When I was 18, my parents put together an incredible graduation party for me. I was an emotional wreck, with tears streaming down my face as I moved throughout the building, hugging everyone I encountered. After I waded through the emotions, I noticed the small details my parents snuck in without my knowledge. The moment I saw Friends, my favorite television show, playing on a TV in the corner of the room — I felt a lump rise up in my throat.
As a kid, I was too little to understand Chandler’s sarcasm, Joey’s promiscuous behavior, or Phoebe’s complicated upbringing, but these factors didn’t stop me from picking from my assortment of Friends DVDs to watch with my babysitters every weekend. I was a huge fan. I knew every episode. My parents gave me a black baguette Friends purse when I was 10, and then I set “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts as the ring-back tone on my first cell phone. Friends introduced me to love and friendship, and motivated me to be responsible once I grew up (Rachel Green’s spending habits and struggle to find a career served as lessons).
So the moment I found out Netflix released every season of Friends on January 1, I knew I had it in me to complete my favorite Friends season (the first) within a few days of the holiday break. Leaving Carroll, Iowa (my hometown with a population 1/160th of my current home in Manhattan), to intern for an online magazine (xoJane, hello!) and experience city life on my own for the first time, I have had plenty of time to indulge. So there I sat, curled up on a hazelnut-colored, squishy sofa, surrounded by Christmas lights, sipping on orange juice as the theme song bounced off the faded brick walls. In two days, I rewatched 24 episodes full of gut-wrenching laughter and classic quotes that I could still recite from memory:
“Ross, you got married when you were what – eight?”
“Dear, God! This parachute is a knapsack!”
“Oh, why not? Was I doing anything particularly . . . saucy?”
“Welcome to the real world! It sucks! You're going to love it!”
“So he's calling from Rome. I can call from Rome. All I have to do is go to Rome.”
Not only did rewatching these specific shows unexpectedly conjure up nostalgia, but I realized I grew up believing that every friendship I would have should somehow resemble the relationships portrayed on the show. (I would find my “Ross,” have a caretaker best friend like Monica, and a side-kick who could make me laugh constantly like Joey.)
Although some aspects of Friends are not true to my life living in the Midwest (pint-size apartments and spending every waking hour with the same group of people, etc.), the show taught me some valuable life lessons. Here's what I learned from my marathon:
“I’ll Be There for You” is what friendship should be about.
Friends educated me on the importance of support systems and unconditional love. For example, when Ross faced a divorce at the beginning of the series, Joey and Chandler helped him settle into his new home and invited him out to clear his head. When I first started college, I was lucky enough to meet a group of girls who, despite their very different personalities, were there for each other. Whenever someone was upset, we came together immediately, for late-night baking or laying in a swarm of blankets watching movies.
Time and separation can be irrelevant in relationships.
When Rachel rushed into Central Perk after leaving her husband at the altar, Monica offered her a place to stay even though they hadn’t spoken in years. I met my best friend when I was three years old at dance practice, and to this day, she is one of the only people I know who can instantly calm me down if I’m upset.
We parted ways after high school — she attended a state school four hours away, while I decided to go to a private school close to home. She was always the Monica to my Rachel, and I know our friendship will always be something I hold dear to my heart. This television show made me realize that true, genuine friendship is possible — and you can meet those friends anywhere.
Choosing the right career path isn’t always clear and easy.
While Chandler struggled with deciding whether or not he wanted to move up in his job or start over with an internship is similar to what a lot of people face when they want to do something they love. My freshman year, I considered starting over at a state school instead of continuing at my relatively tiny college. After realizing I would be crazy to leave a school that held all of my new friends and offered more supportive environments with smaller class sizes, I made the decision to stay. Just like Chandler, I labeled my school as a “temporary” school that I would likely leave at the end of my freshman year. But also like Chandler, I realized that if I wanted the best for myself, I would stay where I was at and let myself grow.
You are the only one who knows what’s best for yourself.
Throughout season one of Friends, Monica looked for approval from her friends about her love life, cooking, and other issues; as a high-schooler, I also requested my friends’ permission for practically every decision in my life. (I think I’m going to try out for track! That’s okay, right? Is it weird if I join cheerleading? What do you think of him? I have this new friend, __; she’s nice, isn’t she?) Post high school, I realized that the only form of acceptance I should’ve searched for was whether or not I truly wanted this for myself. Monica and I shared the same insecurities, making sure everyone agreed with our decisions, but we both realized that we knew best. Your friends are there to help guide you — not decide what you will and will not do at the end of the day.
As episode 24 flashed on the screen, I realized that these fictional characters had taught me a lot. So sorry real-life friends, because I’ve got a date with six other friends that could last about nine more seasons for now.