A few weeks ago my boyfriend, some friends, and I were at a bar and we started trying to decide, as you do, what Friends characters we thought the other people were. My friend Tom was definitely a Joey-Chandler, we agreed: Funny, sarcastic, but also really into food and flirting with everybody. My friend Hannah Rose was a Phoebe-Monica: a little out there, but hard-working and focused. My boyfriend was a Chandler-Ross: a smart PhD student, but also witty, goofy, and not entirely aware of how to dance like a human being. Then it was my turn.
“You’re a Rachel,” my boyfriend said. Wait, what? A Rachel? How could my boyfriend of seven years, who I thought knew me better than anyone else on the planet, think I was a Rachel? Rachel is spoiled, she needs help with everything, she once dressed up in her high school cheerleading uniform to impress an old boyfriend at a dinner party. I’d always thought of myself more as a Phoebe: creative, fun-loving, a little weird. But this person I loved who claimed he loved me as well said I was a Rachel? I spent the rest of the night quietly fuming at my oblivious boyfriend, who had moved on to more important tasks like buying a late-night hot dog and covering it in nacho cheese sauce (He might also have some Joey in him). Seriously, a Rachel?
And then I went home and over the next few weeks watched every single episode of Friends from start to finish. And you know what? He was right. I am a Rachel.
Nobody tells you how hard your twenties are going to be. The world over-prepares you for being a teenager, you literally take classes in school on how your hormones will change and you will become a sex-crazed, smelly, unrecognizable monster covered in acne who cries at everything. By the time you hit your twenties, your acne will probably clear up, you will learn to manage the smells that emerge from your body, but everything is about to get much, much harder. For me, being in my twenties has been, in a lot of ways, really great. I have the ability to go to bars with friends, cook for myself the foods I want to eat, I have three cats that live in my house and belong to me. But in other ways, my twenties are really hard, lonely, frustrating, confusing, and terrifying. Of all the characters on Friends Rachel represents the actual struggles of being a young adult better than anyone else on the show. Here are some of her most identifiable twenty-something moments.
When She Leaves Barry
When Rachel first appears on the show, she’s in a wedding dress and has just snuck out the window of her own wedding. She’s made this huge decision, and her life is about to be completely different from the way it was before. My teenage years were full of extremely dramatic break ups, crying in school bathrooms and gifted necklaces stuffed back into the slits of lockers, which all felt, at the time, like the worst thing that could possibly happen, until I broke up with, at 25 with someone I really loved because we wanted different things from life. In your twenties, deciding to stay or leave a relationships can mean your life takes an entirely different path and break ups can be way more complicated than just not liking someone anymore. Rachel realized she wanted to be more than just Barry’s stay-at-home wife, living in Long Island off his money. It would have been easy for her to walk down the aisle, it was expected even, but leaving a relationship that isn’t right even if you care about the person is a big part of being in your twenties. Everyone’s lives are going in different directions, and relationships don’t always follow the same path.
When She’s a Shoe
After she ditches her own wedding, Rachel is talking to her obviously angry father on the phone, trying to explain the situation. “It’s like all my life everybody keeps telling that I’m a shoe. You’re a shoe, you’re a shoe, you’re a shoe! But what if I don’t want to be a shoe anymore? Maybe I’m a purse, or a hat…” she says. Ok, so Rachel is not a whiz at metaphors, but the idea is pretty relatable. Maybe for some people it happens earlier, or later, but for me my twenties was the first time it became important to me to see myself for who I was to myself and not qualify myself by how other people saw me and to figure out who I am to myself, which can be really challenging and confusing. Rachel doesn’t say “But I’m not a shoe” she says “What if I don’t want to be a shoe?” What rebellion is teenage years, indecision is to our twenties. We are forced to make big decisions about who we are and what we’ll be, without knowing how they’re going to turn out. So Rachel might be a shoe, or maybe a hat or a purse, but who knows.
When She Gets a Job at the Coffee Shop
For the first two seasons of Friends, Rachel works at the coffee shop as a (terrible) waitress. She doesn’t necessarily want to be a waitress, but unlike her friends, who have jobs or at least know what they want to do with their lives, Rachel has no idea.
I get that. I’ve never had a thing I really wanted to do, I went to school for marine biology, then for English, I worked at a bakery designing cupcakes, and then went back to school to be a writer, then I worked as a babysitter for a kid on a goat farm, as an au pair in Australia for a while, then back to the goat farm, now I work technical support for a website. I watch my more sure friends follow set career paths and that’s great for them, but I identify with Rachel’s struggle to figure out where her passion lies. We aren’t all born to be chefs or paleontologists and for people without a definite passion, your twenties can be rough, because that’s the time you’re supposed to start working towards achieving those goals. And if you can’t decide you constantly feel like you’re going to be way behind when you finally do figure it out.
The worst part about being a twenty something: it’s that it is a decade both of indecision and terror that if we can’t decide what we want to do, we will ruin our whole lives, which is a lot of pressure. It’s no wonder Rachel spent a lot of the days she was supposed to be sending out resumes shopping at Barney’s instead. Eventually Rachel lands a job at Ralph Lauren and realizes she is good at something. And once she finds her passion, she works hard, arguably the hardest of all of them because she starts at the bottom a few years behind and eventually rises to a high level fashion position. Throughout the show Rachel becomes more confident, smarter, more careful with her relationships. The rest of us can only hope to Rachel Green it into our thirties.
When She Doesn’t Understand her Paycheck
When Rachel gets her first paycheck at the coffee shop, she asks “who’s FICA and why is he getting all of my money?” Cute joke, but also, kind of painfully relatable. When I had to sign up for a retirement package and health insurance for my job I was like, mystified. My boyfriend walked in on me Googling the word “deductible”. All of the grown up things you are supposed to know in your twenties can be really confusing. We are expected to know how to find a job, file taxes, understand insurance, make doctor’s appointments, live on a minimal income, and make huge decisions that determine our life’s direction, without ever really receiving formal training for any of this.
I took countless hours of geometry in high school and have not yet once had to calculate the circumference of anything in my adult life, and yet nobody ever taught a class in high school about how to file my taxes or apply to grad school or how to negotiate a good deal on a used car. But if you can’t just do all this effortlessly, society assumes you are spoiled or lazy or dumb. But Rachel’s not dumb, she’ just unprepared. All her life she’s relied on someone to take care of her, she’s never had to worry about those kind of things and for the first time she has to be a real adult. And she’s having a hard time.
Our twenties are so much harder than television wants us to believe, than our parents remember their twenties, than we were promised by everyone. My mother always tells me that she never wanted to be what she did for a living: an elementary school teacher, but she didn’t know what else to do and she was out of college and had to have a job. We watch as the families of our friends split up in divorce, usually couples that came together in their twenties. And we are all told this is the best decade of our lives, but we see these things that happen to people we love and we know that for the first time our decisions really, really matter. They say you learn from your mistakes, but we haven’t always made many mistakes yet. These are the years we make the most mistakes, and we are painfully aware that there will be consequences. The brave among us, the Rachel Greens, are willing to make mistakes: call off marriages that we don’t want, move to a big city we don’t know.
So, I guess I am Rachel Green. A 27 year old who still has no idea what she wants to do with her life, still doesn’t understand her health insurance, still can’t seem to get it together, not because I’m unmotivated or lazy or dumb, but because I’m kind of too scared to tackle it all. Because like Rachel and a lot of other twenty-somethings I know, I have no idea what I’m doing. This is all new to me. But like Rachel, I’m going to figure it out.
(Images via NBC)