Let me start off by saying that Friends is one of my all-time favorite shows. When I was a teenager, it was my all-time favorite show.
The dynamic among the sextet is hilarious, and the series is filled with cultural reference gems. Overall, it’s a fun, wholesome, feel-good show.
As much as I adore Friends and will never stop watching the re-runs, I have recently begun reflecting on the somewhat problematic premise of the show and others like it—that the six friends almost exclusively hang out only with one another.
This type of setup is not unique to Friends. Other shows with a similar setup come to mind, including How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement. Again, all of these are on the list of my favorite shows. And I completely understand that many sitcom story-lines work most effectively by following a core group of main characters, and that adding too many new characters into the mix can make things overly complicated.
However, it is well known that popular culture has profound effects on consumers’ self-image and perception of their reality. The shows listed above are no exception.
For example, have you ever been envious of the characters in these shows having a solid group of friends that they could always hang out with anytime they wanted? Have you wished that you could just show up at friends’ homes unannounced and they would be ready and willing to hang out with you? Have you ever felt insecure when one of your close friends decides to hang out with someone else instead of you or becomes friendly with someone else outside of your “core group?”
I’ve certainly experienced these feelings on many occasions.
In the beginning of college, I was part of a group of four girls who did everything together, and I was heartbroken when our group disintegrated. Almost the same thing happened in graduate school.
There have also been times when I’ve craved socialization on a Friday night, but my friends have either had too much work, had plans with other people, or have otherwise not been around.
Or how about when we want to enjoy some introvert downtime alone one evening, but our friends tell us to “live a little” and we give into the pressure of FOMO and YOLO?
Any of this sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone.
We have to remember that as wonderful as shows like Friends are, they are not real life. These shows do not need to inform our reality.
Given the multiple demands we have that we have to juggle in our everyday lives (and these demands are arguably more than in the 90s, when Friends first aired), it is not realistic to expect people to be available at the drop of a hat just to hang out.
Our world is becoming increasingly globalized, and with that comes a lot of migration. We should never feel like we have to stay in the same city for 10 years or more or not pursue an opportunity in another country for fear of our friend group disintegrating. This type of fear only serves to inhibit our personal growth.
Yes, leaving friends behind is painful, and in-person interactions can never be replaced, but technology has made it easier than ever to keep in touch with people. Plus, we can always arrange for annual reunions.
Furthermore, it is not always healthy to interact exclusively with the same group of people. This type of dynamic excludes others who might be peripheral to the group. People are complex beings, and interaction with diverse groups is necessary in order to nurture diverse aspects of our personality. It only broadens our horizons and enriches our life to have friends in various parts of the world (or the city) with whom we can enjoy different activities and explore different perspectives.
Finally, it is okay to not want to be around other people all the time. Sometimes we just need to be alone with our thoughts and take time to reflect and recuperate. There is nothing wrong with you if you’re not constantly surrounded by people. There’s nothing wrong with you if you want to take some time for yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t have a group of friends with whom you do everything all the time. You should never feel like you’re betraying anyone if you want to branch out and explore other interests, other places, and other people. And similarly, you don’t need to feel offended if your friends decide to do the same thing.
We don’t by any means need to stop watching our favorite sitcoms, but it’s important to take what we see on TV with a grain of salt and see it for what it is: fiction. Escape from reality.
Reality is much more complex. Embracing this complexity serves to enrich our lives and help us grow.
Author: Pavita Singh
Image: Geoffrey Chandler/Flickr
Editor: Toby Israel