those departments covered! We, and you specifically, should want to be the best people we can be, while recognizing that there is no such thing, in life or at WEMUN mixers, as perfection.
I hope you recognize that, Shoshanna. I also hope you cancel your membership to WEMUN and get at least a partial refund on that exorbitant $2,000 annual fee. You’re worth so, so much more than that.