Boys Who Talk About Girls: The Show Just Doesn't Get Guys Right

Illustration for article titled Boys Who Talk About Girls: The Show Just Doesn't Get Guys Right

Welcome back to Boys Who Talk About Girls, where we interview regular men who are part of the show's target demographic and don't write for the Internet for a living about the show Girls. We get them to speak candidly about sex and relationships publicly in a manner that most men don't, which is to say, in a way that will either instill hope or utter despair, such as it is.



This week's interviewee is a man who we'll call Sean. He's 29, lives in L.A., and is a radiologist.

Good morning, Sean! It's 4:30 AM where you live. How the hell are you talking to me about Girls right now?

I work at a hospital, I'm on-call for a graveyard shift. I watched it on HBO Go.

When we first emailed, you explained that you once dated a girl who lived in Brooklyn. Did you live there?

I didn't live there, but I dated a girl who did. I lived in the midwest. It was a long-distance relationship, but I've been in LA for a year, now.

Safe to say it didn't work out?

Nope. I'm single.

So, what do you think of Girls? You told me you had a specific experience vis-a-vis one of the characters-and we'll get there-but on the whole, does it ring true to you?


Yeah, it rings very true, but the male characters are not as realistic in everything I seen [as the female characters]. For one thing, the dialogue between the guys doesn't seem to be realistic. As a gender, I think the guys are coming off pretty poorly in terms of the way they're depicted.

To be fair, we come off pretty poor in reality, too.

Do we? There's that line from this week spoken by the friend of the father whose kids Jessa babysits, how she has "Brigitte Bardot's face and Rihanna's ass." I've never made a comment like that to my friends, in terms of how a girl is attractive.


Right. I've never taken the time to break a woman down into approximated cuts of meat.

It doesn't need to be said, it's not a realistic thing. If he said that to us, we'd both know that the guy was a jackass. Similarly with the boss who was very touchy, and obviously that guy Adam, who is awful.


You don't think bosses sexually harass women like that?

I'm sure it happens, but do they speak like that?

I wouldn't rule anything out, but I get what you're saying. So, opening scene, Hannah gets sent a picture of Adam's dick. You ever sent a girl a picture of your dick?


I have never even considered it. Have you?

Can't say I have.

Right? Never. I was thinking about that when I was watching it. It's the permanence of it. I guess it goes without saying, but just because you're letting them see your penis temporarily doesn't mean you're not doing it permanently. If there was a way to send them only temporarily and then disappear, however, I think people would be doing that a lot.


Would you?

I don't know.

I never really understood the appeal of photo-sexting, besides my own horror of compartmentalized body parts. It's too science-y?


Yeah, but it's kind of, like, symbolic of commitment. If you're willing to trust someone with a photo like that, knowing that they would have the power to make that, you know, make you look like an idiot? I wouldn't want a girl to send me a picture of herself, but I wouldn't want her to feel as if she couldn't trust me to do it, either. It could represent a new sort of vow or commitment practice. You know that in middle school, that's what they do now? They give each other their Facebook passwords, just so they don't have any secrets. Maybe that's what adults should do, to entrust each other with every piece of potential blackmail. I think that'd be of great significance: if a girl sent a picture of her naked, as if she trusts me with with that, and I make her feel good about being able to do that.

This touches upon the diary of Hannah's read by men at the end of the episode, which we'll get to. But, wait a second: Middle school kids actually do that?


Oh, yeah. I'm forgetting if I read it or heard it on NPR. [Ed. This is actually a thing.] The kids the reporter was talking to felt if they couldn't trust each other with their passwords, then they weren't at the level they wanted to be with their relationships.

Christ. They're in eighth grade.

Well, I've been in relationships where I've had access to passwords for everything and I've never felt the inclination to go through someone's stuff, or their journal. Again, one way the show is off in its characterization of guys.


Or maybe the type of guys they're characterizing (like those who would identify with the show). I was in two relationships where my girlfriend went through my email. One was imperiled at the time, the other wasn't (at least, superficially). You don't think if your relationship was in some sort of tumoltuous phase, you would be able to resist the urge to use those passwords?

That's a different situation. If you're in a relationship where you don't trust each other and your really need to know what's going on, then...yeah, I might. I suppose there are definitely circumstance where it's warranted. But: Definitely a grey area.


Have you ever heard of this site, Is Anyone Up?

Yeah, I have. I think I read about it on Gawker. But I haven't gone to it.


It's shut down, now, but I'm sure something like it still exists. But if you got sent a nude picture, how much do you trust yourself with them? I'd figure it'd be better to delete them as soon as possible. Would you keep it?

I would definitely keep it. And I have kept them. I've gotten a couple.

I wouldn't. This is just my theory, but I think a lot of guys (especially young guys) will experience at least once the kind of heartbreak that makes them, to some extent, totally fucking irrational-moreso than I've seen in women, who handle those things with far more poise-such as heartbreak is want to do. But the male ego generally isn't prepared for it. Hence, sites where you can vindictively send in nude photos you were once sent in confidence.


I've only been heartbroken once to the degree you're describing. That usually comes out of being wronged, not just not being cared for or not having someone like you back. Having someone lie to you, cheat on you, or cheat you terribly in some way. In terms of retribution or going about feeling better about that whole situation, it's gonna sound bad to say it, but I think there are situations where I think that'd be a just form of payback. Do you agree with me or think that is awful?

I wouldn't employ the idea of justice here, personally, but I can understand the thought process behind it (even if it's an irrational one).


You obviously want to say no. Like I said, I would never, but I could totally see that.

When you were sent nude pictures, were you turned on by them?

No. But it felt good. In every case, it felt like she was trying to impress me, which is usually not that attractive of a quality.


How's that?

Well, with this specific dynamic, that's not the case. In other words: More important than the photo itself is what was said when the photo was sent. It's more about the gesture.


This episode was bookended with exposures. Hannah was sent the nude photograph of Adam accidentally, and sent him one back. She finally opens up to Adam as to how she feels about their "relationship" at the end of the episode. Marnie's boyfriend Charlie also reads Hannah's diary, and is exposed to one view of his relationship, and then shows Marnie that he, her boyfriend, knows she feels this way. Or at least, that Hannah feels this way about Marnie's feelings. You told me before we spoke that you'd been in Charlie's role before.

I definitely have been and that's why I initially related to it. I think we all have. It's a self-propagating cycle. It just becomes worse and worse as the relationship becomes more unequal.


Unequal how?

One person being more into a relationship than the other, and the other resenting their lack of freedom more and more, and that only makes the other half try harder, when their trying so hard is the issue. But as for Marnie and Charlie's relationship: that's a relationship where I don't understand her motive for not breaking up with him. I don't understand why she continues to date him.


Maybe fear, which keeps a lot of people together past their expiration date.

I wonder about that. I've never been an attractive girl in New York City, but I'd imagine a girl like that would feel opportunity to meet and date other guys. If you mean fear of not finding someone as good...


Or fear of being alone. Or fear of being without someone you've spent so much time with, someone who's so much a part of your life after some time.

Yeah, for a lot of people it would be, but for a young, attractive, cool-enough person in a populated city...I don't know if it would be that same fear that drives a couple in rural Iowa to not get a divorce.


I once read that the ratio of women to men in New York was something like 3:1.

Huh. I should spend more time in New York. My best guess is that she's sort of, of this habit-the relationship-and they've been dating since college and just doesn't know what to do. But Marnie seems strong-willed in other aspects of her life, so it just seems like she needs to take the initiative here, unless he does. Which it now seems like he might.


It does seem as if he took the first shot (in fantastic, Flight of the Conchords-esque fashion, might I add).

I was wondering if he didn't already suspect it, which I guess it seemed like he didn't. If I were him, I wouldn't have been shocked.


There seems to be quite a few tell-tale indicators.

In the previous episodes, he always seemed to be more self-aware of their relationship, while she took her discontent out in the form of passive-aggressive anger towards him.


That's not unfamiliar.

It might just be who I am, but I'm always speaking with the women I'm in relationships with pretty directly in problematic situations, and wanting to talk openly about everything. That's always my role. I feel like that's atypical for guys, especially on television (hence, the relatability of Charlie). If I had to speculate, I'd say women raising issues in a relationship is more common than men looking for structure or calling out issues in a relationship. At least culturally. I could be wrong.


Well, I think the tendency of men towards introspection in a relationship is, on a cultural scale, in a weirdly reactive state.

Yeah, absolutely. It's the problem of our generation of men: This pseudo-alpha movement of guys like us who were raised on Dawson's Creek and Boyz 2 Men, who are trying to be, you know, John Wayne or Don Draper. When they're not.


But they're trying for a reason.

Because we know, now, that a lot of women don't want that overbearing introspection or "sensitivity." This idea of gender neutrality vis-a-vis emotions is being put on hold and reversed at the moment. I think right now, among our generation, is an awareness of being something that when we were younger was considered brutish or disrespectful, even. Misogyny dressed as machismo. Something you might sort of joke about, but you didn't really take seriously.


It's like Jason Lee's "deep dicking" monologue from Chasing Amy. A lot of men are concerned about manning up.

It's a fine line, to be advocating that sort of stuff. I totally understand it. In the third episode, the line where, what's he say? "I might scare you because I'm a man, and I know how to do things." I was wincing when I heard that, because I thought: There are going to be so many idiots who try to act like that's them, and they don't know that there's a right place and time for those words, if that. Or they don't actually have what's implied by those works.


And what's that?

He had complete control of knowing how Marnie was going to react when he said it, and a lot of guys could say that and be out of their league.


What about Shoshanna-who went to Camp Ramah, of course-and the guy who won't have sex with her because she's a virgin?

Yeah! That was another moment in the show that just made me wince. I hope that's unrealistic, for some guy to roll over, and just be so....dispassionate. Or unfeeling.


In the context of her, or him?

Him. I don't know how people feel about having sex with virgins, but he's so cold and stereotypically cold, at that. It was another reminder that the men on the show are just caricatures.


It's funny, the most fleshed out character is Charlie, who Marnie wants nothing of right now. All the men who have stuck around are distinctly two-dimensional.

No, that's scary, but I can kind of see it. I mean,god, if that's what she's driving at with all of this, it would not be inaccurate to some girls, to kind of see men as just as two-dimensional accessories.


I'm reminded of that girl who brought the cutout of Tim Tebow to prom with her.

Yeah, I feel like I do know women who see it that way, and certainly men who feel that way about women. The difference is that the women are written so insightfully; at the very least, someone like Hannah would not see the world or men in that way.


Speaking of Hannah, why do you think she went back to Adam after telling him that it was over? I really thought she was going to hold out.

I mean, the scene was funny if anything for the eyebrow gag.

Agreed. That was a great piece of comedy.

But I wrote down her line, it stuck out so much: "I just want someone who wants to have sex with me all the time and thinks I'm awesome and only wants to hang out with me." I did have this sort of feeling that her conviction was going to break. To be honest, I never understood what it was that drew her to him, or why you'd ever want to be around someone like Adam, much less want to have sex with them.


I've known a lot of girls who get into things like that. It's mostly to occupy time. But I don't think any casual sex relationship can ever be just that. I think, as with anything, but especially anything with anything remotely resembling consistancy, you begin to form ideas about it, and you eventually end up confronting those ideas. Consistent casual sex seems inherently oxymoronic.

That'd be a point of contention for some people, but I agree with you (that there's no such thing as a casual sex relationship). In this case, she's portrayed him as a character without redeeming qualities to the extent where it doesn't seem believable to any degree. Then again, maybe we're overanalyzing caricatures. I guess we assume she finds him physically attractive. Even though it is weird, she doesn't seem to enjoy the sex that they have, and she never leaves his place happy. It also could be a need for his approval.


But Hannah seemed to be happy in last night's episode.

Yeah. True.

He offered her compassion. His slightly sadistic form of compassion, but compassion.


And yeah, real relationships can grow out of those situations.

Shitty situations.

I've seen them be shitty for a long time and then turn out to be okay. I think the complexity that keeps some relationships from being boring is often negative and looks terrible to the outside, but at least people are outwardly expressing what apparently outwardly happy couples might be repressing.


So from the things Charlie is experiencing now, that you experienced, what happened? What'd you take away?

It was that dynamic of attention and approval. When you like someone, you want them to give you approval. We had our reckoning, and after that, I just tried to be more cold, or, not cold, but aloof. And you really just can't.


It's difficult to operate counter-intuitively to our hard-wiring.

And I just don't think we should try to. I think there are enough girls out there who'd be happy with a guy who is overtly caring and who speaks candidly about his feelings, that we should just be who we are, and hold out. That said, I'm single, but I refuse to play the games, like, you know: The Game. If what you're asking of yourself to find and maintain a relationship with a woman doesn't come naturally to you, it's probably-probably-really stupid.


Finally, let's talk about Jessa this week, who continues her adventures in nannying. Any thoughts?

She had the line about the weirdest part of having a job being that you have to be there every day. She seems so worldly, and at other moments, says things like that, which plays her as totally sheltered. Also, she says to the kids when she pulls them away from their dad and his friend, the perv: "A woman should know when she's not wanted." She's at times both tottally empowered and then, basically anti-Feminist.


It rings true. Anybody who goes to the lengths Jessa does to outwardly project something about themselves is usually, in my experience, obscuring something.

It's a reflection of those ideas we just talked about, the gender power hierarchy, where women "should" be subordinate to men. It reminded me of Ayn Rand, as she would always characterize women's desires as tied to some kind of domination by the men.


Yeah, that whole John Galt bullshit: An industrialist, with a big dick.

Right, and that's sort of a similar feel that I've gotten from Jessa.

I wouldn't be surprised to see her, The Wild One, end up in the most traditional relationship out of all of the characters on the show.


It'll be interesting if she gets an opportunity to sleep with the dad of the kids she babysits, and I'd love it if he denied her. But based on the characters we've seen, I don't think we're going to see it happen. Based on what we've seen, I think she'll probably fall into it.

Apparently, The Cheating Park Slope Dad is a whole thing.

It doesn't surprise me.

Any final thoughts?

One thing: Charlie reading Hannah's notebook. I remembered that feeling of being friends with a girlfriend's friends, feeling as if you really have a substantial friendship with them. And then you find out that they've said similar things to the girl you're dating, or just generally disapprove of the relationship in one way or another. That's it's own kind of pretty shitty feeling of betrayal, how you immediately lose the friends of your girlfriends. Because their allegiance is ultimately to their friend who is the girl.


That lesson may be "play your part."

Yeah, I learned that the hard way. Yet I still have an overly idealistic belief that you can end relationships, and everyone can still be on good terms.


Here's hoping Charlie makes it Season 2.

I've had it work.

Foster Kamer is a senior editor at the New York Observer. Are you a boy who watches Girls? Give him a shout.



Um, so I admittedly haven't watched Girls (because I like my female friendships on TV served with a heaping helping of vampires, fairies, or other supernatural beasties. And I don't have HBO), offense, Foster and Sean, I'm sure you're totally nice guys, but here, you definitely come across more like Nice Guys (TM). "Oh my heavens! Men objectify women and make nasty comments on their bodies and harass them? I would NEVER do such a thing! I am a Sensitive, Caring Guy! These experiences simply don't fit with my worldview, so I'm going to dismiss them as unrealistic!" I could name the guys I know who DON'T do that kind of thing on one hand-yeah, even the "nice ones." So pardon me if I find those bits of the article more than a tad disingenuous.

Also, excuse me for not feeling too bad for Teh Menz that ONE show (allegedly) has unrealistic male characters/develops female characters at the expense of male characters when, you know, 95% of all the rest of television shows in existence since the beginning of the medium have done that to their female characters. So please, gentlemen-continue to enlighten us girls with your pearls of wisdom about one of the only female-centric, woman-written shows on television. After all, we don't posses penises, so we can't possibly understand how HARD it is to see people of our gender unfairly represented in the media! Oh, wait...