why can’t my life be like an episode of “friends”?

the struggles and revelations of a tv fanatic

We are part of a generation that collectively finds wonders in the world behind our screens. I know this from personal experience, as I’ve been blown off for the evening countless times by a friend who claimed they were “busy working” and instead ended up catching up on the last season of “How I Met Your Mother” and wishing they were part of Ted and Barney’s squad. Far from taking this ditching personally, I understand my friend’s struggle. I, too, have blown off friends in favor of obsessing over television shows and pining after the captivating lives of my favorite characters. But when does an obsession become unhealthy? At what point does wishing we were inside our screens turn into simultaneously forgetting to enjoy life in real time?

My fixation with the ‘90s classic “Friends” is a perfect example of the effects of such an obsession. A quick recap for those who haven’t seen it: “Friends,” which ran from 1994-2004, was a comedy that followed the quirky misadventures of a tight-knit group of twenty-somethings living in New York City. Despite their ups, downs, and numerous hookups, the bond between the six friends grew stronger each season. Watching it play out, I was always envious of their adorable friendships. They helped each other through relationships gone awry (Chandler and Janice, anyone?); they didn’t let each other settle for anything less than they deserved (seen in the episode where the friends swayed Joey out of being Al Pacino’s “butt double” in a film); and lastly, they found joy in being together, and could completely be themselves around each other. Although of course the show was scripted, their conversation flowed naturally and I could never help but notice how present they all were—never during an episode did they check out mentally to watch TV or stare at their (archaic) computers.

So why was it that after an hour of conversation at dinner, my own friends turned to their phones to send Snapchats, check Instagram, or scroll through their Facebook feeds? Were our lives that uninteresting that we had so little to tell each other?

After considering this for a while, my cloud of envy cleared, and I came to terms with something that should have been painfully obvious to begin with. It’s difficult, or maybe even nonsensical, to compare a group of real people to six stock characters on a television show. Each of the characters on “Friends” embodies just a handful of personality traits, and all six actors have to play their roles to the extreme in order to achieve a comedic effect. After spending a month binge-watching all ten seasons, I came to the conclusion that the major reason all six of them got along so well was that they were all very different. Though they had similar interests, they had distinctly diverse personalities and levels of intellectualism. They each had a differing perspective on any given subject, and as a result they enjoyed hearing each other’s polar opinions. Phoebe and Ross’ opposing views on evolution led to intense, enlightening conversations on the subject, and Chandler and Monica’s contrary ideals with regards to relationships made it easier for them to counsel each other in the first four seasons.

Meanwhile, as real people, we are never as one-dimensional as TV characters. Nor do we usually interact with people who are our opposites—since we’re multidimensional, it’s hard to find someone who is so totally different from us. What’s more, we usually hang out with people who have similar tastes and interests to ours, because these are people we can easily converse with. After all, who, in all honesty, would want to spend an afternoon trying to explain the meaning of long words such as “omnipotent” to a man like Joey Tribbiani? You would never have a proper conversation, and probably lose your mind!

So if the characters of “Friends” are always ready to have hilarious, sparkling conversations, it’s only because they’re written that way. We, meanwhile, are our complex, human selves. We need time alone to relax in our own little worlds and recharge—to withdraw into our phones for a few minutes. Not every minute can be on-point and social: alone time is important, and it’s probably unhealthy to spend as much time with people as the characters on “Friends” (and other television shows) do. I know that if my loud guy friends barged in on me at seven in the morning shouting that they were “gonna borrow some food,” I would throw my lampshade at them. Thus, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that I do not live the exciting yet chaotic life of Rachel Green, and that I can go about my day as I please.

On a more serious note, the first few months of my first semester at Brown have shown me that though life is partly what you make of it, happiness is also largely determined by how you respond to what actually happens. It’s easy to expect life to pan out like a movie before you, but it’s not actually possible to be constantly having the time of your life with your friends. There is no continuous laugh track to keep your energy up, and you might even end up being part of multiple “squads” amongst whom you divide your time and attention. Life gets complicated and incredibly busy, and unlike Monica or Phoebe, you don’t live through a single storyline per day. You have multiple storylines, whether they be personal or academic, and very few hours to live them out. So I’ve learned to accept that and go through life without constantly formulating a plan in my head and without believing there is specific way I should be conducting my college experience. I’ve decided that if I don’t want to have dinner with the squad one night, I won’t. And if I feel like acting like a bitch because I’m tired and stressed, I will. After all, I’m only human. Breaks from people and activities are essential, because though those things offer time for recreation, they can be stressful too. If an activity that I usually adore begins to seem like a chore, I take a step back and lose myself in my favorite shows, forgetting about life for a little while.

Brown’s countless clubs and activity centers have provided me with the tools to craft an exciting and social Brunonian experience, but it’s my job to distinguish when it’s time for me to take advantage of these opportunities and when it’s time to relax. Still, I’ve made a promise to myself to always pull my head out of my computer screen and embrace life as it is. In the real world, we don’t have a screenwriter to write in our cues for laughter and a happy ending—that job is up to us.