How Binge-Watching the Iconic 90’s Series Friends Changed the Life of a Twentysomething
Everyone knows them. And most people adore them: Ross. Rachel. Monica. Chandler. Phoebe. Joey. Friends. These are the characters who defined how a twentysomething lived and loved in the 90s and early 2000s. When the show aired initially, I was two years old, so understandably my love of these folks developed a lot later in life. In fact, I had the absolute pleasure of binge-watching the entire series and finished the final episode just last week. I am twenty-four and can say with certainty that this decision was a flawless one. I had heard for too many years about what I was missing and now finally understand what all the hype was.
I can absolutely see the magic in this show: you are given an inside look at a group of friends – each with their own flaws and quirks – and you get to watch them live alongside one another. How entirely relatable. It may be a simple premise, but within that simplicity, something truly amazing happens: you get to see the struggles, triumphs, heartache, ethical dilemmas, and life-altering events of six people just like you. Friends brought home to me what life is really like for a twentysomething, as follows:
Lesson One: You’re Never Alone
Friends. Family. Those two words are pretty much interchangeable; the commonality lies in the fact that these individuals are meant to love you for you, no matter what. Through bad moods, tantrums, sarcastic comments, arguments, hangry fits, and embarrassing moments – these are your people, through and through.
In Friends, Phoebe is a horrible singer. Joey isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree. Ross gets married pretty much every season, while Chandler has a complete and total commitment-phobia. Let’s not even touch on the fact that Monica cleans compulsively.
Everyone has their problems, and the great thing is you’re never alone in that; despite your idiosyncrasies, you find people who love you and your weirdness, and you build a relationship with them. If someone as competitive and crazy as Monica can find love, so can you.
Lesson two: No One Has it Together…absolutely NO ONE
You’ve seen the memes about “adulting.” Millennials love to complain about adulthood and how hard it is to be them because it’s true. The learning curve in adulthood is different for everyone: for some it can be the bitter feeling of looking at your bank statement when rent is taken out at the first of every month and your balance plummets. It could be the exhilarating/terrifying realization that you can literally do whatever you want, whenever you want, since you answer to no one but yourself. This is a large pill to swallow, and not everyone takes it too well. Especially if you’re washing it down with champagne because you’re over twenty-one and decided to buy a bottle of bubbles instead of dinner at the grocery store. It happens.
Relationships also factor into this craziness, since the question arises of how are you able to share your life with a fellow adult who is spending just as much time figuring themselves out as you are? It’s a conundrum. And there is a common misconception held by those in my age group that you have to have your life together right now, and if you don’t, there must be something wrong with you: you should have the have the perfect job that you love and feel really passionate about. You have to have the perfect car that shows what a complete and utter baller you are. You have to have the gorgeous significant other who adores you and brings you flowers for no reason. I would say I buy into some but not all of these ideals, personally. I mean, every girl loves flowers…but I believe in them even less so after watching Friends.
Instead, here’s the reality: Rachel has to work as a waitress at Central Perk for two years before finding a job she loves. Phoebe didn’t have a legitimate boyfriend until season nine – when she was well into in her thirties. Chandler is in a job he hates the majority of the show, but makes great money doing it (this is absolutely a reality in my social circle, and is almost considered “the norm”). Ross has endless failed relationships and makes a complete fool of himself when it comes to matters of the heart. These are the pains that bond us – the obstacles that make sitting down to share a cup of coffee with your friends so sweet.
The best news is that everyone feels as “behind” as you do. Everyone feels like they should have it together, but are just as terrified as you are that they won’t ever be able to make that happen. You’re a mess and so is every single person around you, in their own right. It’s kind of a great position to be in. Take comfort in that!
Lesson Three: Be Fearless in Everything You Do
I think a huge part of being a twentysomething is that you’re scared a lot of the time of pretty much everything: scared you’re not making enough money, and scared you won’t live the life you thought you would.
But being in your twenties can be both the most terrifying and the most exciting experience. It’s not easy to jump into things wholeheartedly, but the ability to do so can be so rewarding! This is the way you should be thinking: A job opens up in your department that you think you’d rock. APPLY. You find the perfect tune in the song book at karaoke. SING. You find a cheap flight to Australia that leaves in two days. PACK. These are the actions that make great stories. However, fear often holds us back.
As in Friends: for instance, Ross and Rachel – it’s a never-ending story. Love is terrifying. This we know. This lesson I have learned on my own, and it was definitely reflected in the tumultuous back-and-forth seen thru ten seasons between these two. Love is terrifying, yes, but love is also wonderful, and exhilarating, and simply amazing. Learning to accept the good with the uncertainty of how things will continue or end is where life lessons come in.
Both Ross and Rachel had to put themselves out there to be with one another, and each interaction either yielded high reward for the huge risk they took — or heartache that lasted until the next embarrassing interaction they had. In the end, they had a beautiful baby together and Rachel got off the plane to tell Ross she loved him. She was fearless. Sure – that has a cinematic air, but these things can happen in real life sometimes if you take a leap of faith.
Chandler quit his job because he didn’t want to be in Tulsa and away from Monica. Monica proposed to Chandler when she was worried he would never be ready to commit to her. Joey told Rachel he loved her, knowing those feelings would, most likely, not be reciprocated. You try, and you crash and burn, and life goes on. But most importantly – you try, and in the process, learn the valuable lessons needed to live a full and enriching life. Sure, things could go sideways but who wouldn’t rather experience things head-on, instead of looking back and thinking “I could have…I should have…”?
Lesson Four: The Reality of Turning Thirty isn’t so Distant Anymore…
These days, people are singing a new tune in regards to turning the big 3-0. It used to be that turning thirty meant your youth was practically a thing of the past. Thirty meant you were no longer cute. A woman basically turned into an unlovable troll. Thankfully, those days are over!
Nowadays, women prefer to wait until they’re 30+ to have children. Thirty is now a goal, a privilege. It is no longer a scary stepping-stone that one dreads and tries to run from. Thirty is the new twenty, and women everywhere are rocking it.
Friends rewards this type of thinking by making most of the characters’ lives miserable or chaotic while in their twenties — and then peachy in their thirties (with some exceptions, of course). Phoebe gets married in her thirties, and looks absolutely stunning! Ross gets tenure in his teaching career. Joey gets his role on Days of Our Lives back. Rachel gets a job offer in Paris. Things finally start to turn around for them!
Interestingly, I think this belief that you’ve “made it” in your thirties comes only with the experience gained in those tumultuous twentysomething years. After all, nothing in this world would be appreciated or cherished if it came easy. This is something to keep in mind when you’re boarding a flight to go on a business trip you don’t want to take, or get taken up on your (halfhearted) offer to help a friend move this coming weekend. Put as much effort into your twenties as possible, so you can feel as though you truly lived. In other words, people enjoy their thirties because they had those unbearable ups-an-downs in their twenties and now deserve a little break.
In your twenties, you work hard, you barely sleep, you make mistakes, get some emotional bumps and bruises. And after ten years, you get a long-awaited reprieve – in fact, watching this show has me pretty excited to (soon) ring in a new decade with grace and strutting my stuff in designer heels — because I know that at that point I’ll be able to afford them! What a great chapter in your evolving story! What a sweet deal! Things to look forward to…
Lesson Five: Coffee Makes Everything Better
Coffee is fuel and absolutely necessary to make it through the day, not to mention life in general. So the fact this show mostly revolves around coffee consumption brings me so much joy. Friends teaches us that no matter how busy you are, no matter who you’re dating, where you’re working, what you’re dealing with…there is always time for a cup of coffee. In fact, you should make time for it and invite your five closest friends to join you.
My takeaway from the constant need to caffeine-up with friends is that you have to make time for the things you love in life, despite its craziness. You can be completely overwhelmed and hating life — and then a cup of coffee and a brief chat with a good buddy can completely turn that around. What good is it to work hard if you can’t blow your money on a cappuccino and a muffin? Pay attention to the little joys in life and take advantage of them whenever, wherever, and in whatever coffee shop you can find!
Final Thoughts on the Friends Phenomenon
In the end, it’s just a TV show — that I know. But the great thing is that in waiting to watch it until I was in the same chapter of my life as these characters – and in the midst of a few struggles — I truly appreciated the minute details written into the plot, and then watching how these characters worked through them.
It showed that life is uncertain and really knocks you down sometimes. But the great thing is that you can be at your all-time low and in an instant, over a cup of coffee, in a lecture, at a gig…that can change. You meet new people and make room for them, and life goes on. (And if, as in Friends, you’re lucky enough to share your life with fellow coffee-addicts who enjoy poking fun at one another constantly, well then you’ve pretty much won the jackpot.)
In closing, if you haven’t watched this show, do it. Immediately. If you’ve already seen it – watch it again! You’ll have a few laughs — and you might just discover some other life lessons I missed.19