Even though I wouldn’t start thinking about romance till my early teens, I was surrounded by romantic content on TV and in the movies. One of those shows was of course ‘Friends’, just like the majority of the western world. The show started when I was around 4 years old, so I have no real idea when I started watching it. It was a part of my life from the moment I could really remember; so in a way, I think it must have influenced the way I look at relationships.
Sure, ‘Friends’ is idealized and unrealistic, but I suppose that was the point; if such idealized and unrealistic relationships within that universe could fall so easily then so could real ones, even more so. And the good thing about the relationships in the show was that we could pinpoint exactly where things went wrong, and learn to avoid those mistakes ourselves.
Just a little disclaimer: Don’t take any sitcom relationship advice too seriously, take it all with a big pinch of salt, a whole spoonful actually. That being said, the basic foundations of relationship pitfalls can be found in shows like ‘Friends’: don’t cheat, don’t propose to your partner for the wrong reasons, and for the love of smelly cat do not pretend to move country in order to end a relationship; it will not work.
So if I were to wind back time to my first (and still ongoing) romantic relationship, I can pinpoint where exactly we messed up most. I was an attention seeking fool who was super obsessed with spending 95% of my time with my new boyfriend, to the point where I’d literally burst into tears if he told me he could only see me for half of the day. Looking back I feel like I don’t recognize that girl at all, I mean I love and loved my boyfriend, but with his help and my own introspection I managed to gather my own independence, and not measure happiness or devotion by the ticking hands of a clock. This, is something I learned from Friends perhaps unconsciously. After all, the whole inception of the show was based around Rachel leaving her fiance to gain her independence, and not become a slave to relationships.
Now I’m not saying it was a good idea for her to jilt someone at the altar, but it would have been much worse if she’d stayed. By ending that relationship Rachel took the first step to the life she wanted more than anything. By ending my obsession with constant contact with my boyfriend, I too took a leap on the road to the life I wanted.
Part of the humor ‘Friends’ operates on is the awkward situations that the gang find themselves in when meeting a new bae, or getting back with an ex. Nitpicking is something they’re great at, particularly Chandler in the early episodes who was known to end things with girls over large heads and pronouncing things ‘incorrectly.’ This is something else I learned while growing up with my boyfriend; we were not and will never be perfect. Sure, I didn’t want to dump him over head size or the sound of his laugh like Chandler, but people mess up all the time. I used to get upset at the little things my boyfriend didn’t do, and he’d get irritated at how passive aggressive I could be, but did it mean the end of our relationship? No way, it meant that we worked on our problems, and even accepted what didn’t matter as much as we thought it did. Luckily Chandler too learned this, and learned to adore Monica’s eccentricities and quirks once they became an item.
On larger scale, ‘Friend’s also taught us some darker things about relationships, like how complicated they are when it comes to infidelity and rebound relationships. The entire “We were on a break” argument isn’t as simple as it seems when you take a more analytical look at it.
Did Ross cheat? Could he use alcohol as an excuse for his impromptu night with the Xerox girl? Did Rachel hypocritically deny their ‘break’? Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on this plot line and I came to the decision that though they were technically on a break, Ross shortsightedly gave in to his primal emotions, and had no right to act like what he did was justifiable. There were only a few hours between their we-were-on-a-break-up before his drunken tryst, broken up or not just you don’t do that to someone, then argue for it for the next 7 years. That being said, he’s not a monster, and shouldn’t be painted as one for such a confusing screw up.
I’m pretty zero tolerance on stuff like that, but what it taught me was that often people are not 100% right or wrong in a healthy relationship. I’m not saying I understand why Ross did what he did, but what I am saying is that if happened to one of us, then our reaction may be different to Rachel’s. It’s just one of those things we can’t really envision properly until it happens to us, even if we are dead set on what we would do before it happens.
It does feel weird to say that ‘Friends’ taught me about relationships, since I actively made a decision to avoid comparing my relationship to Hollywood fiction, but inspiration comes from odd places. Nowadays I know that grand gestures do not fix a failing relationship, that true love does not indicate how long your romance will last, and that honesty and loyalty really needs to take center stage for a relationship to work.
Above all, the most important and realistic message you could gather from ‘Friends’ is that regardless of what kind of relationship you’re in, if you’re in it for the long-run; you gotta be friends with your partner.