girls talk

An Open Letter to Marnie Michaels of Girls

Photo: HBO

Every week until the series finale of Girls, Vulture TV columnist Jen Chaney will serve as an advice columnist for various characters on the HBO series. This week’s advice recipient: Marnie Michaels.

Dear Marnie,

I’m tempted to say that I am writing you this letter to offer some unsolicited guidance, but, honestly, I’m not sure that’s what I am really doing. To tell you how to live your life when you’re technically not asking for help would be presumptuous, and being presumptuous is something you do so well that I am loathe to attempt it in your presence.

No, I wanted to reach out to you because I am genuinely curious about something: Do you ever hear yourself? Do you ever speak words like, “Ray was supposed to break the cycle. And besides, he was just supposed to be grateful that I even wanted to talk to him,” and think, “Wow, that sounds incredibly smug and rude and like I am swimming in a river of my own entitlement?” Do you ever think, “I should probably not say that out loud but, more importantly, I should probably not actually feel that way about a guy that I have dated for a while, and maybe that’s worthy of reflection?”

There have been times when I thought you were capable of thinking and reflecting in this way. One of them was last season, when you went on that unexpected journey with Charlie, realized your marriage to Desi was a sham, and decided you needed some time to yourself to sort things out. That demonstrated some real self-awareness on your part. Unfortunately, that self-awareness only lasted two or three episodes, at which point you again threw yourself at Ray in yet another attempt to seek validation from a guy.

I also thought maybe you were finally growing up after that blowup with Desi in Poughkeepsie, when Hannah told you, “It can be pretty hard to have observations about other people when you’re only thinking about yourself. I would know.” You seemed to hear what she said, to recognize that your friend was admitting to her own shortcomings in a way that suggested that maybe Marnie Michaels, the poster girl and official spokeswoman for oblivious white privilege, would start owning up to her flaws and trying to be more present for other people.

But … nope. In the first half of this current Girls season alone, you have: cheated on Ray; learned that your ex-husband was addicted to oxycontin for months and yet you somehow did not notice; cheated on Desi (since you continued to sleep with Ray while rekindling that relationship); bought Starbuck’s coffee for Ray, which, weirdly, is more galling to me than the fact that you cheated on him; completely failed to support Ray when his boss died; and blamed all of your problems on everyone else, including Ray, Desi, and your mother, who is just you in a fringey choker in a couple of decades. No, wait — she’s actually you at Hannah’s 25th birthday party, when you forced Hannah to get up onstage so everyone could hear you sing “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent. You and your mom don’t even need to pull a Freaky Friday because you are so much alike that there wouldn’t even be any point. It would be like, “Oh my God, we switched bodies! Do you feel the same? Yeah, me too.” End of movie.

Oh yeah, and there’s another awful thing I forgot to mention. You also said the following to a guy who needed to pick up his girlfriend at the hospital: “Why don’t you just get her an Uber?”

Do you ever hear yourself, Marnie?

I used to think that you were just infuriating as a person, as a character, but I realize now that you represent an American affliction. You are the quintessential young white woman who thinks everything is going to be fine because society’s broader injustices don’t really affect her, and who, in middle age, will surprise everyone she knows by voting Republican. You are self-absorption poured into such a beautiful package that it takes a lot of people (read: men) longer than it should to realize you’re an empty promise. You’ve been taught that the world turns based on which way you lean, and you are astonished when it decides to rotate counter to your expectations. You’re so vain you not only think that songs are about you, but that you are destined to sing all of them while everyone sits dutifully in awe of your talent. You are one of many actual Americans who are like this, or at least like this to some degree. They are not just living in a bubble based on where they live, or their political affiliation, or their economic status. They are living in a bubble of one, refusing to truly engage with others, not out of stubbornness, really, but out of something far more alarming. They literally don’t know how to engage.

“Wouldn’t it be kind of great just to have somebody else to consider?” You asked this question of Hannah, referring to her baby. But you have plenty of somebody elses to consider even if you’re not having a baby. You have friends, romantic partners, co-workers, parents, and members of your community. You can start considering somebodies at any time. A positive pregnancy test is not required.

That question — “Wouldn’t it be kind of great just to have somebody else to consider?” — is the central question of Girls, and one that eventually smacks anyone struggling through their 20s in the head, whether they are a millennial or not. In our young-adult years, we get so fixated on the self-focused questions about our future — “What if I never make it in my chosen field?” “What if I never find a husband or wife?” “What if I never achieve my dreams?” — that we sometimes fail to consider the bigger picture and how we can be more open and giving in the present. Hannah Horvath is by no means perfect, but she’s at least starting to look more critically and more generously at the world around her. I honestly thought the same thing would happen for you, Marnie, but it hasn’t. I’m not sure it ever will.

We all like to think that people are capable of change. But the reality is this: Some people are and some people are not. You’ve only got four episodes left to transform, Marnie, and I’m not sure that’s possible. In the end, I think your songs are the truest things about you, and I mean the ones you sang early in this series. Take me or leave me? That’s you. So is this: “What I am is what I am.” (“I’m not aware of too many things / I know what I know if you know what I mean” is basically your personal brand.)

You can live your life that way, and maybe you can even be happy doing it. But when you need a ride home from the hospital someday, guess what? You’ll definitely have to call an Uber.

An Open Letter to Marnie Michaels of Girls