What the TV series ‘Friends’ taught us

Charlie Elise Duff on how when society complains the Friends generation expects too much, too soon, has no patience or is too demanding, you can blame Friends...

Friends TV Show

The generation previous to mine – not quite my parents, but those in between were called the ‘MTV generation‘. The television channel which began airing in the 1980s was deemed to have a particular hold over young people in it’s original era. Somewhere along the way the phrase began to mean ‘the kids’ and society blamed MTV for a lack of attention span, debauchery and general apathy.

My generation was defined by a sitcom. Teens and pre-teens were obsessed with it. Some of us still are. Running for ten seasons, the lives of six friends became ours.

It even reached the sleepy depths of Devon. Privately educated and not allowed to socialise with the kids on the council estate where I grew up, my early teenage Friday nights were spent at a youth club in Shaugh Prior, a village (well, a few houses on a road) on Dartmoor where my best friend lived and some of our gang from the same school used to hang out. After an evening of watching the boys rollerblade and I fail to remember what else, the group used to break up just before 9pm when the rest of them used to go to watch Friends at someone’s house. No matter how much I begged I wasn’t allowed to go with them, so I always missed it because my (long-suffering) mum was driving me home. But I got a video from somewhere (free with The Sun I think) and I caught up with everyone else.

Friends TV Show

Everyone – boys, girls, no matter where you came from, had seen Friends. Our jokes, our cultural references, everything for a good few years came from the American sitcom. We all identified ourselves with one of the characters and our groups of friends were divided into the closest fitting ones too: Jon was Ross, kindly, dorky, clever: Ben was Joey, good-looking, funny; James was Chandler: cute, prone to putting his foot in it. Laurie was, without doubt Monica; competitive, a perfectionist and a hard worker. Amy was Rachel: beautiful, shopping mad and I was Phoebe, the hippy, ditsy one.

Of course as we grew up and the series developed we saw new sides to the characters and ourselves. Jon grew up to be a talent linguist. With seven or more languages, he is barely ever in the UK. Ben, it seems, never grew up, but I hear he works for a bike start-up which if you knew him, you’d know was SOOOO Ben (another 90s throwback). James was my first real boyfriend and he turned into a typical ‘lad’, working typical laddish jobs – with a bit of ski instructing thrown in. He got married last year but we fear he’ll always be the same.

Laurie also married; her traits remain the same – she’s always worked hard. Amy didn’t have Rachel’s fairytale ending we hoped for but she still enjoys the good things in life, shopping, cocktails and she is so beautiful I am mystified why anyone would make her their bridesmaid (but several people have).

Friends Phoebe Supergirl

Of course, I’m nothing like Phoebe. But in ways that surprised even myself. Who would have thought I’d have been such a career girl? That I would regularly don a suit and mix with corporate people? But Phoebe reinvented herself – her back story is of many lives, and we have that in common. I may not have lived on the streets but I’ve had a lot of different phases – and they all stay within me to make the person I am today.

Friends sold us a story at just the right time. It taught us that friends were just as, if not more important, as family, and as teenagers who couldn’t get enough of each other’s company, we dreamed (and still dream now, as people now on the wrong side of 25) of living in the same apartment block, of being able to drop by for a glass of wine or pop out for coffee. The fact is, we are all still chasing that lifestyle we aspired to twelve years ago – I held a dinner at the weekend for some friends. Instead of the spacious flat Monica enjoyed, we crammed around a tiny table and I was relieved not everyone showed up. But we still had fun.

When my best friend from university moved to London recently I demanded he move as close as possible to me. We meet for lunch sometimes, grab a pint after work occasionally and visit each other’s flats for coffee. We both grew up in the South West and you just can’t do that there – it’s almost like we’re in Friends…

Friends TV Show

Because of Friends we all believe in true love. Ross and Rachel? The reason all their relationships messed up was because they were meant to be together. We believe, however mistakenly, in fate: even though our lives have told us differently – the hard way.

Friends also taught us that we would be well off. This wasn’t a good thing. Although the series tried at points to address the money issue, the fact was they always had spending money – to go ‘catch’ a film, ‘grab’ a pizza, meet for coffee… all the time while half of them were unemployed.

We aspired to this lifestyle and I think we thought it would just happen to us when we started earning properly. We didn’t see the recession coming. Our parents had benefited from the housing boom and we’ve never known home entertainment and obsession with home furnishings like that of our parents (errr, Changing Rooms, anyone?). We assumed we would achieve more, not less. But increasingly it looks like ours will be the first generation for a long time which will be less well-off than their parents.

Friends taught us we should do what we loved – Monica loved cooking and became a chef. But those of us who followed their dreams – me, a journalist – realised that it didn’t always match up to our expectations – we still can’t afford to go out every night of the week as the Friends seemingly did (and working 12 hour days, we haven’t got the time either) and we can’t buy lunch out five days a week.

Friends TV Show Central Perk

I don’t mean I was expecting to become rich, by any means, but I don’t think we realised we would have to scrape a living despite being well-qualified. Most of us have master’s level degrees but have never had a pay raise without moving jobs.

We can’t just pop to Vegas. We don’t have a wallet full of credit cards to pay for a last minute flight to London (or in our case, New York) – that’s the kind of thing which got us into trouble in the first place. Friends never told us we had to pay tax and get a pension. It was escapism. It was just a programme. Our rational selves know this. But to our teenage selves, it was our future life. And I’m not sure we’re over it yet.

So when society complains the Friends generation expects too much, too soon, has no patience or is too demanding, you can blame Friends. We all thought we’d be mostly hanging out in lovely apartments, or be out drinking coffee and going on disastrous dates which make a good story to tell the other five most of the time by now. And we’re not. We feel a bit cheated sometimes. Sorry about that. Now, where’s that box set?

Friends – Season 1-10 Complete Collection is currently available for £30 on Amazon.co.uk, and also at Play.com, HMV, Zavvi, and eBay.

Charlie is a content and community champion. A digital engagement specialist with a background in print and digital magazines, journalism, and editing, she now looks after the community at BraveNewTalent while harbouring a passion for sustianability, triathlon and vegan cupcakes. A self-confessed ‘twaddict’, you can find her @charlie_elise.