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Lessons From ‘New Girl’s’ Nick: It’s OK Not To Have Your Life Together In Your Thirties

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Watch Full Episodes of the Final Season | New Girl on FOX
Main cast of New Girl.

Last year, I turned thirty with great trepidation. Turning twenty or twenty-one is one thing, because in ten years, you’ll still be young; but when you turn thirty, there’s no more youth to look forward to, just old age and the yawning abyss beyond. Turning thirty is an epochal event because you’ve definitively and irreversibly transitioned into adulthood, and people expect all sorts of things from you, especially in India: you should be settled in a cushy job, you should be married or planning to get married, and so on. Women in India, as always, face even more expectations; by the time they’re thirty, they’re expected to already be married and have a babe or two on each arm.

Even popular sitcoms like Friends or How I Met Your Mother promote this notion by showing their characters achieving success in their thirties after various experiments and ups and downs in their twenties. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) from Friends goes from being a coffee shop waitress to a successful executive in a fashion company. Ted (Josh Radnor) from HIMYM designs an entire building in New York. Shows like these put a lot of pressure on their viewers, so it is refreshing to occasionally encounter a show that goes in the opposite direction and reassures you that no, you’re not a loser if you’re not a hotshot in your thirties. One such show is Fox’s New Girl (2011–2018).

New Girl debuted in 2011 with (at the time) indie film darling Zooey Deschanel as the titular new girl who moves into a loft flat in Los Angeles with three other guys after she catches her boyfriend cheating on her. The show started as a Friends rip-off for the millennial generation, with a sprinkling of Deschanel’s signature quirkiness to keep things fresh. Indeed, the earliest episodes rip off Friends almost directly, with one plot line depicting Jess (Deschanel) walking in on Nick (Jake Johnson) naked, similar to how Chandler (Matthew Perry) walked in on Rachel in an episode of Friends. However, as time went on, the show started to drift away from being a vehicle for Deschanel to a true ensemble comedy with a cast of characters who were often living cartoons.

There’s Schmidt (Max Greenfield), the formerly fat and currently buff douchebag, who overenunciates every second word and is ordered by his friends to put a dollar in the ‘Douchebag Jar’ every time he says something like “Have you seen my sharkskin laptop sleeve?” or (in reference to his abs) “This is LLS: Ladies love Schmitt“. Winston (Lamorne Morris), meanwhile, is introduced as a failed basketball player with no idea what to do with his life before evolving into a puzzle-loving, cat-owning, prank-playing lunatic police officer. And then there’s Nick.

Among all the characters, Nick’s journey is the most interesting. Because God forbid that a show not have a will-they-won’t-they relationship arc, Nick falls in love with Jess the moment he sets eyes on her. However, the two don’t get together until the third season, which is to the show’s advantage because this allows Nick to develop into a fully realized character over the course of two seasons. Although all the characters are thirty-something when New Girl begins, Nick has the unique distinction of mentally being a petulant eight-year-old and an irascible sixty-year-old at the same time. He works as a barman in a pub even though he’s a qualified lawyer. The show initially hints that Nick is just too lazy to put in the hard work that a lawyer’s profession requires, but as time goes on we learn that Nick’s motivation for being a barman goes much deeper.

New Girl Season 3, Episode 11 Review: "Clavado En Un Bar" | New ...
Still from the show. Nick works at a bar, despite being trained as a lawyer.

In ‘Clavado En Un Bar’, Nick reveals that he passed the Bar exam and was qualified to practise law, but he only gave the exam in the first place because he wanted to know he could do it. “I actually like working in a bar“, he says, and no further explanation is given for his career choice. His friends simply accept that this is what Nick wants to do with his life, at least for now. It’s a refreshing take on life expectations in your thirties. So many people are obsessed with earning titles and fat paycheques that they work their hindquarters off in their twenties and end up being too jaded or exhausted to enjoy these ‘rewards’ in their thirties. Nick, however, is perfectly content earning less money in return for doing a job he loves and that he’s quite good at.

In ‘Eggs’, we learn that Nick wrote a detective novel that he never finished. He is mocked mercilessly by his friends for calling himself a writer, and Winston correctly informs Nick that he’s “not a finisher. You don’t finish things.” Nick realises that Winston is right and is determined to finish writing the novel in a twenty-four-hour marathon session. To everyone’s surprise, including his own, he actually manages the feat. Predictably, Winston finds the novel to be “the worst thing I’ve ever read“, but he’s proud of Nick for finishing something at last. Nick catches the writing bug and decides to become a serious writer. More important, his realisation that he is indeed not a ‘finisher’ motivates him to take the initiative for once, proving that even in his thirties, he can change and grow as a person.

In ‘Mars Landing’, widely considered one of the show’s best episodes, Nick and Jess (by now a couple) break up after they realise they want different things in life. After a long of partying, Nick and Jess have to get ready to attend a friend’s baby shower, but Nick still hasn’t assembled the gift that Jess bought weeks ago. What starts as an argument escalates into a fight before turning into a frank and open discussion about the state of Nick and Jess’s relationship. Jess confesses that she wants Nick to be the kind of partner who has his life together, and Nick is smart enough and candid enough to know and admit that he does not. Even more candidly, he says that he’s never going to be the “guy who’s gonna put the toy together… I’m the kind of guy who’s gonna leave it in the box.” Nick’s attitude flies in the face of the established notion that people should grow in certain socially acceptable ways to be considered successful in life. Nick does want to grow, but he wants to do it on his on terms—this is again a perspective that we rarely get to see in any medium.

By the end of the series, Nick does grow and find success on his terms. He ends up co-owning the very bar he works at, which gives him enough free time to develop his writing skills. Eventually, he publishes two detective novels. In keeping with the show’s message that financial and career advancement are not true measures of success, Nick does not become a millionaire rockstar author. He remains a moderately successful small-business owner with a few books to his credit. And while he does end up marrying Jess, their romance is not depicted as the ultimate triumph of a manic pixie dream girl over a man child; instead, the two learn to reconcile their differences and simply absorb and live with their individual quirks and habits, again reinforcing the show’s perspective that there’s no template for successful relationships, just as there isn’t one for a successful life.

And did I mention that Nick is also probably the show’s funniest character? His mixture of childish and elderly tendencies means that he acts like a raging, seething lunatic at the best of times, like in this scene where he accidentally walks into a couple of helium balloons:

In another scene, after a PMSing Jess threatens to “kick the testicles clean off” the boys’ bodies if they cross her, promising that “you’ll look like Ken dolls down there“, Nick complains it’s not fair that women get a free ticket to be irrationally angry once a month. Jess responds that Nick is irrationally angry three-hundred-and-sixty-five days a year, and we immediately cut to Nick yelling “I hate doors!” after a ‘pull’ door refuses to be ‘pushed’ open:

And for good measure, here’s another scene where, after Schmidt threats to break Jess and Nick up, the two quickly go over the things that are likely to annoy them about each other (Nick thinks that the moon landing was faked, and Jess votes for the Green Party [cue Nick: ‘Grr, that makes me so angry!]):

New Girl is neither a pathbreaking nor genre-defining show; it started as a zany sitcom about thirty-somethings in a big city and largely remained so for its entire run. However, the show is culturally significant in its own way because, in the post-Great Recession era, it was probably the first sitcom to depict older adults who were not very successful in their careers or lives and were mostly just trying to get by. Nick epitomises the generation that came of age in the sobering 2000s, when the unbridled consumerism and capitalism of the 1980s and 1990s led to war and destruction, first materially and then economically, leaving him and his brethren to pick up the pieces. However, as Nick’s journey shows, so long as they remain true to themselves, they still have hope.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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