One of the Best Decisions Friends Made

        Friends has consistently been one of my favorite sitcoms for well over a decade. Even if I go a few weeks without watching it (which has happened at least once or twice, I think), I still know each episode by heart and reference scenes on a daily basis.

But if you’ve read this blog before, you already know I’m a Friends fan. You also know that I have some relatively unpopular opinions about the series, including the fact that I’m not a fan of Ross and Rachel as a couple (but love the similar on again/off again Sam and Diane on Cheers) and consider Monica my favorite female character.

This post is about an aspect of the show that, while probably not as unpopular as the others, is nonetheless one that is often debated by fans: Should Joey and Phoebe have gotten together (however briefly) or were the creators right to keep them as just friends?

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Sitcom Study: The Friends creators were not only right to keep Joey and Phoebe just friends, but this was also one of their best and most important decisions.

For those of you who are fans of the Joey/Phoebe pairing, I can imagine at least a couple counterarguments you’re probably thinking right now:

  1. But Matt LeBlanc and Lisa Kudrow had such amazing chemistry!!

I agree. I’d also argue that one of the reasons Friends was successful in the first place is because ALL main cast members had amazing chemistry and so ANY combinations among the six worked well.

  1. Joey and Phoebe always had such sweet moments.

True. Still, I stand by the fact that all six characters had sweet moments with the others. Plus, if Joey fell for Phoebe, you’d have all six partnered off with each other (and no Paul Rudd). This would have been too unrealistic, even for a show with infamously unrealistic apartments.

Joey and Phoebe undoubtedly love each other, but this does not mean that this is a romantic love. I strongly believe in the notion that there are different types of love and that one is not necessarily more important than another. Many still believe that even if two people insist they are “just friends”, they will eventually fall for each other (or will harbor feelings until the “time is right” like The Office’s Jim and Pam).

This line of thinking is deeply problematic. Namely, it implies that a friendship’s only value is to serve as a stepping-stone for a romantic relationship. It also suggests that, if you do have romantic feelings for a friend, the best thing to do is keep this to yourself and wait for the stars to align. Let me get on my soapbox for just a second: do not ever wait for the stars to align. I believe everything happens for a reason and people can come into your life at the most unexpected times. Still, if someone truly wants to be with you, excuses such as “too busy” or “maybe it’s the wrong time” won’t matter in at least trying to make a relationship work.

The Joey/Phoebe relationship is perfect just the way it is; it serves as a reminder that the love between friends is beautiful in and of itself and should not be seen as merely the means to an end. Actually, in a way, I guess Friends did partner off all the main characters: the on-again/off-again couple (Ross and Rachel), the friends who do fall in love and get married (Monica and Chandler), and the pair who loves each other deeply as friends and share a special bond (Joey and Phoebe).

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The One With the Sensitivity

There are several sitcoms worth analyzing, praising and re-watching several times; none is ever completely above the struggle to master the magic formula that makes certain sitcoms so memorable. This, of course, includes the struggle for a sitcom to be innovative while honoring an already successful formula, and having distinctive characters while inevitably including more familiar tropes. We have seen such tropes a million times and can recognize them a mile away: the ladies’ man who never seems to want to “settle down” (i.e. Friends’ Joey Tribbiani or Happy Days’ Arthur Fonzarelli), the “mother hen”-type woman who cannot wait to wed (i.e. Sex and the City’s Charlotte York or Friends’ Monica Geller) and the “mother-in-law from hell” (i.e. Bewitched’s Endora or Everybody Loves Raymond’s Marie Barone) are just a few. All of these tropes are understandably exaggerations, some more harmful than others, but there is one that particularly annoys me: the guy who cannot (or will not) show his sensitive, emotional side because it is “wrong.”

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Sitcom Study: Friends’ “The One With the Male Nanny” (9×06)

Relevant Episode Information: To Ross’ chagrin, Rachel hires a “manny” named Sandy (Freddie Prinze Jr.) to watch over their daughter, Emma.

That’s right, I am starting with Ross Geller, Friends’often-maligned yet undeniably hilarious (ie. “I’M FINE!” and Unagi) dinosaur-loving leading man. If you are anything like me and know Friends very (perhaps too) well, you will probably agree that, this episode aside, Ross typically does not fit into this trope. He is a loving father to his children, Ben and Emma. He is repeatedly romantic and sensitive (if not also deeply insecure, but that is for another post) during his relationship with Rachel. In this episode, however, he is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of a male nanny. Meanwhile, Chandler jokes about Rachel hiring a “manny” and Joey, arguably the closest to a “guy’s guy” on Friends, proves to be the most comfortable around Sandy and even develops a friendship with him. If Joey does not see anything emasculating about Sandy, why should Ross?

Ross explains to Sandy: “You know, I’m just not, um, that comfortable with a guy who’s as sensitive as you.” Ross eventually reveals that his dad would often make him feel as if he were not a “real boy” since he was not particularly athletic as a child. Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that Ross’ real issue with Sandy is not really because he thinks he is “weird” (as he previously claims), but because he equates Sandy with how he fears his father saw him when he was younger: too sensitive.

While the fact that Ross becomes increasingly sensitive and emotional while explaining this to Sandy is undeniably done for comedic value, it also addresses a key issue I have seen countless men (both onscreen and in real-life) confront: What is the line between being sensitive and “too sensitive?” Can a guy be romantic and sensitive toward a significant other while also maintaining his “bro” side in addition to his independent self?

Here is what I have concluded: the very obsession with this question is in and of itself the problem and it is something that desperately needs to change. I know it is far easier said than done, but if a friend or romantic partner ever makes you feel like you are not being “man” enough, run away as fast as you can. Stereotypically, it is considered “hot” if a girl loves something like Star Wars or South Park, while I have witnessed several guys ashamed to admit to enjoying Disney movies or Sex and the City. This is absurd, especially because if you can honestly look me in the eye and tell me there is not at least one Disney film that owns your heart (mine is Aladdin by the way), I will know you are lying and probably are also lying about your name and where you obtained a magic carpet (but then I would know you definitely watched Aladdin, and that would just be awkward for everyone involved).

The real question, where this subject is concerned, should not be a guy worrying about being “too sensitive”, but moreover if a guy is being respected. Now, I have always had several guy friends from varying backgrounds, so I am acutely aware that the “aw how cute, so-and-so has a new boyfriend/girlfriend” teasing is to be expected, and most of the time it is all in good fun (and I have done it too, to be fair). When the “teasing” turns into guys calling their supposed guy friend a “pussy” or making him feel bad for, say, not being able to have a guys’ night due to established plans with a partner, that is when it is a problem. That is when it is not okay. Thus, it is imperative to know the difference.

If you enjoy holding hands in public or surprising your girlfriend with flowers to remind her you love her, there is nothing “too sensitive” about that—it is actually extremely sweet. Even Ross knows: “It’s always great when someone tells you they love you.” Despite this, several guys still seem terrified of being labeled as “that guy”, always saying this in a tone that implies “that guy” has a death sentence in a few hours, when in reality “that guy” is truly and simply one who is mature and confident enough in himself to show his partner that he or she is loved. Whether it is Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass or Sex and the City’s Mr. Big, we are all guilty of being enthralled by at least one fictional, emotionally unavailable and utterly damaged character. In reality, however, the “too cool to show his feelings” guy is far from attractive.

My own father is one of the most level-headed, mature “manly” men I know, and even he recognizes the importance of and maturity in being forthright with one’s feelings and showing affection for those he loves. Back to Friends, each of the show’s three male characters are in no way hindered by their sensitive, romantic sides—and neither should anyone else.