May 20, 2022

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Lena Dunham’s Verified Strangers , Chapter Eleven: The Morning After

To understand how we arrived here, what made this moment possible—this moment being Ally, one hand cradling her head and the other wrapped around Timmy’s tie, wondering how to tell Caz that she ignored, utterly and completely, every warning and request that she not do what she always did. Not to the one human who didn’t deserve to be snowed by Ally’s inclement weather—you have to understand all of the loves, not just the big loves but the little loves that sparked and sputtered and failed, making any shred of romantic promise too thrilling to ignore.

At this point, Ally had, by her own admittedly faulty count, kissed 42 men, slept with 17 and lived with two. She had spent nearly every moment since age 11 chasing the possibility of consuming romantic connection, and even when she seemed to have it—with Romain, the Frenchman 34 years her senior, and then, later, with Matthew, the creative director seven months her junior—it took nothing more than a quibble about the dishes to convince Ana Miriam Alvarez that she needed to keep searching.

And so, in periods when she was alone and periods where she wasn’t, Ally was prone to fantasy: For instance, there was The Guy on the Bike. She didn’t know him and chances are she never would, but for approximately 18 seconds in the year 2012, The Guy on the Bike was the love of Ally’s life. She was in New York for three days, chasing a job that never materialized at a magazine that soon went under. She was traipsing Reade Street in between her first interview and lunch with an old college friend, extra resumes clenched in her sweaty palm, wishing she’d worn bike shorts under her vintage Betsey Johnson floral slip (not for fashion purposes, but for chafing ones) when The Guy on the Bike appeared, gliding toward her. He was a beautiful Japanese boy with long loose hair and a vintage T-shirt that said SALUTE THE TROOPS in a pink bubble font, his jeans sliced at the knee. The wind was perfect that day, cool and calm, and her dress rustled, revealing her tanned knees and the thighs that Ally’s first lover had referred to as “unstoppable,” which she chose to view as a good thing. The Guy on the Bike smiled. Ally smiled back. He whirred past her, turning to watch her walk away. She coyly peeked back. And back. And back. And then, he hit the low iron fence protecting a London plane tree and dove, head first, into the mulch, dumping his bike.

Ally ran.

It was a metaphor for everything.

See, even the best and most romantic moments ended with a dumping of the bike. And so, she had to seize them when she could. It made her selfish. She knew that. She wasn’t sure she could defend it anymore.

But after the breakup with Matthew, she needed these moments. They were what had allowed her to survive. The hope didn’t come from her friends, who were floundering just as badly as she was, sometimes more so (read: threesomes). And it didn’t come from her mother, who was fond of the axiom “you’re born alone, you die alone.” No, it came only from the promise of more. New. Again. Better this time.

Matthew broke up with Ally. Well, really he forced Ally to break up with him, by isolating her so badly, starving her of responses beyond “hmmm” and “um” and slowly ceasing to touch her and pointing out the irritating subtext of every gesture and phrase that was classic her, while also forgetting that they were happy once. That was the cruelest offense.

When Ally finally told him she was leaving, half-heartedly packing the vintage floral suitcase that was, in truth, a children’s toy from the 1960s, he just nodded and said: “Yes, I think that’s best.” Later, when she lay on the ground and wept and begged and held his leg like some cartoon of a woman, he said, “I don’t know how happy I’ve ever been. You made decisions and I just went with them.”

“You just went with them!?” she had shrieked. “YOU JUST WENT WITH THEM!?” That was rich coming from a man who wouldn’t even let her choose pencils for their kitchen because he had a specific brand in mind.

Is he gay? Her friends wanted to know, had suspected; he did care a lot about antiques. No, no. Was he cheating? So many business trips. Also no, those were real. Matthew had actually pulled off a rare but legitimate phenomenon that only survivors can recognize the pain of: He disappeared in plain sight.


None of this, Ally knew, justified what she was about to tell Caz, but she repeated it to herself like a recess cheer, a hand-slapping game meant to ward off Candy Men and Bloody Marys. She made Caz a latte, taking extra care to foam the milk, and knocked on her door.

Caz was curled under her polka-dot duvet in hour 13 of her depression sleep. Ally knew that, ever since Meg, if Caz could be asleep for everything but Timmy’s texts, she would be.

Ally set the latte down by Caz’s bed. She’d come back when her roommate was fully awake. But Caz’s eyes snapped open so fast it was like she’d been pretending. “Thank you,” she said, eyeing the lavender mug that Ally had made in her one attempt at becoming a ceramic artist. (Actually, there were two, but the other was the planter that Caz had kicked over last week.)

“How you feelin’?” Ally asked.

“Uh….” Caz sat up, taking the latte in her hands like a cartoon bear cub with a pot of honey. “I know. About last night.”

Ally went cold—had Timmy told? After all their promises to let Ally handle it in her own way, their protestations that they didn’t belong to Caz. “I’m my own dude,” Timmy had winked. How did she know?

“I’m not dumb,” Caz said. “I’ve felt it since day one. And honestly, Ally, I don’t have the energy to fight. Like, I could tell you that I’ve been here for you for two years of crying. I could name all the men who have been in and out of our kitchen. I could ask whether any of it mattered, or why you bothered to say you were taking a break from dating like some sad, wounded fawn. Did you want to catch me off guard? Did you want me to feel like a fucking loser? Congrats, babe. It worked.”

Caz was calmer than she had any right to be. Her words didn’t contort with rage. That made them both harder and easier to hear. Ally had no room to catch Caz on bad delivery or hurtful exaggerations. This was pure and crisp. This was true.

“I guess I should…”

“Find a place to stay?” Caz asked. “Yeah. I think so.”

Ally backed out of the room. Caz picked her cell phone up like it was any other Sunday morning.

In the background, Ally’s phone had been ringing, a kicky little digital rendition of “Ave Maria” that she was desperately sick of but hadn’t bothered to change. She slammed her door behind her and, throat tight, picked the phone up from her desk: nine missed calls from Dan.

New chapters of Lena Dunham’s “Verified Strangers” appear daily, Monday through Friday, on If you missed the previous chapters, you can read them here.

Originally Appeared on Vogue

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