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Seven love lessons I learned from watching ‘Friends’

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I’ve had three long-term boyfriends in my life. The first two were easy to get over with the classic revenge playlist, rom-com marathon and tub of cookie dough ice cream. The third is currently a complicated work-in-progress. When he broke up with me in August after six months together, I didn’t know how to process my emotions. I knew the usual methods of getting over an ex wouldn’t work for this breakup. Instead of finding a rom-com on Netflix to watch at 1 a.m., I opted to start a series I’d been meaning to watch for years.

In the emotionally tumultuous weeks following the breakup, “Friends” became a source of comic relief. I grew invested in the love lives of all the characters in order to distract myself from the mess that was my own. Their (sometimes extreme) relationship faux pas helped me through the stages of forcing myself to be over him, realizing that I wasn’t, being upset that I wasn’t and then finally accepting that I don’t have to be. And although I’m only halfway through season five, I’ve learned more about navigating the dating world from “Friends” than any rom-com I’ve ever watched. Here are seven of the most useful love lessons I’ve taken away from the series:

1. You can’t force yourself to get over an ex right away.

It doesn’t matter whether you were the dumper or the dumpee; getting over a relationship in a short amount of time isn’t feasible for everyone. Chandler’s multi-phase process for getting over a breakup may work for one person and not for another. He stayed in the “sweatpants phase” for much longer than usual following his breakup with Kathy. I also went through this phase slowly (but skipped the “getting drunk and going to a strip club” phase) and am currently in the “picturing yourself with other people” phase. As much as I want to fast forward to the “acceptance phase,” I know it’s going to take time to get there.

2. Being friends with your ex is possible (but really tough).

I’ve always had a hard time letting people go, especially those who have had a positive impact on my life. It’s even harder if they’re part of your friends group or share a mutual friend. Like Rachel, I dated my best friend’s brother. It was great while it lasted because everyone hung out normally like nothing had changed. We broke up right before college, and I didn’t see him until New Year’s. We were awkward and distant but thankfully much more civil than Rachel and Ross. Now that two years have passed since the breakup, it’s like we never dated at all. Time and distance are the ingredients for great post-breakup friendships.

3. Not everyone has the same level of emotional maturity.

The way someone is raised can affect how they approach relationships. Joey grew up with seven sisters, so he’s very comfortable with women. Chandler’s parents’ divorce resulted from an extramarital affair, so he’s afraid of commitment. You have to account for the experiences that shape a person’s emotional availability and weigh the effects they have on your relationship. I’m the type of person to talk problems out and I value open communication in a relationship. If the person with whom I’m in a relationship can’t provide for my emotional needs, then they’re not the one for me.

4. Getting invested in a rebound can be toxic.

Ross made the mistake of hooking up with Janice (yes, Chandler’s Janice) after calling off the wedding with Emily. While Janice initially enjoys the physical aspect of the casual relationship, she quickly becomes fed up with Ross’ constant need for attention and ends the fling. Dating around after a breakup can help you move on, but you have to be emotionally ready for that. Otherwise, you’re going to end up comparing every new date with your recent ex (and then it’s awkward for everyone).

5. Leading someone on is worse than breaking up with them.

If you’re looking for a way to end a relationship, don’t take inspiration from Chandler. His tendency to delay confrontation is comical on his part, but being on the receiving end can be both frustrating and painful. His most extreme measure to avoid breaking up with Janice (for the fifth time) landed him on a flight to Yemen. I’ve never led anyone on before, but the experience of being led on a couple times and watching Chandler’s cringe-worthy efforts will stop me from ever doing it to someone else.

6. You may find it hard to be happy for your ex.

Being genuinely happy that your ex found a new boyfriend or girlfriend is a sign of having the utmost maturity. In reality, though, it’s easier said than done. Take Ross and Rachel as an example. After they break up and begin to see new people, both have a hard time coping with the jealousy that comes with watching your ex move on. It’s even more complicated if you decide to stay friends with them. Again, I’ve found that ample time and distance can help (but not necessarily solve) the problem.

7. Your friends are the best judge of character.

I’m lucky to have a plethora of Monicas, Phoebes and Rachels in my close group of girlfriends. Each one has their own way of making me step back from a relationship and seeing the potential problems. I have a tendency to rationalize and blame myself for the shortcomings of others. When Emily leaves Ross a phone message on the eve of her wedding, Monica and Rachel prevent him from calling his manipulative ex-wife back. He needed a reminder of just how unhappy he was in the marriage. Like Ross, sometimes I need a reminder that I’m better off keeping my standards high and preserving my happiness.

When I finish all 10 seasons of “Friends,” maybe I’ll be over him. Maybe I’ll be getting over another one. Maybe I’ll be thriving as a single woman. Maybe I’ll be happy in a committed relationship. Maybe I’ll just watch all 10 seasons again. If there’s one more lesson I’ve learned, it’s that love does have a way of coming full circle.

 

Contact Emily Schmidt at egs1997 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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