How to Cope With the Loss of Your Favorite TV Show
A ‘Girls’-obsessed millennial wonders what her life will be like without it.
Friendships end. Success requires compromise. Most people you know probably have HPV. I left the college bubble, moved into my own home, and began real jobs—started adult life, basically—bookended by Girls‘ 2012 pilot and last night’s 2017 finale. I’ve been assessing the new and unfamiliar phases of my life via lessons from the show. I reference things that happen on Girls as if they’re my own experiences, as if they’re real. I diagnose friends’ levels of narcissism (and my own) based on the characters (at our best, we’re Shoshanna, who can’t shut the fuck up but probably has something valuable to say; at our worst, we’re Marnie, who thinks rock bottom is pawning the necklace she got for her sweet sixteen).
After six years of a Girls-centric approach to life, I need to know: Why is it so real to me? And how will I cope now that the show is over?
I’ve formed a “parasocial,” or one-sided, relationship, says Janina Scarlet, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Superhero Therapy. “For many of us, when we’re struggling, we might find fictional characters that we relate to that either resemble something similar that we’re going through, allowing us to cope with our own difficulties, or allowing us to laugh,” Scarlet says. “When TV shows or fictional characters die, we might experience real loss or actual grief and sadness because we’ve grown to be so attached to these characters that might represent comfort and safety especially if they helped us through really difficult times or important milestones.”
Over six years, we’ve seen the Girls girls’ often misguided attempts to navigate adulthood; they’ve thrown dinner parties, gotten married, or fucked successful artists. They’ve blindly followed the definitions of success that they’ve created for themselves. They seem to have a total lack of self-reflection, which, for most of the show, keeps them self-centered and naively self-destructive; they are children living in a world of adults. I related to it every step of the way.
“When you see yourself [in a show], it can give you something to compare your own experiences to, or make you feel like you’re not alone in this,” Melanie Greenberg, clinical psychologist and author of The Stress-Proof Brain, tells me. “It could make you feel less shame if you have embarrassing experiences or flaws. It could lead to self-compassion, and recognition that this is part of the human condition.”
When I ask Scarlet just how unhealthy my dependence on Girls has been, she asks in return: “What does the show function to do? If it helps you to feel less alone and feel more connected, and it allows you to focus on things that are meaningful to you, then it’s functional. If your interests are getting in the way of you having a social life, then it’s dysfunctional.”
Based on her assessment, my relationship with the show was relatively functional, as it turns out. But that doesn’t help with the question of who I’ll be without any episodes in my future. “What is it you’d be looking for in another show?” she asks when as I wonder what to do sans Girls. “What are you looking to recreate? What kind of connection are you seeking?”
I want to be a real human who pays bills and doesn’t kill plants, who doesn’t sort-of-hate most of my friends, who doesn’t wear her fatal flaws on her sleeve, who can have a calm conversation with someone I know voted for Trump. The show’s finale is open-ended, but we can rest assured that the girls have begun to dabble with self-awareness, forgiveness, independence, womanhood. And so must I, but without my parasocial life.