I first started watching Friends a handful of years after it went off the air.
I was, admittedly, a bit behind — I was nearing the end of my middle-school years, and most of my friends had been tuning in since we were still learning our times-tables. By the time I watched my first episode, I already knew the references, the character, and the basic plot points.
Still, the show caught my attention in a big way. A lot of middle-school kids can’t wait to grow up, and I was no exception, picturing my twenties through the lens of this sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, always entertaining show. I pictured myself and my own adult friends hanging out in coffee shops, wearing designer clothes, entering high-powered jobs and falling in love.
I also pictured the spacious apartments and lack of parental oversight nearly all the characters enjoyed.
This rosy view of Friends-inspired adulthood continued all throughout my teenage years. I couldn’t wait to be in my twenties. Then, suddenly, I was.
And let me tell you, watching Friends now isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. I just can’t stop noticing everything wrong with the show.
For one thing, adult friendships are simultaneously more complex and less dramatic than the show ever made them out to be. My best friends are people I love deeply, who have a lot of history with me, who care about what I care about but don’t necessarily want the same things as me.
On a surface level, this sounds a whole lot like Friends.
But scratch that surface and you’ll find that real-life friendships, while messy, are usually not nearly as frantic or unsupportive as the ones on the show. We don’t live together or even across the hall from each other, and we don’t hang out every single day like the gang seems to.
And — gasp — we very rarely hang out in coffee shops.
But in spite of my less frequent hang-outs with my friends, when I watch the show, those relationships largely seem weightless, and I think it’s because I know how meaningful real adult friendships are supposed to feel.
I can also confidently say that most twenty-somethings do not live as extravagantly as our TV friends do.
Much has been said about how unrealistic the friends’ dating lives are, but on a practical living level, most of us also don’t experience anything like what the show depicts. We don’t have those fancy apartments with huge windows and multiple rooms and kitchens with lots of counterspace, even outside of major metro areas.
A lot of us still live with our parents.
We also don’t usually wear designer clothes, and from my own experience, those we do wear came from the clearance rack at the department store off-season.
Most of the show’s friends also rarely see their parents.
As an angsty pre-teen, this seemed like a dream come true, but I’ve actually never needed or wanted my parents in my life more than as a twenty-something.
While the show did a good job of portraying how disconcerting it can be to grow up and see your parents as flawed human beings, what it didn’t drive home was how fun it can be to get to know your parents as an adult. Maybe part of the reason I don’t hang out in coffee shops with my friends is that I’m too busy hanging out with my family a lot of the time.
Even for my real-life friends who live far away from their families, regular calls home are part of the norm.
Beyond all these story issues, it’s hard to watch Friends now without seeing how problematic it is.
Its homophobic, transphobic, near-exclusively white, gender-stereotyping, slut-shaming view of adult life hasn’t aged well. Many of the punchlines are based around things that are, to me, decidedly un-funny, especially recurring jokes about Carol, Ross’ lesbian ex-wife, and Chandler’s dad’s gender identity.
It all feels lazy and insensitive, and in episodes with these kinds of jokes, it’s hard to pay attention to anything else.
What I’ve learned from watching Friends as an adult is that I can’t let TV decide exactly who or what I want to be.
Sure, I can spend a day like Carrie Bradshaw or confront hard truths about myself through the lens of Elder Millennial, but at the end of the day, I can’t let TV’s glossy, sometimes-dated view of the world shape my expectations of myself and my future.