The young people with whom I spent Saturday and Sunday are part of a volunteer corps in Washington, D.C. (I’m on a board that supports it) and are counseling the jobless, attending to rape crisis hotlines, translating medical forms for Spanish-speaking people who need the services of mobile health clinics and otherwise working to improve the lot of others. They are from diverse parts of the country — Washington state to North Carolina — and they want to go on to be doctors, clinical psychologists and social workers, to name a few. As they prepare for graduate programs or more work in their field, they are living simply and taking care of each other. I know they are not typical. But then neither are the girls on Girls, and that’s my point.
Dunham’s foursome on the HBO dramedy more and more seems like an occasionally humorous hot mess of a group. I believe they are real because their experiences are universal. We’ve all fallen for the wrong (between apartments) guy, or been bitingly mean to a man who was our mistake, or failed miserably at socializing with the ex and his new love, or even sat in a bathtub with a good friend when she was super sad, all of which happened in Sunday’s episode. But I also believe most young people are emerging into adulthood somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. They are less self-obsessed and indulgent than the NYC Girls foursome but also less altruistic and focused than my D.C. five. They are probably falling in love, going through bad breakups, struggling with loneliness and homesickness, dealing with difficult bosses in first jobs that may hold little interest for them while figuring out how to pay the bills. They are forming new friendships, finding new mentors and accumulating life lessons as fast as they slurp down bottles of cheap wine. I hope, however, that they also are having the time of their lives because our 20s shape who we are so much more than we know while we are in them.