Most of us have grown up watching Friends. But what happens when, suddenly, you’re the same age as they were?
Being of the Friends generation, I grew up with the show. I started watching in season 4 (at age 10-ish), and followed the group through massive life changes and an astonishing amount of character growth – it was a sitcom, after all! And yet by the end of the tenth season, all of the core characters had developed into completely different people.
Over the years I’ve sat through countless re-watches and re-runs, and pretty much know every line and episode by heart. It’s a little (read: a lot) embarrassing.
And yet, last month after finishing film school and finding myself having an abundance of this mythical thing they call “free time,” I decided to start the show over one more time, from the very beginning. Why? Because it suddenly dawned on me: I am now their age. I am Monica, when she sat in Central Perk and enjoyed one last moment of status quo before Rachel crashed her life and changed the group forever.
I’ve always thought of the six friends as much older than me, living that magical mature mid-20s life that I would one day have. But now, suddenly, I am their contemporary – but I don’t have a fraction of the life they lead. I don’t have a standard coffee house, or five kooky yet close friends I see every day. I don’t have a steady job, or a clear idea of what I want to do with my life or how to go about doing it. I don’t feel like an adult, and I really haven’t got anything figured out… er, hang on a minute.
That’s the whole point of Friends, isn’t it? Sure, the group’s lives are glamorised to the point of ridiculousness (but again, you know, sitcom), but ultimately it’s all about not having a clue, not getting what exactly you want, but somehow making it work anyway. Because, as Phoebe says in the-one-with-the-American-politician-I-don’t-know, it has to.
I’m just over halfway through my 20s now, and (like most of my contemporaries, I’m sure) suffering from acute panic because my life has not yet magically resolved itself and become something tangible and clear-cut.
But hey, I think as I watch Monica deal with her Young Ethan fiasco, that’s life. While I might not have that poise and confidence that comes with being a successful, unbelievably attractive sitcom star in Hollywood, I feel like I can relate to the young people I see on the screen (although they still act much more mature than I will ever feel).
When the series starts, Monica is regaling her friends with yet another tale of a failed relationship. Chandler is stuck in a job he somehow fell into, and doesn’t know how to get out of. Joey has no job, but somehow manages to scrape enough together to make rent (not counting all the money we later learn he owes Chandler, of course). Phoebe is drifting, and happily so. Ross is getting a divorce, which while hard to relate to is very fitting: he, like Rachel, is starting his life all over again. He’s diving back into a young single life he never really got to be a part of because he married his first and only love. That’s terrifying. But he deals.
And then there’s Rachel: she has no relevant education, no job experience, and no idea what to do with her life. Sound familiar? Because it sure does for me. And watching Rachel change and grow through the series – paying her dues and eventually working her way up to a job and career (and more importantly, life) she truly loves – gives me hope. Her career, at least early on, is extremely realistic with its roadblocks and ups and downs. The strokes of luck she experiences are realistic too, because that’s ultimately how you get ahead in today’s insane job jungle.
The thing that really gets me about watching Friends now, though, is that when I was younger, I thought they had it together all along. But really, none of the six friends actually figure things out until well into their 30s – and some not even then (Joey, why did you have to move and do that crappy new show? You were fine!).
When I was younger, Friends gave me an idea of how I wanted to live in some mythical future life that would never come to be. But now that I’m living in my future-turned-present, I’m realising that in a lot of ways, I’m very much on track – I’m exactly as clueless as the Friends I so aspired to be like, and they turned out okay.
So for all you fellow 20-somethings that don’t quite feel like it’s all working out the way you want, do yourself a favour and spend a weekend re-watching the first few seasons of that old show you used to know, the one with the bright colours and gigantic mugs. It’s going to make you feel a little bit better.