So this is a bit of a different post than what you’re probably used to reading on this blog, but it’s good to change it up a little. Whenever I see an episode of Friends the topic of Ross and Rachel’s relationship captures my attention. And after 10 seasons and the series finale of Friends, I keep going back to this thought: “What happened to Ross and Rachel?” Now, I know this post is almost a decade late, but since the show is in syndication, I’m trying to humbly get away with it anyway.
For virtually all of the 90’s, Ross and Rachel captivated the tv relationship world. Friends ran 10 years virtually on the status of David Schwimmer’s and Jennifer Aniston’s portrayal and chemistry of Ross and Rachel — whether or not they were ‘on a break’. But whenever I think about the last episode of Friends and see Ross and Rachel magically (and very quickly) put back together, rather than feeling the ultimate satisfaction I thought I would feel after years of anticipation, I couldn’t help but think, “man, that was forced.” Seeing them together just didn’t feel like it did before. Something was different about their chemistry, and it’s something that would make me scratch my head when I saw them together on reruns.
What happened to Ross and Rachel?
Answer: Jennifer Aniston grew up……and thus, so did Rachel.
When Rachel showed up at Central Perk in a wedding dress on the first episode of Friends, who was she? She was a girl who was emotionally lost — just ran out on her wedding, learning to see the world without living through her father’s credit cards, and taking her first steps into navigating life on her own, with a little help from her friends. To put it bluntly, Rachel was an emotional “damsel in distress” who needed a complementary figure — one of stability and security, and someone who would loyally love and care for her (in the psychological mold of her father).
Enter Ross — the mega-in-charge control-freak who was already a working Paleantologist at a museum in NY, was coming out of a heartbreaking divorce, and who had had a crush on Rachel since high school. Ross was easily the father-type that young Rachel needed, and Rachel was the damsel in distress that Ross craved and needed. They were the closest to a perfect complement that could be created.
For years, Ross and Rachel were magical on the screen. I have to wonder what Facebook statuses and tweets would have looked like if they existed in the 90’s. But around season 7, something changed, and maybe it’s just my therapist vision, but Jennifer Aniston noticeably matured, and with this brought a noticeable maturity in Rachel. Now, obviously, this is a very good thing in real life — we want to see people continue to emotionally develop and mature, and learn and grow, etc. But for our Friends fantasy world, this maturity heavily dented Ross and Rachel’s chemistry (though I’m sure I’ll hear it from those of you who disagree with me).
When Rachel matured, she no longer was the same damsel in distress — the young girl looking for someone to create stability for her from the outside. She became a self-empowered, internally strong woman who knew what she wanted out of life and would go for it. Good for her! I’m sure most would agree that this truly is a positive thing for any person in real life.
What about Ross? David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Ross was very consistent throughout the 10 years. He pretty much stayed the same — the same secure, stable and fatherly Paleantologist, though who could still be child-like at times, and consistently struggled with intimate relationships. Young and lost Rachel was Ross’ complementary puzzle piece; mature and empowered Rachel with Ross was more like a different piece from the same puzzle. After the final episode of Friends, I couldn’t help but wonder how their relationship would progress if it was real life. Maybe their chemistry was still somewhat there, but it certainly was different — which makes sense after a decade of life in their 20’s, right?
So what does this have to do with therapy? As people, we are constantly growing and developing. We get into relationships at times in our lives where the fit makes sense, and as we continue to grow, develop, and change as people, at times we grow more together, and at times we grow more apart. But luckily, in real life our puzzle pieces are made more of play-dough and are not set in stone. This is where couples therapy can be very helpful, if we find that shaping our own relationship puzzle pieces to fit is becoming overwhelming. Depending on level of motivation both partners bring to the table, there are many ways to have a very meaningful relationship even if our fantasy complement or ideal level of chemistry isn’t currently in our lives. Though we’ll never know how Ross and Rachel would have ended up after their Hollywood finale, there are still many ways to strengthen a relationship that isn’t blessed with Hollywood writing.