I watched Friends all the way through right before my freshman year of college. The year was 2011: Four Loko had just been rebranded to not include caffeine, Kim Kardashian divorced Kris Humphries after just 72-days, we were all scream-crying Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep.” In other words, it was a weird time for me and America.
Some of my friends were already super fans of the show, having watched it with their parents as it aired or in reruns whenever they could. It’s not a particularly difficult premise to relate to: A bunch of twenty-somethings are living in Manhattan, their jobs are jokes, they’re broke, their love lives are D.O.A.
Upon my first watch-through, I had the usual reactions: Rachel and Ross were not on a break. Oh my god, is it legal for someone to be as old as Richard but also as hot as him? Phoebe giving birth to her brother’s triplets was both incredibly sweet and incredibly weird. Chandler and Monica are the perfect match. Oh, yeah, and forget Ross—Rachel belongs with Joey.
I don’t want to hear about lobsters and breaks and getting off planes. This is the hill I will die on, the sword I have fallen on at parties, the rock that I, like Sisyphus, have rolled up a hill since 2011.
At 17, I didn’t quite know how to articulate my feelings, as it would be a few years before I ran into a Ross in the wild, but at 26—two years older than Rachel Green is in the pilot—I can officially say: Rachel and Ross taught me a lot about what a relationship shouldn’t look like.
I’m gonna go ahead and state the obvious: Ross is the absolute worst. Even if you can put aside his incessant whining about everything from the temperature of his coffee to being divorced three times, the paleontologist has very few redeeming qualities. He’s jealous, possessive and doesn’t care about Rachel’s aspirations or dreams. But I don’t want to waste my time talking about how bad Ross is (though I could talk about it literally all day), I want to talk about the man who Rachel truly deserved: Joey.
Hello, people of the world. I am here to announce that I am a Rachel and Joey shipper and I am unashamed. Here’s why:
First of all, Joey shows character growth.
This isn’t to say that the other characters don’t also show some growth throughout the series, but I would argue that Joey does the most growing over the ten years that the show aired. Tribbiani learned how to ask “how you doing?” and mean it, ya know? Especially when it came to his female friendships—There was nothing Joey wouldn’t do for his friends.
Rachel and Joey’s romantic relationship would be built on friendship.
Seven years of friendship passed between the two before Joey realized that he might have feelings for Rachel. Before he came to this realization, he already knew Rachel incredibly well, supported her in her career endeavors, and even let her move into his apartment. Not all couples come from a place of friendship, but when the relationship comes from a place of rooting for one another, being honest with one another, and understanding that you each have faults, it certainly helps. Joey loved Rachel before he know that he could have a physical relationship with her. Ross loved Rachel because he always imagined being with her and therefore put her (and being able to call her his girlfriend) up on a pedestal.
Because they were friends first, Joey was always supportive of Rachel’s dreams.
While Joey is trying to get his big break as an actor, Rachel is serving coffee at Central Perk and Joey encourages her to quit. He sees that she’s miserable and wants a career in fashion, and not only encourages her, but believes in her! Her also snags her an interview at Fortunata Fashions which, though not ultimately Rachel’s dream job, is her first job in the fashion industry. And that’s just the beginning! He encourages her throughout the series, and eventually becomes the person she leans on most when she becomes pregnant. Why? Because he believes that she can make it work!
He let her be silly.
Never forget when Rachel was at first appalled to have to live with Joey instead of Monica (after Phoebe’s apartment catches fire) but soon learns the simple joys of a La-Z-Boy and flinging spaghetti onto the carpet. In contrast, Rachel lived with Ross for 2.5 seconds and was miserable. Facts.
And considered her feelings over his own.
When Joey realized that he had feelings for Rachel, he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable or ruin their friendship. Instead of letting that get in the way of what they already had, he continued to treat her as a friend even when he realized that a relationship wasn’t in the cards.
He also made sacrifices for her.
Rachel was pregnant with Ross’s baby and Joey still insisted that she live with him. Then after Rachel’s failed run at living with Ross after Emma was born, Joey made room in his life for them both. He gave up part of his living room, he let his sex life be affected, he endured baby-proofed…everything. And he did it all without making Rachel feel uncomfortable even though he definitely still had some feelings for her.
And can we talk about how he fell in love with her while she was pregnant.
Of course, pregnant women are beautiful and we are talking about Jennifer Aniston here, but Joey fell in love with Rachel when she felt the most uncomfortable, cared for her when she was scared and was there for her in ways that Ross simply wasn’t. I’ll never forget when Joey took Rachel on a date because she said that she missed dating: He wanted her to know that she was still gorgeous and sexy, and it wasn’t out of pity.
Joey respected Rachel’s feelings when they decided to go their separate ways.
When it didn’t work out for them, he accepted it and didn’t let it get in the way of their friendship. He didn’t pine or pout or freakin’ whine. He went on caring, just in a different way. We stan a respectful king!
As an adult, our ideas about relationships are constantly changed and challenged by the media we consume, our own relationships, and our friend’s relationships. And yeah, Friends is a TV show, so maybe I’m crazy for thinking that it has any effect on any of our lives other than a few quotable scenes.
But maybe, just maybe, the fact that I learned something proves that the show did what it was supposed to do.