HBO’s ‘Girls’ and Gen Y: Why I Relate

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HBO’s new series, “Girls,” has caught a lot of backlash for depicting 20-somethings who live off their parents after college and struggle to find work in New York City.

HBO Girls, Gen Y: Why I Relate

Today, one 22-year-old girl living in New York City argues that, despite all the bad press, she sees truth in the show’s portrayal of her generation.

Everyone has something to say about “Girls”—I’ve even had several male friends chime in on how impossible it is for them to relate on any level.

The show follows four 20-something girls in New York City. The main character, Hannah Horvath, played by the show’s creator Lena Dunham, is an aspiring writer whose parents pull the plug on her financially in the first episode. One friend is an art gallery assistant, another just got back from gallivanting overseas and another is still in college and supported by her parents.

Critics have complained about the show’s lack of diversity, the characters’ whining and how spoiled they are.

I am not a television critic. I also happen to own the smallest TV in the history of television, which doesn’t have HBO. Every week, I watch the show online a few days after it comes out. (Fitting, isn’t it?)

But I am a 22-year-old girl, living in New York City, with student loans, awkward booty calls and a few close girl friends. As Hannah, a slightly awkward 24-year-old Brooklynite, would put it, I’m a voice of my generation. Definitely not the voice, but a voice.

As I watch the show, I find myself nodding my head. “Yes,” I think, “she gets it. This show is actually my life.”

When most 20-somethings move to New York, especially to work in fashion as I did, nearly all of them compare their lives to “Sex and the City.” But let’s be honest: I live in Bed-Stuy, deep in the heart of Brooklyn, and I have much more in common with Hannah than with Carrie.

A $200,000 Education, a Great Résumé … and an Empty Inbox

I graduated college with a freelance job at a fancy magazine. A fancy magazine that could only afford to pay me $700 a month, but required that I live close enough to pull hard hours and make it home without getting mugged. Which means I couldn’t really afford the $1,100 a month apartment I signed a one-year lease for in Greenwich Village, but I figured I could make it work, right?

When I graduated last May from George Washington University, I was extremely confident that all of the internships I fought for and the classes I took would be enough to pull off the New York dream.

I moved from Washington, DC, where my apartment and living expenses were paid for by my parents, to New York. My parents agreed to give me $400 a month for two months to help with rent, but after that I was on my own. No problem! Babysitting in New York is a piece of cake, people say, and you can make some serious money.

Well, after creating profiles on what felt like 100 different sitter sites with absolutely zero responses, things got a little more difficult. So there I was, with a $200,000 education, a part-time job at a respected publication and a huge family that’s helped me get plenty of work experience. But my inbox was void of offers to babysit.

I started trying to do odd jobs for people (like picking up my cousin’s mail for her and organizing contacts for her in exchange for money here and there), but instead of pouring myself into looking for part-time work, I really focused on trying to get full-time positions.

So that was it. $700 a month had to be enough.

After My First Month, Things Were Getting Desperate

Every night, I cried to my college boyfriend—who was living at home in Massachusetts without a job—about how broke I was, how miserable I was. He was kind enough to pay half my rent on my second month in New York.

Luckily, I paid him back a week before I found out he was cheating on me.

I’m not alone in having trouble paying rent after college. The economy is pretty terrible, and most of my friends have received help from their families in some form or other. Other than my roommates, pretty much everyone else I know gets parental help, even some friends as old as 25-26.

Since then, I’ve been able to secure a great full-time job as an editorial assistant (which I found via Twitter—the power of social media!), and moved to this apartment in Brooklyn that’s more in line with what I make, since I’m trying not to spend more than 30% of my salary on my apartment.

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However, student loans have kicked in and saving seems nearly impossible. And each time my parents get their phone bill, the conversation about being on their family plan comes up–like Hannah says, it’s cheaper for everyone!

After a Year, My Carrie Bradshaw Dreams Have Faded …

… And my Hannah Horvath reality has set in. Many of my friends are still supported by their parents and probably can’t relate to Hannah’s character, but I’d like to think I’m not the only young woman, living in Brooklyn, nodding my head “yes” every Sunday night when I see Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna screwing up job interviews, hooking up with guys at the NYC bar Tom & Jerry’s or arguing with their parents over money.

Well, maybe not that bit about the hook-ups.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Emily Note is a 22-year-old native of Philadelphia who currently resides in Brooklyn and works as an assistant and writer in the fashion industry.

  • guest

    Why would you spend $200,000 to go to G.W. if you wanted to work in fashion? Even if you didn’t know at that time you wanted to end up in fashion, you must have been accepted to other universities that were more reasonably priced? While it is well documented that college tuition is skyrocketing across the country, parents and high school seniors must factor in the reality of student loan payments after college when picking a school.

    • Katie

      There’s so reason to criticize the author’s choice of school. GW is a great institution. The point of the post is to highlight the years after you graduate. Some 20-something women still are supported in some way by their parents (cell phone family plan, rent assistance, paying for food) while others are completely cut off and need to figure it out on their own. Within circles of friends, this can be tough to swallow. 

      My parents also “cut me off” financially right around 20-21. Now in my late-20s, those first few years were incredibly difficult. But, I figured it out and am stronger and more independent now. I’m thankful my parents taught me that lesson.

      Kudos to you, Emily, for making it! You’re working hard towards your dreams. 

    • Sarah

      The price is outrageous, but this is the mentality of so many families. They feel they have to send their child to the best possible university. The frenzy of getting into a good school combined with not knowing what you will do with your degree (and being a naive 18 year old) makes this situation very common. I think parents are the ones who really have to offer a reality check for their children, but tehy get caught up in it too.

    • Kate

      Two points — 1) Deciding on a school is a difficult choice and one that is arrived at for many reasons. Parents generally want what is best for their kids, and good schools have good alumni networks and often put your resume at the top of a pile. It’s usually a decision made at a time of uncertainty and hope, and one made with the best intentions and information possible at the time.

      2) Even if you went to a more reasonably priced university, $50,000 in loans is still a $600/month payment on a standard repayment plan — a somewhat crippling amount when you are making $30,000/year.

      • Rick_millward

        I raised a family of four and paid $1200/mo for a nice house I built on $34k/yr.  I had a government/military jobs and a home business was very thrifty.

      • Realistic

         If you’re only going to be making $30k a year, then you likely can’t afford a $50k education.  I think the problem is that people choose a school and a major before thinking about how much they can really afford.

        I think it’s rather ridiculous that adults are still sponging off of their parents like this.  Not everyone gets to have their dream career, and it’s unrealistic to rack up significant student loans for a degree that won’t increase your earning potential. 

  • NotCarrieEither

    Emily -You’re not alone in struggling in starting out. I lived in NYC a decade ago and had to share an apartment right next to Gowanus (we pretended we lived in Park Slope) with two messy guys and work til 3 am every morning and weekend for my job. I saved because I had no life and I lived in a place my mother never saw because she would not have allowed me to live there if she did :) Part of being in a long-term career track is doing more with less at first, chipping away at debt, and keeping your eye on the fact that you’re learning, building up your resume, making contact with others in your industry and perhaps finding a mentor who will be your advocate down the line. Hannah’s story was my story a decade ago. It’s not easy. It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to see others have things and not have the same. It’s hard to decide “I can have this, but not that” over and over when we’re bombarded with notions of must-have items and experiences that cost a lot of money. I hated the idea of Sex and the City because I was in Carrie’s industry when the show was most popular and there was no way I could afford her lifestyle or shoes, nor have her social freedom(s). I feel that show set up a lot of young girls with unrealistic expectations about so much. I know the reality is difficult. I would just suggest that the reality is much more rewarding in the long term if you stick with it. I wish you both success and good luck. 

  • Guerrero Joanna

    I totally agree with you… My parents didnt help me after college. But I know what it is to start at 35k and try to survive living in NYC… not so easy.

  • Ginny

    In response to the article and recent comment, I stand by Emily’s choice to go to G.W. despite the price.  I am in theatre, a profession also known for not being lucrative, and chose to go to a similarly priced school.  I can’t speak for Emily, but I am around her age and know that the decision made directly out of highschool is very complicated.  I feel arts related jobs are just as difficult to break into and the pressure to connect your name with a prominent university is as important these days as other industries.  I was personally told by teachers that my liberal arts education was well worth the loans and would give me a well rounded education: which is did, and I wouldn’t trade it in even with my debt.

    I do feel however that financial seminars should be more accessible or required in high schools when looking for college options.  I may have made a better decision with a clearer understanding of the nature of loans.

    All in all, it’s not our fault the economy is making things so difficult.  I feel for you, Emily!  I’m also in NYC and in the same boat.  We can do it!  Congratulations on finding a job!:)

  • http://twitter.com/tbarrios47 Tanya Barrios

    I completely relate and am going through the same thing right now. 6th floor walk up, student loans and ridiculous hours. Sounds about right!

  • fridayrant

    As a 28 year old born and raised in Brooklyn, this show and lifestyle is an embarrassment. I’ve lived on my own for 10 years, did the random job thing, paid for my own bachelor’s degree and rent by living the NYC way…hustling my ass from job to job, which if you’re smart can create connections and a skill set for a desirable career. This new “Gen Y” monster is such an instant gratification culture it makes me want to hide, just so I can avoid interaction with them. There’s nothing wrong with help from family and friends, but we were given two feet …to stand on. (This is not directed at you Emily, I’m glad you’ve found your niche, just a rant about my delusional gen y peers)

  • http://twitter.com/SarahTaylor Sarah Taylor

    Yep, Girls is definitely my life and my girlfriends lives. 

  • Britt

    I can sympathize with this a bit.  I moved to NYC right after college and started a full time job for $27k with no benefits.  I moved wayyyyy out into Brooklyn, didn’t spend too much money on going out and eventually started saving.  Living paycheck to paycheck is tough.  Actually living in NYC can be tough, but there are so many opportunties.  I’ve since started making a little bit more money, but it looks like i’ll have to change jobs soon if I want to keep my life headed where I want.

  • Miss Independent

    I am a Single Mom who raised her child with no child support and no help for necessities.  I did not eat when there was only enough food for my child, I had to wait until she ate her fill and if there was a chicken nugget left and two french fries I felt lucky, if there was nothing left I went to bed with out anything to eat.  I did without most wants and some every day things that would be considered needs by most people.  A winter coat,(I dressed in layers), snow boots (I walked around with wet feet) because every year my child grew and needed these items more then I did.  Now, that child is Nineteen years old and attending College.  In order to have a roof over her head and necessities this adult child will have to live at home.  I, and I am sure other parents agree, am not helping her pay her rent.  I was told, after I graduated high school (171/2) it was time to go out on my own and support myself.  I have no problem with my daughter staying at my home until she is able to support herself and if the first, second, third, etc, time out she fails, I have no problem with her coming back home, but I do have a problem with her living away from home and thinking I am picking up the bill on what she cannot afford to do for herself. Life is about sacrifice.  Parenthood is about sacrifice, so get use to it know so it is not a surprise later in life when and if you decide to start a family. 

    • Eslineo

      Not to put you down, some advise you could give her is to have a child when she is not only emotinally mature but hopefully in a better financial position.

      • be kind

        In the history of the world, babies don’t necessarily come along when everything is in place.  I admire “Miss Independent” for being realistic and a survivor.

        • ranavain

           I agree with Eslineo. People seem to think that having a child is not a financial decision. I grew up poor, and let me tell you, it sucks. If you can’t provide basics for a kid, you shouldn’t be having one, period, and people shouldn’t be treating you like a hero when you clearly had a child for selfish reasons (ie, anything other than “I know I can give this child a really good life.”)

          • Miss Independent

            Dear Ranavain,

            My child had and has every need fulfilled.  She has a loving mother, good warm clothing and shoes, a roof over her head and never misses or ever missed a meal.  I went without needs, not my child.  I am no hero, I am a parent.  My daughter would and will tell you and any one else who would ask, she has and had a good life.  My daughter feels very priviledged to live at home and attend the College of her choice since many of her friends don’t have that option.  I simply do not chose to financially support her as an adult living outside of my home.    

          • ranavain

             Miss Independent: Sorry, I didn’t mean to direct my comment right at you, just more at this attitude in general. But I still take issue with what you say. A child that routinely sees their parents starving or suffering while having their “needs” met is not a child whose needs are met. Children are observant. I’m sure she appreciates everything you did for her, but watching a parent not eat is torturous. Seeing your own parents put their health at risk for you their whole life has a significant physiological toll. Not to mention that as a child I hid any physical ailments I had that would have meant going to the doctor… because I knew that I would just be sucking money out of the family and feel AWFUL about it. Meeting needs is a bare minimum. I don’t think parents should pay rent for their kids, but they should be able to provide a semblance of “normal.”

        • Miss Independent

          Dear be kind,

          Thank you honey, for your kind words.  I raised my daughter to be intelligent, kind, empathetic as well as Independent.

      • Miss Independent

        Dear Eslineo,

        I firmly believe that these women should not be supported by their parents outside of living at home during hard financial times.  I think their parents are doing their adult children and themselves a disservice.  Parents have already sacrificed their time, their dreams, and their resources to bring these young ladies to adulthood.  The young lady in the story had emergency help from her parents for two months and then had to figure it out for herself.  My daughter and I discuss life as we would like it and then life as it is.  I discuss with my adult child if she was in the position that a recession, a divorce, a layoff, even bad financial planning meant she did not have enough food in the house for her to eat she knows beyond a doubt that she can come home every night for a meal, with a child or without a child.  (I only lived three blocks from my mothers home at the time.)  I am not the only parent who believes that an adult child, out of school and moved out of her parents home, should finance her own life.  Moms Kitchen is always open for a meal.  Moms home always has an available room when life socks knocks off her feet.

  • Amber

    Thanks Emily for being so open and honest. It sounds like you are working really hard to get your financial life together. I’ve never seen the show, but I think this message of reality needs to be relayed to all college students who are thinking about just living off of student loans.

  • Rick_millward

    I told my children that they could stay at my house until I was 99 yrs old and then they had to get out!  Takes 9 months to have them and a lifetime of taking care of them; I on’t mind since I see this as my role as a parent/father/friend.

    • Eslineo

      So if your kids do nothing most of  their life. What are they to do when you turn 99?

  • KA

    I just don’t understand how the whole Sex & the City phenomenon grew legs.
    [In addition to their whole standard of living being unbelievable] the
    characters were already in their 30s when the show started! Meaning they had a decade + to be broke and hustling their way to any kind of reasonable lifestyle. Did this part of the equation occur to none of the now struggling 20-something girls who moved here in search of their HBO fantasies?

  • cait

    I hoped LearnVest would focus more on truly independent young women who are financially independent and how to best achieve their financial goals – by themselves. Maybe I’m harsh, but arguing with your parents each month about why you deserve for them to pay your phone bill is not an adult, independent conversation to have, and it bugs me to see it being defended and even celebrated in shows and articles like this. Focus on real financial independence, LearnVest!

    • Awstobber75

      Beautifully said! LearnVest is more disappointing by the day. Useless.

  • CB

    What is the thesis of this article? It gives no insight into how she, an entry-level 20-something, is surviving in New York (which would be wildly helpful, not to mention relevant). Nor does it mention how she manages to budget the onset of her student loan repayments. And I’m not even clear on whether her parent’s actually cut her off, which is the very topic that this article presumes to be about. LearnVest article headlines always entice me with the promise of financial insight, only to read meandering fluff by a financially babied upper-middle-class white girl. That said, it’s pretty clear why she relates to Girls. 

    • Pyoungtlc

      EXACTLY. I love the tools that LearnVest provides, but the articles need to step it up. Anyone remember the one about paying off her student/cc debt in some ridiculously short time? And the secret was have a great job and have your parents pay a big lump of it as a gift. I mean….really.

  • WL

    I only partially understand this issues addressed in this narrative.  I think it’s perfectly fine for young women (and men) to accept some form of assistance from their families when they are starting out, particularly if their families have the means and they are willing. 

    What I don’t understand is the absolute obsession my generation has with NYC.  NY has always been a destination for 20 somethings, but it seems more true now than ever.  I know that NY can offer some great opportunities, but they come at a steep price.  Long hours, a poor standard of living, and plenty of financial and professional risks.  These days there are plenty of other desireable urban locations with lots of job opportunities (and less competition!).  Besides, plenty of companies have moves offices out of NY in favor of more affordable places like Austin, Nashville, and Charlotte.  It just seems so so unwise to gamble with your future like that just so you can say you are living in New York (even if it’s Brooklyn and not Manhattan).

  • JennX

    I agree with Cait.  I have been on my own since I was 17.  Even when I was laid off 3 years ago from my law firm job (which I took because I – not my parents – needed to repay my school loans) and couldn’t find work for 1 year and a half while supporting a $1650 apartment, I was on my own.  I can’t see my parents ever supporting me because I chose to work in a city I could not afford to live in and chose a job that didn’t pay my bills. I’d prefer to see more grounded advice here.  And my advice to the writer – appreciate that your parents are supporting you while you pursue your dreams.  That’s a privilege, not an entitlement, and many people don’t have that privilege.

  • edie212

    This is not directed at the author, whose honesty is refreshing, but at the general phenomenon–does no one’s parents discuss this stuff with them? When I started looking at colleges my parents sat me down for a very frank conversation about what they could pay for me to go to school (thanks Mom and Dad a million times over!), what I would be expected to cover, and the fact that post-college they couldn’t afford to help me out except for emergency assistance, so I knew exactly what to expect. Maybe more parents and kids should just talk about money–when kids are heading off to college they should be old enough to start talking about these things and understanding. 

  • Kgal1298

    I think some people get mad at people getting assistance. I don’t because I like my friends and I don’t want to hate them, but some people see it as lazy, but the economy is hard. In 08 I was a mess all over the place then in early 2010 I moved to LA with very very little money and struggled for a couple years at one point crashing with a friend who did financially help me out without him I’d probably had been living in a box, but hey you do what you have to do to survive even use people and it sucks, but eventually it gets better and you work hard and you go up the ladder and eventually you can support yourself and thats when all that crappy stuff that happened and all the help you took really makes you appreciate what you had because you don’t necessarily want help, but you take it cause your not stupid enough to totally go broke and that’s what people don’t get is that sometimes you have to rely on others for help suck it up and accept it. 

    • MissV in NYC

      Wow, some English grammar classes would’ve been very useful.

      • nikki

        I was thinking the same thing, MissV.  This kind of writing, or lack therof, is, unfortunately, ubiquitous.  And, just gets increasingly more irritating and worse.  YET, YET, it is these kinds of people who have jobs, where I am suffering from interminable unemployment.  These idiots have not retained elementary school grammar, yet they can pay THEIR rent and I am in foreclosure.  Really?

  • Tiffanytroutman44

    Not trying to be hater….but don’t move to NYC….

    • JennX

      Exactly – we’re not all entitled to live where we like and do what we like if we don’t have the money for it.

  • rika

    How are you able to watch the other episodes (aside from the free pilot) without having HBO or cable?  PS: The show is totally relatable!

    • ranavain

       Probably illegally. HBO is really, really dumb in that you can’t legally watch their shows unless you pay for cable. It’s not a business strategy that will work out well in the long run…

      • aembee

        While I agree that not being able to watch premium-cable shows is incredibly irritating, you can’t say that a network that’s been around since the ’70s and built its reputation on superb, cutting-edge programming doesn’t have a good business strategy.

        • ranavain

           LOL, fair point. Though I disagree, because I WANT to give them my money to watch Game of Thrones, and they don’t have a way to take it. :(

  • Eslineo

    There is nothing wrong with staying at home. It is just preferable the relationship be symbiotic vs parasitic.

  • jacquemarieg

    ‘Girls,’ I love this show, but not for the reason one may think.  As a 23 year-old girl who has paid for everything since she was 18 and haven’t had a cent from my parents, I can’t relate to these characters at all.  What does draw me to it however, is how truthful it is about the fact that living above your means just doesn’t work.  
    I consider myself a fairly successful young women, but I do have to make sacrifices; one of those being my admittedly over- romanticized views of post graduate life: (1) graduate (2) find a job on the west coast, that would be extremely easy not many people have their Master’s Degrees by the age of 22 I’d impress them all for sure…not to worry about the rent $2000 for a shoe box in San Francisco, would work out okay, I knew it! (3) I would have the twenty-something experience of a life-time.  False.  1 year after graduation and I’m living in Texas and still barely able to afford my very minimalist lifestyle, but I’m happy and I feel financially secure…I still have student debt, and will for a while, but I’m in a place that I can manage it.

    I allowed myself to go to the dreamland many kids of my generation do, the dreamland where we think things absolutely will work out – where there’s a will there’s a way.  The show ‘Girls’ illustrates how that isn’t reality at all.  I’m not saying that the show is 100% truthful (I really don’t think that Hannah would still be living with her roommate right now if it was), I’m just saying that it shows when you set these ambitious expectations for your life without any financial back-up, things crumble.  

    If anything I think that girls who do relate to this show as their lives should probably wake-up to the message being relayed: “SLAP YOURSELF BACK INTO REALITY, LADIES! YOUR DREAM LIFE ISN’T GOING TO WORK-OUT UNLESS YOU SACRIFICE GLAMOUR NOW!”

    As a twenty-something digging yourself into deeper debt just to live out your romantic fantasy is NOT WORTH IT!  I’m not saying to ditch your dreams, just postpone them for a bit, and look for work anywhere! Be scrappy, do what you have to do to get rid of your debt and know that if you have $200,000 in student loans…NYC just isn’t the place to help you get out of that whole.

    Nothing in life comes free.  If you want something you have to work for it, which requires sacrifice, not just shear will.

  • Wesblueyes

    I am 24 and independent. Yes, the economy is hard. That is why my mother makes minimum wage, my father’s unemployed and they both have been in and out of work since I was in college. They have it hard enough taking care of my elementary aged siblings. It is a real privilege these girls have to have financial support in their 20s. Yes, it would be nice to live in a city, instead of a small town with very few people my age, but it has allowed me to support myself within my means. I know there are plenty of people living off their parents, but there are many more who don’t have that option. 

    • mlpenner

      Agreed 100%! I know plenty of 20-somethings who get help not because they need it, but because they want a nicer lifestyle, and their parents are fine with supporting that. I know married people in their upper 20s who are still on their parents family plan, and the parents actually defend it. Shouldn’t they be learning to live within their means? Learning to support themselves? I just don’t know. It’s that sort of behavior that makes me very frustrated. 

  • Nathalie

    1)  Please don’t forget that SATC is about successful women in their mid 30s with established careers.  They, allegedly, also had to starve in their 20s (there is an episode where Carrie talks about being in her 20s and skipping dinner to afford her Vogue magazine) so don’t ditch your SATC dreams just yet!  it will probably take years before your Girls life  becomes SATC (although gotta say that Carrie managed her finances terribly)
    2) Although NYC is a great city, it is, in my opinion, a mistake to start your career here if your salary is low as you won’t be able to pay your student loans faster and most of your salary will go in rent and city taxes. Yes, there is the appeal of New York, but there are other great cities for young people with better standards of living or at least cheaper rent and lower taxes (Philly, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Seattle and many others), so don’t complain about being too poor if you are choosing NYC. It’s all about choices. 

  • Rak

    No sympathy here.  I grew up lower-middle class (Long Island native) and lived in a series of undesirable places until I was nearly 40.  Now, I have a fine job and live in beautiful Colorado and own property that will be paid off in 10 years because my husband and I saved a ton of money living in those crappy places.  Either move to a pseudo-city like Des Moines or quit whining.