Binging on Friends in a Post-Cohort Era
To be honest, re-watching the entire show has been a bit of a roller-coaster. Just like watching rom-coms, it’s hard not to feel totally manipulated by the romance myth of close-knit cohorts, drinking coffee, sharing every hope and fear, and laughing about the horrible dates from nights passed. In a pre-recession New York, the codependent 30-something friend group reigned.
Back when I was in middle school, playing handball, being very loud on the blue line and buying Sprite Remix at the corner store, I had a real emotional investment in Friends. Despite neither working nor having sex, I dug Friends for the feeling of togetherness. I was 13, soaking up the affect that comes with being able to see your BFFs whenever, the only restriction being how much homework you had. With Monica, Chandler, Ross, and Rachel having all met in high school and college, and Phoebe and Joey as their non-graduate buddies, I blame Friends for giving me the false idea that me and my people could weather the harsh transitions life would throw at us. Good thing I literally binged on friends in my adolescence.
There’s something fascinating about this series for its dire commitment to people who stick to one another like lint on a sweater. But watching it years later, I’m realizing what is so terribly weird about the way our relationships function now. We spend our time daydreaming of the ideal community where we have people to cuddle, theorize with and fuck but settle for a post-friendship ideology like “okay cool, I don’t need anybody.” Unsure of how to meet cool people, I ask my editors out for drinks but need to remind myself that they are my bosses. (Can we really be friends with the people who pay us?) I struggle to re-establish relationships with the people I once did everything with who went away to private colleges. (Maybe we don't have anything in common anymore?) I feel too busy with work to emotionally support the people I meet for dinner once a month. (My 15-year-old self would spit on me!) I don’t date because I probably shouldn’t bring any new people into my life right now. I build my personal brand around “modeling better friendship” but fail more often than not (shots fired).
What binging on Friends revealed to me was just how distant we are from any celebration of the codependent friend group, and how many people I know have resolved themselves to loneliness – even the ones who have a partner they are never seen without. Starting with Monica and Chandler getting married, we witness the slow erosion of the friends, and the emergence of the autonomous single (see: Joey) and the hyper-complicated couple (see: Ross and Rachel). It echoes our reality. This splintering of friends is the divorce we never anticipated, the growing up we never planned to do.
In our own cohorts, what we’ve fallen into is a quantity over quality model of social relationships where our acquaintances are valued higher than our close friends. What the fuck is this? We neglect our friends while they are around, instead opting for a kind of combative autonomy. Then we wallow in our aloneness when they are gone.
If you decide to take the plunge and commit to all 10 seasons, you can find the whole damn thing on Netflix.
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