For all her nakedness and crass talk, Hannah is at heart traditional in one sense: She wants a boyfriend. And she's willing to subject herself to the weird and degrading sexual preferences of Adam, her simian kind-of boyfriend in season one, in hopes that the hookups will turn Adam into a monogamous partner. Her "breakup" speech to him is telling: "I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, and thinks I am the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me." In the world of Girls, this is a tall order to fill.
It's apparently a tall order to fill in the world of Lena Dunham, too. Speaking with New York Times columnist Frank Bruni last year, the daughter of acclaimed NYC artists bemoaned the "empowered" sexual expectations placed upon her female peers: "I heard so many of my friends saying, 'Why can't I have sex and feel nothing?' It was amazing: that this was the new goal."
"It's painful when sex, which is supposed to be the most intimate form of communication, is the least intimate form of communication," she told Gross. In the middle of season two, Hannah spends two days with a 42-year-old doctor in his lovely brownstone, tasting the comforts of monogamy and economic security. At the end of their time together, Hannah makes an astonishing admission, almost despite herself: "What I didn't realize is that I was lonely in such a deep, deep way. I want what everyone wants, to be happy."
This is a crucial turn in the series, and a crucial admission for the church to hear from an influential voice in our culture. For all the vast economic and cultural changes that have rewritten the script of womanhood, there is one truth we can't shake: We are made for relationship. In fact, we cannot fully exist without relationship. We discover our truest selves only in connection to others, in the bonds of friendship, family, marriage, and civic and faith communities. Hannah struggles to "become who I am" in part because so many of her relationships are broken: By the middle of season two, she has dumped Adam, has driven two close friends to move out of their apartment, and is reduced to trying to make out with the former crack addict who lives in the apartment below hers. She is lonely by her own making, but lonely nonetheless.
Hannah is decidedly not the archetype for every young American woman. (Dunham winks at this in the pilot episode with this line: "Mom and Dad, I don't want to freak you out, but I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice … of a generation.") But she is one significant archetype, and with two Golden Globes under her belt and a third season coming, her voice will become more pronounced and influential. Are our churches places where women like Dunham can know and be known? Where their ambitions and dreams are encouraged, not squelched or made to fit into old scripts of womanhood that don't speak to them? Where a story is told and retold that speaks to their deepest desires and orients them toward wholeness and self-giving instead of self-gazing?