For those who haven’t seen it I won’t give away the ending of the second season of Girls, but I’ll say that it ends with a grand, cinematic gesture by someone who’s trying to make a relationship work. It was all too familiar—I haven’t done that, but I’ve made grand gestures. Running through the rain, handwriting 20-page letters, creating elaborate art projects. Universally, the reaction I got was never anything near the reaction the character gets on Girls. The reaction I tended to get was more like this.
The trouble with most grand gestures in real life—and on reality TV—is that they’re ultimately attempts to impose a fiction on reality. All those soaring strings and jaw-dropping vistas on The Bachelor can’t create a meaningful relationship; they just create the illusion of one. We made out on the Matterhorn, so it must be love. Sound like any study-abroad programs you’ve been on?
Grand gestures are appealing, because movies and TV shows teach us that all the most profound moments in life are eminently camera-friendly—so you feel like if you can just set the right scene, create the right clip for the trailer, you’ve made your life into the best movie it can be. If the scene involves a costar, you hope that he or she buys that logic as well, and that when he or she realizes no one else can pull such great numbers on opening weekend, he or she will sign on to whatever it is you’re trying to make your movie about.
One of the things you eventually learn, though, is that most people don’t actually have lives like that. (Maybe Blue Ivy Carter will.) You start to figure out what it is that makes you happy, and from that knowledge you start to realize that your life might not be a Hallmark movie, or even a buzzworthy HBO series. It might be a cult classic like My Dinner with Andre, or Eagle vs. Shark, or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. God willing, it’s not Liz and Dick.
If this sounds like a downer, it’s not. Your life will have those scenes: tearjerkers, turning points, quotable quips. There will be The Moment When Everything Changed, and The Farcical Misunderstanding, and The Touching Revelation. There might even be a Meet Cute or a Quirky Dance Scene, but unfortunately you can’t condense a six-month job search or a weekend-long apartment cleanup into a funny two-minute montage, and when you sit up in bed to eat leftover Chinese food after the Steamy Sex Scene, the sheet won’t magically stick to your boobs.
You just have to trust that those scenes will happen—you can’t force them, or stage them. You just have to hang out with the right people: the people you’d cast in a movie just because you’d want to hang out with them on set, like Jennifer Lawrence or Steve Buscemi. Then the trailer-worthy scenes will write themselves, and chances are you’ll have a happy ending.