As you, my devoted readers, know, I’ve been writing quite a bit about my current distaste for fairytale endings. But I wasn’t always like this; there was a time when I believed that the universe would eventually give us whatever we wanted if we asked nicely enough. I believed that people had soul mates and that everything turned out okay in the end. Reality was not a factor for me. Think of me as Ewan McGregor in the beginning of Moulin Rouge.
During this time, my very favorite on-screen couple was Ross and Rachel of Friends. To me, they represented the holy grail of “will they/won’t they” relationships. They were perfect for each other. They were each other’s lobster. No matter what the storyline, there was always something between them. And, without fail, my favorite episodes of Friends were the ones in which they were together, or even pining after each other, because for me their love just made sense.
This was all several years ago and I’ve grown up since then. I’ve learned a lot about people, romantic relationships, messy feelings, things that come to an end before you want them to, and even television and film writing. My opinions have shifted much more closely toward reality, and it made this time around watching the end of Friends very different.
Seasons 8 and 9 feature a lot of Joey and Rachel. First Joey falls in love with Rachel in a way that is so genuine and sweet, and then after a while Rachel returns his feelings. Everyone recognizes that Ross and Rachel haven’t actually dated in several years, and a lot of totally believable writing gets Rachel and Joey together. But as soon as we enter the last dozen episodes of the series Joey and Rachel suddenly can’t make it work. Why? Not because they’re just too great as friends. No. Because the writers needed her to get with Ross. Because, lobster.
Watching how the writers get Ross and Rachel together at the end, I was shocked at how little they actually had to do. Throw in a couple of remarks here and there, a reference to their first kiss, and suddenly they’re in love again. Truly, the buildup to this last leg of Ross and Rachel’s relationship is about as short as Rachel’s final miniskirt. Rachel was never jealous of Charlie (except for when she was dating Joey), and while Ross obviously was not “fine” with Rachel and Joey as a pair, he apparently wasn’t affected enough to explain what was bothering him or, in fact, to end things with Charlie. Nothing happened between Rachel and Ross, really, until Rachel’s dad had a heart attack and she was feeling vulnerable and lonely.
Rachel and Ross are each others’ weakness. The minute one of them is drunk or sad, or feeling much of anything really, they run into the other’s arms. And I am open to edits on this, but I can’t honestly think of why- other than that chemistry. With Joey and Rachel, or even Chandler and Monica, we see fun times that they share together as friends before they’re in a relationship. But, other than 1994’s laundromat adventure, Ross and Rachel seem to have either big romance or just nothing. They are each others’ default.
Here’s where old Leah and reformed Leah battle. Old Leah says that this is romantic: whenever Ross or Rachel feel something strong, they know with whom they want to share it. When their guard is down, they want each other. Isn’t that love? But realistic Leah fights back: why can’t love be about sharing the banal parts of life? Why don’t they want to be together when everything is normal? Why only when Rachel feels sorry for Ross or realizes he’s about to get married or is on a plane to Paris? Why not when Ross makes one tiny mistake while they’re actually together? Why don’t they want to work on it then?
That’s what makes the end so confusing. Rachel and Ross don’t spend any part of the last season figuring out their relationship except to say that it isn’t off the table. Rachel is genuinely excited about her new job and Ross has come to terms with her going. It doesn’t make sense that, when Ross tells Rachel that he loves her, she suddenly doesn’t care about her next career move or the adventure that she’s so ready to have. But, of course, she gets off the plane. Even less surprising: I still cried.
So many of us have experienced this on some level, where we realize that we have real feelings and that we have choices to make, and we have to pick one over the other. Feelings are messy and they don’t simply go away when a relationship ends. In fact, much like Rachel and Ross, we do not all have control over our feelings. Many of us have had relationships that have been on-again and off-again. What’s to say that Ross and Rachel aren’t the same?
I’ll tell you what… the fact that it’s not. It’s Ross and Rachel, and that’s how we know that it’s more. The crazy thing about love is that it’s the one thing that can turn even the greatest skeptics into the biggest believers; we simply don’t believe it can happen for us, until it does, and then we can’t imagine having a doubt. It doesn’t have to mean that fairytale endings exist for us to know that when something is right it’s right. And even though the twilight of Ross and Rachel’s story makes me so mad, I cried because, despite my venturing over to reality, I still believe. I believe that Ross and Rachel can happen in real life. I believe that two people can, in fact, be right for each other.
Maybe Ross and Rachel aren’t so unrealistic after all. Here’s what they’ve taught me: sometimes you’ll have feelings for someone and it just won’t work out. A whole bunch of times. And you will be able to walk away, because you are an individual, and there is no love that a person simply cannot leave. Ross and Rachel teach us that chemistry and friendship aren’t all it takes- that a relationship, even one between two lobsters, doesn’t work until you work for it. Ross and Rachel are actually pretty incredible because they understand their feelings, and they know that they are each strong enough to be okay on their own or just as friends, even despite them. There is no realization that they must end up together, because these two adults know that life won’t end if they don’t. But they make the choice that they want to be together, and that makes all the difference.
Ross and Rachel are not two lost souls who were destined to find each other. Like so many of us, they are two people who have had feelings for each other and then messed up. But what makes them special is that one day they decide to make it work no matter what. They take control of their decisions, no matter how crazy those decisions might be. They decide that they wanted to be together, that they are willing to work for this and that they will do anything. Even getting off the plane.
Life is not a one-way path to the magical ending. It is full of disorganized and unproductive feelings, decisions that need to be made, and people whose roles fluctuate constantly even though we can always care for them. Perhaps my transformation toward reality has allowed me not to reject happy endings but to realize that they can happen even if things are complicated. In fact, they are that much more powerful when we realize that people chose them: if Rachel can choose her lobster, so can I.
Here’s to airplanes and their left phalanges, to planetariums, to complicated and full and unplanned lives. But, most of all, here’s to lobsters.