Remember the one where you moved into a lovely Manhattan apartment for $200 a month? How about the one where your best mates decided to rent the flat opposite and were there to support you through every personal crisis however big or small? Or the one where you could walk into your local coffee shop at any time of the day and be guaranteed the best seats in the house and a hilarious conversation with someone you know? Me neither. But didn’t Friends tell you life was going to be this way?
On Thursday, the ensemble cast of Friends will reunite for an HBO TV special that will see them revisit the original set, re-read famous scenes together, and reminisce about their experience on one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. And while many people are delighted that the show is returning after 17 years, I am not one of them. My problem with Friends is that I love it. Really, really love it. And that’s why I don’t want it to come back.
Like many millennials, I grew up watching Friends. It was the thing that made me laugh after I was told off at school. The thing that comforted me after the guy I fancied ignored me at a party. And, more recently, the thing that got me through two weeks of being bed-bound when I had coronavirus. To this day, I quote it endlessly. Like whenever I go to a nice restaurant (“Livi doesn’t share food!”), talk about love (“he’s her lobster”), or move house (“PIVOT!”).
But here’s the thing. Friends painted a picture of twenty-something life that does not exist. And I’m still furious about it. Let’s start with their living situation. For much of the series, Monica and Rachel live in a rent-controlled heirloom apartment across the hall from Joey and Chandler, while Ross is in the building opposite and Phoebe is seemingly close enough to ensure that all six of them share a local cafe which they somehow manage to spend hours at before their working days even begin.
Remember this is Manhattan, one of the most expensive cities in the world. In the early seasons of the show, none of the characters have high-earning jobs: Monica is a sous chef, Rachel a waitress, Joey a struggling actor, Phoebe a masseuse-cum-busker, Ross a paleontologist and Chandler, well, as far as we know, he’s just a “transponster” (he actually works in IT procurement). It’s safe to say, then, that the fact they can all afford to live in such plush accommodation is a little far fetched. Even if Monica does pay a very small portion of her salary to live in her grandmother’s 1,125sq ft two-bedroom flat, the fact that she, or any of the others, could afford to live in the heart of New York City is a stretch.
Then there’s the fact that they live so close together. Granted, Manhattan is much smaller than London. But it was a hard pill to swallow when I graduated from university and realised that my friends were not just a corridor away, but scattered across a sprawling city. We don’t share so much as a borough let alone a coffee shop.
It was a hard pill to swallow when I graduated from university and realised that my friends were not just a corridor away, but scattered across a sprawling city
Given their proximity, it would make sense that the Friends gang spend all their time together. They don’t need to make plans; they just have to knock on their neighbour’s door and see what they’re up to. In real life, finding time to meet up with your friends is practically a full-time occupation. There are schedules, love lives, and family commitments to navigate, which means I often wind up booking dinners with my closest pals weeks, and sometimes months, in advance. Then, of course, because we’re all desperately trying to get onto the property ladder, we spend most of our time working. Sometimes in one job but often in two or three. All this means we wind up being so exhausted in the evening that we end up cancelling our plans so that we can spend a night at home relaxing and, well, watching Friends.
Don’t even get me started on their love lives. There are various triangles and circles and other geometric dynamics that form between the six friends - Joey falls for Rachel while Ross still loves her; Chandler and Monica date behind Ross’s back - but they never seem to hinder any of the relationships. At least not for very long. Heck, Ross and Rachel were even able to rekindle a friendship after the whole “we were on a break!” saga. Imagine if things were that blissful in real life. I can’t either, because Ross would have left the joint WhatsApp group, blocked Rachel on Instagram so he wasn’t tempted to check when she was last online, and fallen in love with someone he met on a dating app for fans of the Jurassic era (Dino Daters?).
Friends is a total fantasy. But it’s one I so desperately craved as I moved through my early twenties. If I was having a hard time, I’d imagine what it would be like to nip across the hall and burrow in my best mate’s arms while she spoon-fed me ice cream. The reality of having to take an hour-long Uber journey across London to do the same thing is not quite as appealing. Even being able to pop into a cafe and know that you’ll always find a familiar face there is a luxury not reserved for city dwellers, who are lucky if a barista puts the right name on their coffee cup.
As I inched closer towards my late twenties, I always thought my yearning for a Friends utopia would fade. But if anything, it’s only become greater. Many of my friends are now in serious relationships and live with their partners, none of whom, by the way, are people from our friendship group. Some have moved abroad for work, and others have simply slotted into new lifestyles that mean their socialising is limited to a select number of friends. Regardless, it’s got to a point where more and more friends are drifting out of my life. The number of group chats I’m active in has decreased. As has the number of people I invite to celebrations. For my birthday this year, I went out for dinner with just my boyfriend and my mum.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing, of course. As you get older, and the clutches of school and university fade into the distance, it’s only natural that the number of people you see and speak to on a regular basis would go down. That doesn’t mean the friendships you have are any less valuable. Some of my closest friends are those that I only see once every six months. And it always feels like no time has passed. Priorities change. People outgrow each other. Life can tear us apart.
If I was having a hard time, I’d imagine what it would be like to nip across the hall and burrow in my best mate’s arms while she spoon-fed me ice cream
The fact that Friends ignores all of this is as touching as it is infuriating. Particularly now as we emerge from the pandemic, when effortless social interactions became a thing of the past and we all forgot how to talk to anyone outside of our household.
Obviously, I will watch the reunion episode; any Friends fan would be remiss not to. And while I will do so with wiser eyes, knowing that even these six very famous actors longed for the friendship dynamic they perpetuated, a part of me will hold onto the fantasy lives their characters lived. Because even though it’s not real, it’s still comforting to imagine that it might be.