I can’t remember the first time I watched Friends. I think, like most millennials, the endless re-runs penetrated my psyche sometime in my childhood until I reached the age where my mum would let me stay up and watch the final seasons of Friends as they aired – what a novelty that was!
Being exposed to a show like this at such an impressionable age (I was 11 when the final season aired), it served as the blueprint for what I thought adult life would look like. That’s it, I thought, when I’m in my 20s (an age that seemed unfeasibly far away at that point) I will live with my best friend in a lovely apartment, my close friends will live across the hall and we’d spend our days at coffee shops while I easily scaled the career ladder (I imagined myself as Rachel, of course).
Friends told us life was going to be this way, but now, as a 27-year-old watching the Friends reunion special, I have realised – like so many others – that my 20s have been far from this ideal that we were sold. The life that Friends painted for us does. not. exist.
Firstly, who has the time to sit around at a coffee shop all day? Does Joey just sit there when he’s not auditioning in the hope that the others would pop by? Even if we’re expected to believe that this is before they all head to work or after, most coffee shops close in the late afternoon and who has the time to head to a coffee shop at 7am for a chat while the rest of us are manically trying to fit in an exercise and skincare regime before work?
Also, the fact that six friends are able to coordinate their schedules to hang out together all of the time is unheard of. It’s hard enough to coordinate schedules with one friend let alone five others. But, as they seem to be such a close-knit circle with no other friends, it would make sense that they prioritise hanging out with each other. Also the fact that they live so close to each other helps make this plausible. They clearly have not had to contend with London housing which makes some friendships feel like long-distance relationships.
Lest we mention the SIZE of Monica and Rachel’s apartment. The lovely kitchen! The sprawling lounge! The mammoth window and reading nook! What a dream. While it’s eventually explained that the apartment was once Monica’s grandmother’s and it’s rent controlled, I still can’t help but feel envious while I sit in my Brixton shoebox.
Then there’s the fact that Rachel, in particular, seems to pick a career and rise to seismic heights within a few years (she even gets the chance to go to Paris with her job by the end, something I will never forgive her for turning down). Similarly, when we meet Ross he’s already an established paleontologist but quickly progresses throughout the series to become an NYU professor too – a seriously impressive feat. While some of Monica’s career setbacks are shown, most of the time she’s seen running her own restaurant, a demanding job which makes us question how she ever had time to see her friends when surely she’s working opposite schedules? While scaling the career ladder is a large part of what makes up your 20s, despite Friends making this look effortless, in reality it takes years of hard graft to reach the top of your game.
As much as I (deeply) love Friends, the show just isn’t reflective of the 20-something experience. Particularly, as I reach the latter part of my 20s, I’ve noticed a mass exodus of friends moving out of London, either to different countries or back to their hometowns or to settle down with partners. Large friend gatherings, while they haven’t been possible for the past year in any case, are few and far between and I’m lucky if I get to see even one of my friends IRL every week, let alone every day. While I did spend a year living with one of my best friends (honestly, it was so great, I highly recommend it), our differing schedules meant that half the time we were ships passing in the night. Although when my partner and I decided to move in together I did utter Monica’s line of “Now I have to live with a boy!”
Despite Friends selling us a lie of what our 20s would look like, and as much as I lament, being in your 20s isn’t all doom and gloom. This is a decade about pursuing dreams, finding love, discovering new places, meeting new people and, of course, nurturing those existing friendships. It’s about making the most of all of the possibilities that adulthood throws at us – for some this might mean sitting in a coffee shop with your closest pals, for others it might mean a solo trip to far-flung places or hitting those career goals you always dreamed of.
While we may not have that close-knit circle of friends or that massive apartment we imagined, we have possibilities and the opportunity to choose whatever path we want. And what could be more exciting than that?