How Friends may have influenced a whole generation
Watching the show again gave me a whole new perspective on my own generation’s behavior
For the past several months, I’ve been deeply entrenched in the TV series Friends. Feeling a sense of nostalgia about the “good ol’ days” before technology ruled our lives, I began with season one, following the experiences of six friends who are very close to one another — both literally and figuratively, living in New York City in the mid-to-late nineties.
When the show first aired in September of 1994, I was nine years old and not yet in America. It wasn’t until I was in high school in the early 2000s that I began watching Friends on a regular basis. Flash forward to the present (2019), and I’m reminded of Friends and how incredibly complex their relationships were and yet how simple the times were back then. Thus, the desire to re-watch Friends came and I found myself on the couch several nights a week, feeling the tension, the laughter, the hope, the struggles, the love and everything in between that is the culmination of what Friends is all about.
As I watch the show from season one up until now — season 8 — I can’t help but think about how much this show has influenced my generation — the millennials. Even though the characters in the show were in their mid-to-late twenties (starting from when they were 24 years old until they were in their mid-thirties), thus belonging to Generation X, the show debuted during a time when millennials were growing up.
I remember the first episode I watched that I really loved — the one where they played a trivia game that required them to answer questions about each other — and the winner gets the apartment. It was an incredibly funny episode that surmises the uniqueness of the show. In real life, you simply cannot trade apartments that easily, especially when the two apartments (Monica’s and Joey’s) are not equal in size. But for the sake of comedy, they quizzed each other, and it was during this episode that we learned more about each character and what makes them unique.
For any (typical) group of friends growing up together in their twenties and early thirties, there are the (typical) life events that are bound to happen at one point or another. Life events such as marriages, divorces, babies, and home purchases typically happen for a lot of us during our twenties. But for Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey, these things didn’t happen until much later in the show.
Take, for example, the relationship between Monica and Chandler. They’ve known each other for many years — they met when her brother Ross brought Chandler, his college roommate, home for the holidays one year. Ever since then, they’ve been friends. But their romance didn’t blossom until the trip to London, to see Ross getting married the second time. Then, they finally get married in season 7 — by this time, many things have happened — the birth of Ross’s son Ben, Phoebe being a surrogate for her brother, Joey getting his big break on Days of Our Lives, as well as Rachel’s breakup with Ross.
Perhaps the one episode that truly touched me in ways I didn’t expect was “The One Where They All Turn 30” in Season 7. In this episode, the friends gather to celebrate Rachel’s thirtieth birthday, and as they’re sitting around a large table, with presents piled high and the birthday girl (Rachel) wearing a birthday hat, she laments about turning thirty, or rather, joining others (the other five have already turned 30, as the show flashes back moments from each member’s birthdays) in the journey towards a new decade of adulthood.
What I loved about this episode was how Rachel’s expressions of disappointment crosses her face as she talks about all the things that she hasn’t done yet. She wanted to get married, she says, and have kids by the time she’s thirty five, and in order to do that, she must first find the “perfect guy” to have a serious relationship with (the guy she was dating at the time was her 24-year-old assistant, hardly a viable option for a mate). Turning 30 somehow indicates that time is running out, and for that, she was disappointed in herself. (Little does she know that by the time she’s 31, in season 8, she would have a baby with Ross — her first baby).
I remember when I turned 30, I felt the exact same way. And I’m certain that I’m not the only millennial who feels that way. Turning 30 is a major life event, for it puts you in another category of adulthood — instead of adding another digit to your age, you’re adding two more digits to your age. It’s a big deal for a lot of us, and I remember it was a big deal for me. Turning 30 and feeling like you’ve hardly accomplished anything feels like the epitome of entering another decade.
At the end of the episode, Phoebe reminds Rachel that she has good friends and a good job, and she should be grateful for that. And it reminds me that regardless of what generation you belong in, there’s always going to be a disparity between one’s expectations of oneself and the reality. It brings the question of “Can we have it all?” in full light. We certainly want it all, but we can’t always have it, at least not at the same time.
Life is full of unexpected surprises, and turning older shouldn’t be one of them, but for many of us, myself included, Friends provided a mold into which we can emulate our lives. In many ways, Friends made it acceptable — cool, even — to NOT get married until your early thirties, to have babies in your early thirties, and that divorce can and does happen in your mid-twenties (as it did with Ross), and that living in a major city can be incredibly exciting, full of adventure and stories and provides you with many more opportunities (as Rachel had with getting a job in the fashion business), and that it’s okay to be pregnant and not want to marry the baby’s father (like with Rachel and Ross) and that you don’t need to buy a house just yet, especially if you live in a city like New York.
Overall, Friends provided my generation with the ability and desire to be progressive while navigating the uncertainties of adulthood.