On September 22, the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of Friends. I recently hopped off the late-bus and binge-watched the show. I often wonder why I had not done it sooner. In celebration, I thought I would share a few things that I learned from friends, some things that we could glean and improve from. (Spoiler alert: it is physically impossible for me to discuss a movie/television show I love without spoilers. You have been warned.)
The show basically surrounds six friends who live in apartments in New York. From left to right in the picture below, you have Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Monica, Joey and Phoebe. Monica and Rachel become roommates when Rachel becomes a runaway bride in episode one. They live across the hallway from Joey and Chandler. Ross and Phoebe both live alone.
So how do they all know each other? Phoebe and Monica were former roommates. Monica, Rachel and Ross went to school together. (The girls were BFFs.) Monica and Ross are siblings. Ross and Chandler went to college together. Chandler and Joey are roommates. Still following?
Lesson one: You can reinvent yourself or course correct.
The main focus of the story was Rachel starting over. I think that was both a good thing and a bad thing. She left behind marrying a doctor with a lot of money, family, friends and a pampered lifestyle to live a middle-class life with these friends. While I love that she became less vapid and self-absorbed as time went on, I feel that she left behind a really good life to be her own person. I did love her resilience and independence as time went on. (She still ended up being with a doctor, and living a middle class life.) I will let you be the judge of her transformation.
Lesson two: you can always look your best
Monica reinvented herself in a way too. She was formerly overweight (before the series start) and lost all of it. Even after she made her goal weight, she took a lot of care in maintaining her appearance and keeping in tip-top shape. As black women, we are all predisposed to be heavyset, bigger than women of other groups. I’m absolutely not saying that you cannot find love at any size. However, if we are interested in being competitive in the dating market, it makes sense to become as desirable as we can across the board. In order to cast our nets as wide as we can, we will have to lose the weight. (I’m preaching to myself here too.)
Even beyond weight, take a look at how all of the female Friends characters looked and are portrayed. Even on their worst days, they always managed to look immaculate, soft and kind. They wore makeup. They dressed well. Their hair was always styled. To celebrate this iconic anniversary, Ralph Lauren is even launching a “Friends” fashion line, patterning after Rachel’s wardrobe.
Lesson three: act like you belong
Phoebe, the kookiest member of the group, would constantly give herself new names, new backstories and add an air of authority to herself when she wanted to get herself, or a friend, out of a bind. She had no problem playing the part she needed to in order to get what she wanted.
If you are moving in new spaces, you can learn from Phoebe’s gusto. You deserve to be anywhere you have worked for. Defeat imposter syndrome when you find yourself mingling in higher social circles. Fake it until you make it. (While you are faking it, use the Pink Pill to learn how to navigate your space in the upper echelons of society.)
Lesson four: Honesty is important, but not as important as preserving a relationship.
In the show, I found that there were a lot of times when people’s thoughts, and what came out of their mouths, did not always match. To be honest, I can see that sometimes in real life as well. I hear a lot of black people parroting the stereotype that “white people are fake,” when in fact, I believe it’s more of a misunderstanding. Imagine speaking Spanish to an English speaker. Some words might sound the same, but there will still be barriers in communication, without foundational knowledge.
Friends taught me that saving face is very important. Bluntness is simply not currency in non-black communication. There were many times in the show where I would have called out Phoebe’s foolish behaviours and comments, or Chandler’s constant ribbing, or another character’s flaws. However, other characters in the show choose to either ignore certain comments, smooth things over or extend an olive branch instead. (I see I have much to learn here.) If we’re looking to thrive in other ecosystems, we must learn to get along with other people in a way they understand.
Lesson five: Know your worth
Each of these girls worked to better the life that they had. They dated multiple partners until they found the one. They kept their eyes out for better jobs and opportunities. They leveraged their networks to make these things happen. When that didn’t work, flattery, relationship building and reciprocity went a long way.
Monica found someone who wasn’t all that attractive, but he was intentional. Once he was all in, he shared with her his plans (and his savings) to buy a home, pay for their future kids’ college and secure their future. Now that is what you call an ideal man.
Rachel’s journey faced a lot of ups and downs, but I loved how positive and upbeat she was. She would always find a solution to her problems and someone who could help her get there. One thing that stuck out to me was her journey after having a child out-of-wedlock. It was not her best decision, but she made the most of it, with her family and friends supporting her. Life doesn’t stop after you have a baby. You can continue to work, date, and spend time with loved ones. It takes a lot of work, but it can be worth it. I didn’t love the man Rachel ended up with, but it was clear that he loved her more, and would go to the moon and back for her.
Phoebe’s story surprised me the most. She grew up as an orphan and married way above her class. When men told her that they weren’t interested in marriage, she kept it moving until she found one who valued marriage like she did. As unconventional as she was, she saw the value in the family unit.
Lesson seven: black women are just as desirable as white women.
Last, but not least, you can make your own story. You are just as worthy of a life worth living as anyone else. I have heard a lot of people comment that there are no black people on Friends. They are few and far between, but when they did appear on the show, they had amazing storylines. Gabrielle Union’s character was pursued by two of the leading men. Aisha Tyler dated two of them as well.
If we can embody some of the tips we learn in these spaces, we too can improve cast our nets wide and learn to thrive in new ecosystems.