Deconstructing Friends

so no one told you life was gonna be this way…

I’ve been thinking lately about friends. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about Friends.

With syndication the way it is, I can catch up on Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Ross and Rachael twice a night, three times on Thursdays. I’ve practically grown up with them and know all about their lives. I can turn on an episode and determine in thirty seconds if I’ve seen the episode (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all by now) and which season it’s from. And as I’ve been watching this current season, there’s something about Friends that depresses me. It’s a new way that the show depresses me, however. It used to be that I’d watch the show and afterwards I’d get a little sad because someday they wouldn’t make new episodes anymore and I’d just lose these characters and never find out what happens to them. Like how Seinfeld is over, and there are no new stories. Just memories of old episodes. I find that to be slightly depressing. I live in the past with those characters, and at least when I watch re-runs of Friends I know that there are more stories to come.

But it’s changed for me with Friends, and lately I’ve had a new feeling when I watch the show– pity. As I watch two shows from two different seasons, I realize how much the dynamic between those six characters have hurt their chances to have fulfilling lives.

I’m not trying to say that I think these six people are real and I know it’s just a show and blah, blah, blah. But I do know people like these six, and I’ve known people like this before, and the Friends Syndrome is something that bothers me.

Because the six of them are so close, they’ve made a world for each other that makes it just about impossible for anyone else to enter. They only have room for this six. All other relationships and friendships either fail miserably or fade away before the end of a season. Each one slowly gives up any sort of private life for the other five and gets closer to this circle of isolation. They collectively stunt the growth of the individual, in the name of Friendship, and therefore limit any chances of personal success for any one Friend. They either advance as a group, or not at all.

Ross is perhaps has the strongest case of Friends Syndrome. He starts the series with a divorce, because his wife is now a lesbian, and is having his baby. He doesn’t get to keep Ben in his life, but instead Ben will live with Carol and Carol’s new wife. Although Ross has visitation rights, we rarely see these father moments in the show. We very rarely get to see Monica be an aunt. Ross instead focuses on his love for Rachael. Depending on what episode you’re watching, Ross has known Rachael and Chandler since he was a kid (sometimes he’s met Chandler in college, sometimes the story is that they’ve known each other for longer than that). Ross has liked Rachael ever since she became Monica’s best friend. He was going to go to prom for her when she thought she had been dumped. Ross focuses on his love for Rachael so much that he drops other women to have the chance to date Rachael. When their relationship doesn’t work out, he falls in love with Emily, a girl from England, but accidentally says Rachael’s name at the altar. Emily leaves Ross, so Ross decides to take Rachael to the honeymoon (because she still loves him, of course), but ends up leaving Rachael on the plane when Emily shows up at the airport last minute. When Emily decides to work on the marriage, her one demand is that Ross doesn’t see Rachael anymore, as she finds her to be a threat. Ross picks Rachael, the friend, over his wife.

Ross and Rachael also end up drunk and married in Vegas, and Ross tries to stay married to Rachael, not because he loves her, but because he doesn’t want another failed marriage in his life. This prompts the other Friends to each pick a “back up” in case none of them ever find love.

When Ross loses his apartment, he moves into Ugly Naked Guy’s old place– directly across the street from his sister Monica. He’s now closer than ever to them.

Monica seems to be the one that might have some sort of outside life, but in fact she’s slowly drawn more and more into the Friends Syndrome. She has the first relatively healthy relationship (with Richard) but breaks it off when they find out they don’t want the same things. Monica goes through a painful break-up with Richard. She sorta sees Jon Favreau for a few weeks, since he gave her a restaurant and all. Monica lives with Rachael until the moment that Chandler moves in. Oh, right, and Chandler. Monica gets so depressed at her brother’s wedding that she’s convinced that no one will ever love her. She then ends up in bed with Chandler. After trying to keep their Friend Love a secret from everyone, they end up getting engaged– a moment that they can’t even have alone, since Phoebe, Joey and Rachael are on the other side of the door listening. Their private celebration includes everyone, and they even stop celebrating to be upset that Ross isn’t there for the moment.

Phoebe started the series the most independent. They’ve just pulled her right into the Friends Syndrome. She had her own apartment and her own ambitions. She didn’t have crushes on any of the Friends. She even seemed a bit mysterious, with the fact that she’d been in jail, homeless, and married. With Phoebe, we constantly learn new things about her that hint towards an exciting and interesting life before she found these five people. Now she rarely has a relationship (Michael Rappaport’s stupid bird-shooting incident excluded) and ends up becoming a birth mother for her long-lost brother to have triplets with his older wife.

Phoebe then loses her apartment and lives with Rachael, until the place catches on fire. She’s bumped around all of the Friends for a while. She lives with Ross. She admittedly isn’t making very much money with the massage work, but still stays loyal to her Friends. Phoebe’s job seems to be the one who might end up with Joey, but probably not. That’s all they tease us with these days.

Rachael also seems incapable of any outside relationships. All of her love affairs become inappropriate (co-workers, foreign men, Ross, or Ross’s girlfriends’ fathers), and she takes every opportunity to stop Ross’ relationships (showing up at weddings, telling Ross that not having sex is sexy, forbidding Ross to date her sister). Because she’s incapable of getting her own place, she now lives with Joey.

Seriously. They all live with each other all the time. Remember the guy Monica dated that everyone loved? She broke up with him because everyone else thought he was so perfect. Then they were all mad at her for breaking up with him. Remember how much everyone tried to get Chandler to break up with Janice? Ross has made out with Chandler’s mom. Chandler has proposed to one of Joey’s sisters. Ross dated Rachael’s sister (and Chandler’s ex-girlfriend Janice). Phoebe had her brother’s babies.

Chandler doesn’t get along with his parents since his dad ran away to be gay and his mother is famous and distant. Phoebe’s father ran away when she was a baby and later has been a hermit. Her mother shot herself, leaving her and her twin sister on their own. Monica’s parents love Ross more and treat Monica like a spinster. They spent all of her wedding money and ruined all of her childhood boxes (they gave her a Porsche, don’t worry). Joey’s father has been having an affair for years and his mother knows and likes to keep it unspoken. Rachael’s parents seem rather unavailable, but are incredibly wealthy.

In close to ten years we only have the same six Friends, all ignoring Gunther together, all making decisions for each other, sharing girlfriends and fantasies and stories and problems. Nothing is ever private. Nothing is ever personal. Joey did porn. So did Phoebe’s twin. Chandler has a third nipple. Monica used to be really fat (which they all tease her for). People think Chandler is gay. Ross had a monkey and people didn’t shun him. Monica yells and is rude. Joey had a supermodel roommate that hated Chandler and Monica, so she had to move out. It is physically impossible for any of them to travel or grow. They can’t leave the circle. They can only live and love inside of it.

I imagine the last episode will be the six of them walking down the aisle, and everyone will say “I do” except for Joey and Phoebe, who will look at each other and say, “I am so totally kidding, aren’t you?”

Do we do this with our own friends? Do we stunt each other’s growth? Do we give bad advice, based off of what we want to happen to our friends, or what we’d rather happen to ourselves instead of our friends and limit the amount they can do? Do we give bad advice sometimes just because it makes us feel better? Do we blanket everything with some ice cream and an, “Everything will be okay” so that we can go back to worrying about ourselves? Do we get angry with our friends for succeeding? Do the friends we keep determine what kind of people we’ll become?

Because I always moved around so much I’m used to new people coming in and out of my life quite frequently. But I knew people in high school that still stay in that same circle, and I know people that have just been with each other since that time. They have a hard time letting new people in, and want every evening out to be a group effort, so that nobody ever misses a story.

I’ve followed the Friends. I’ve judged them. I’ve rooted for them. I do side with Ross (they were on a BREAK). I think that some of the things Phoebe does are pretty deplorable. I think that Monica and Rachael have become too skinny. I think that Joey’s become a richer character over the years. I think that Chandler is actually pretty unhappy with Monica, but is afraid to do anything about it because she’ll beat the hell out of him. I think the most brilliant episode of Friends was the time Chandler and Joey competed against Monica and Rachael for the apartment, based off a series of questions that Ross created to see who knew the most about each other. It was also a test to see how much we’d been paying attention over the years– and the fact that none of us could tell you what Chandler did for a living is incredibly funny.

I know it’s just a show. I know. But I watch these people slowly become the same person and it bothers me. It bothers me on one hand because I don’t ever want to find myself in that situation, and it bothers me on the other hand that I don’t have that kind of close-knit relationship with a group of people out here. I don’t have a coffee shop where we hang out all day long and talk about each other. I want it and I fear it. I am Jealous McJudgy.

And I wish Friends would quit stealing my jokes. Look, I know one of you writers is reading this, and I’m still pissed you stole the “WHY!?” joke. Seriously.

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