My flatmates and I have been rewatching Girls recently, and over the weekend we got to “One Man’s Trash,” the episode in Season 2 where Hannah spends the night at that sexy doctor’s brownstone. Hannah has been dumping trash from the coffee shop she works at into his bin, and after he notices she goes over to apologize. He’s hot, in a chiseled sort of way. His house is equally beautiful, with terracotta walls, bay windows, and midcentury furniture. He pours her some freshly squeezed lemonade and, for some reason, seemingly out of nowhere, they start kissing.
He persuades her to take a day off work and she stays there, being looked after. He cooks her steak, constantly tops up the puddle of red wine at the bottom of her glass, hands over a pile of fluffy towels before she gets in the shower. Throughout the episode, Hannah drifts through his house in one of his grey cashmere sweaters. She has sex with him on the ping pong table and she eats blueberry jam on toast on a picnic table in the garden while he reads the New York Times. When they’re in bed together, he cups her face in his hands and tells her she’s beautiful.
Watching it, I felt genuinely intoxicated, even more so than when I watched it the first time. I even turned the TV subtitles on, because my flatmates were making breakfast and discussing the previous night out and there was too much noise in the room for me to concentrate properly. I didn’t like that they were scrolling on their phones. I wanted them to take it all in like I was. At night I thought of the episode again: the art propped against the walls, the tiles in the hallway, underfloor heating and a hot water tap so you never have to boil a kettle, someone rubbing your feet and asking if a Thai green curry is okay for dinner tomorrow night.
I like the thought of that life for all the same reasons Hannah does in the show: Sometimes it gets really tiring being independent, and I want a generically hot man who definitely knows how to adjust boiler settings and has lots of snacks in his cupboard to sweep me off my feet and solve all my problems, because at the moment there’s way too many of them. Paying my tax bill was awful, so was paying last month’s heating bill. TikTok has convinced me there’s something wrong with my gut. There are things on my to-do list that have been there for years, like how I need to make a new Gumtree account because some dickhead gave me a one-star review and no one ever buys from me anymore. My mum keeps asking me questions I have no idea how to answer, like, “Have you started paying off your student loan?” and “How much money have you put in your Help to Buy ISA?” Most Mondays, I wake up too tired from the weekend to do any work. The mice are back in the flat again.
I don’t want to deal with any of it; I want a really competent man to do it instead. I’m starting to sound like the biggest millennial cliché, but it’s like Phoebe Waller-Bridge says in Fleabag, while on her knees in front of the priest: “I want someone to tell me what to wear every morning. I want someone to tell me what to eat, what to like, what to hate, what to rage about, what to listen to, what band to like, what to buy tickets for, what to joke about, what not to joke about. I want someone to tell me what to believe in, who to vote for, who to love, and how to tell them.”
A lot of women feel like this, women you wouldn’t really expect. They’re supposed to be the empowered and self-sufficient ones. The ones who want to carve out their own lives irrespective of the men they’re with, but, really, they can’t be bothered. A friend of mine who works as a teaching assistant is hoping her boyfriend eventually earns enough so that she can pack it all in to become a full-time domestic goddess, reading books on the sofa and tending to the herb garden.
I’ve always been told by society that the right role for me is to get married and have kids, but also that I’m meant to have my own career established before I do all of those things. My mum has always worked really hard, and still does, making reality TV where people scream at each other until their voices are hoarse. She tries to retire but then she gets restless. “I’m cleaning the light fittings again,” she says, which is her sign that she needs to go back to work. My step granny lived in New York and worked for NBC. I remember her leaning down towards me and my cousin and asking what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told her I wanted to be a waitress and my cousin said “a crayon seller.”
“Oh, my God,” my granny said to our mums. “What are you teaching these girls?”
I don’t think I appreciate the value of freedom as much as her generation did, because it’s taken as much more of a given for women like me now. It’s not powerful or radical: it’s normal. Girl boss is a sneer.
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Realistically, though, I know that the life of a kept woman isn’t what I actually want; it’s just a fantasy I enjoy disappearing down into when the world feels a bit much.
If I did get saved by a man, I’d probably become one of those mad rich women who starts drawing very average illustrations of naked bodies and get so into wellness that my friends would begin to find me unbearable. I could still write, but I don’t know how much I’d do it if it wasn’t essential, and part of me likes that right now it is, that my words are the reason for the floor under my feet and the walls around me—and the stupid rhinestone-covered green unitard I wore out last weekend. And part of me knows it’s safer to always make sure I have something of my own because men, like the rest of us, aren’t reliable. Often, when you trust what they say, you get burned.
There’s a bit in Lana Del Rey’s song “Mariners Apartment Complex” that makes me feel really at ease with being alone. I think she’s meant to be talking to someone else, but in some ways it sounds like she’s addressing herself.
Don’t look too far,
Right where you are, that’s where I am,
I’m your man,
I’m your man
Right now, there’s no townhouse to escape into, no doctor to bring me herbal tea and my lip balm from the other room. I have to do that for myself. That’s okay, because I’m good at it. I know I like lemon water first thing in the morning and that if I put a hot water bottle in the bed while I wash my face, it will be nice and warm when I eventually get in. That I like cereal in bed late at night and walking around art galleries slowly with my hands behind my back. So, I close my eyes, wrap my arms around my own shoulders and squeeze: I’m your man.