Just one of the GIRLS

Why graduating college is, and isn’t, the worst thing that’s ever happened to me

It’s relatively easy to watch GIRLS when you’re a sophomore in college. The safety of seeing two years ahead of you and the ability to define your success by summer internships and on-campus leadership positions makes the fact that Hannah is still interning for no pay at age 24 seem impossible, or very sad. I remember thinking, when I first started watching the HBO series in 2012, I’ll be fine.

When you’re a recent college graduate, though, the GIRLS girls’ professional and personal lives seem a little more realistic.

I am a reluctant Hannah—a writer with experience but no clear sense of how to make the next step. I rose to the top of my campus newspaper’s editorial board and spent my summers working hard to impress bosses at media companies. But I’m not sure what to do now that I’ve left my liberal arts college and entered the greater publishing world—besides submit, submit, submit. Or, *shudder*, network.

Anyone who wants to write knows that getting published is pretty difficult without connections. You either have to complete an internship, or ten, or have an important uncle who works at Condé Nast if you want to see your name in print or online. Those for whom none of those things are realities go to graduate school.

Should I have applied? I wonder constantly. People keep telling me that experience will eventually trump any further institutionalized education I could receive, but in the world of GIRLS, getting a degree seems like an easy antidote to failure, or obscurity. Hannah, recently accepted to the prestigious and highly selective Iowa Writers’ Workshop, might finally have a chance to practice her craft, rather than continue writing advertorials for GQ—“the biggest squanderization of talent” she has ever experienced.

Hannah’s position differs from mine in that I’d take the GQ job, at least for now, to expand my portfolio and start saving up for my first apartment. I have yet to find a full-time position and still live at home, while most of my friends from college have either accepted postgraduate positions or are moving soon to begin their job searches in unfamiliar places. I’m not quite there yet.

I capped off my English major with a senior seminar on the bildungsroman, or the novel of development (which high school teachers often conflate with the “coming of age novel”). While my peers and I were unable to pin down a single definition for bildung after reading everyone from Dickens to Joyce, we generally agreed that leaving home and fulfilling one’s vocation are central to the process. Sure, I’ve come of age, but insofar as moving out and getting a good job define development, it seems like my bildung is on hold.

What’s even scarier to me than my living situation and stagnant career is the fact that the closest connections I’ve formed to date are now scattered, and may very well become strained by distance. Hannah, Marnie and Jessa—all former Oberlin classmates—live within a mile radius of one another and constantly spend time together. I might not see some of my college friends until our first class reunion. After four years of living among fewer than 2,000 fellow students, the idea of not running into 10 friends on any given stroll seems unreal.

College forces you to break ties with high school friends in order to become socially integrated. Pining after the people who made me feel safe during high school complicated my adaptation to college life as a first-semester freshman. I doubted the genuineness of my new friendships because they had not endured the temporal and emotional tests of my previous relationships. In short, they were new; I wanted to return to what was familiar. I know now, after four years, that my best college friendships will be the most enduring and influential of my life, whereas most of the high school ties I once considered unbreakable have disintegrated over time, for various reasons. College turned some people I once knew into more extreme versions of themselves, barely recognizable in caricature. Some became different people entirely as they progressed through college—breaking with bad habits, or finding a thrill in new vices. Others simply lost touch.

I recognize that distance alone doesn’t end relationships, but it has the potential to change them. I’m also not the person I was when I graduated from high school. I am my own caricature now—a grammar policewoman both highly compassionate and extremely stubborn. The people who surrounded me at college helped me become me, and I know they’ll always be close to me for that reason alone.

I realize that I’m lucky, too. My parents, whose relationship to me distance could never affect, are happy to have me back home. There are grimmer undergraduate outcomes than eating home cooked meals every night and falling asleep to the sounds of crickets, not cabs, outside your window.

The most recent season of GIRLS ended with Hannah resolving to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—a huge turnaround after losing her ebook rights and her relationship with Adam. With space to write creatively and newfound independence, it seems as though Hannah might finally achieve bildung, or that she has already.

In my senior seminar, we discussed two possible models of bildung: one finite and teleological, one ongoing and focused on the experience of becoming. Though some might consider starting a career and leaving home the apex of development, I subscribe to the latter definition. I won’t just have one career; I’ll have many. I’m not just a writer; I’m an editor, advisor and designer. I’m not just a recent college graduate; I’m a person with immeasurably many things left to learn. Time to start.