By Lucy Saltonstall
The age old question every Friends fan will debate to the death: were Ross and Rachel on a break?
According to IMDb, Friends, an American television sitcom created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, came out in September 1994 and aired ten seasons, eventually ending in May 2004. Its feel-good humor combined with the classic style of New York City in the 90’s and early 2000’s makes it lovable and relatable; each season has an average of over twenty million views per episode. It features six main characters, roommates Rachel and Monica, roommates Joey and Chandler, and friends Phoebe, and Ross. They all frequently hang out in a cafe where Rachel works.
One of the central tensions in the sitcom is between Rachel and Ross, who have an on and off, very confusing relationship that has technically existed since their prom night in high school, and was rekindled years later. A fight between Rachel and Ross when they were dating that recurred across several episodes was their “on a break” debate. This debate spread to Friends fans, and to this day still is unresolved and is regularly posted about on the Internet.
The premise of this fight was as follows: Rachel and Ross were in a relationship. The night of their anniversary they were fighting, and Rachel suggested that they “go on a break.” Ross misunderstood, and suggested that they go get froyo. Rachel clarified, “as break from this relationship.” Ross left, upset, without responding. After this, Rachel calls her friend Mark from work, who Ross has long been jealous of, to come over to tell him her side of the story. Ross goes out to a bar, and meets up with Joey and Chandler, telling them that he and Rachel were “going to break up.” Ross tries to call Rachel while he’s at the bar, but hears Mark in the background, and gets the wrong idea. Because of this, he stays at the bar, has a few more drinks, and ends up hooking up with a girl named Chloe, AKA “the hot girl from the copy center.” Later on that night, Rachel is shown alone, listening to sad music alone. The next morning, Ross wakes up hungover to Chloe in his room. Rachel appears in his apartment, and he hides Chloe behind the door. During this time, Ross and Rachel make up and are back together, and Rachel doesn’t find out about Chloe, who was still behind the door. However, despite Ross actively trying to keep Chloe a secret, Rachel eventually does find out and is devastated and very angry. Ross’ excuse?
Ross’ famous phrase becomes a theme throughout the rest of the show.
In future episodes, Rachel never really does let the “break” situation go. However, fans everywhere still debate: was Ross really in the wrong by sleeping with another woman?
Although opinions are scattered, they can be roughly categorized into two groups. People who agree with Rachel, that Ross should never have slept with another woman even though they were on a break…
…And people who agree with Ross, that Rachel had broken up with him and that (although many people acknowledge it wasn’t the nicest thing to do) he wasn’t technically cheating by sleeping with another woman.
The pro-Rachel fans definitely have morality on their side. The common trends in the posts that take Rachel’s side frequently state that it was wrong for Ross to sleep with another woman even though they were on a break, and that should still be considered cheating.
Zoe Berg is a college student who lives with her boyfriend, and from her tweets it seems as though they share a pet as well. She often tweets about their relationship, their home life, and the various TV shows and movies they watch together, including Friends. Her tweets also consist of quite a few polls, both standard Twitter polls and those like the one in the tweet above. She not only is in a committed relationship, which might lead to her bias, but she has data to back up her opinion (as stated in her other tweets) that sex during a break was unacceptable.
This reply to @sexgoal’s tweet is from Elizabeth Jordan, whose tweets and retweets give away that she is single and not too happy about it: she often posts and retweets posts about being single and people not wanting to date her. However, she also posts a lot about her standards of men, similar to the tweet above. This makes it easy to see why she might support Rachel in this debate.
Pro-Rachel fans also argued that there was no technical specification on what a “break” meant for Rachel and Ross, or that they didn’t ever technically even go on one because Ross didn’t respond, he just walked out. The following are responses to a Reddit thread entitled, “Were Ross and Rachel on a break or not? If yes, why, and if no, why?”
On the other hand, the pro-Ross fans have the cold, hard facts to back them up. Both Rachel and Ross told all of their friends that they had “broken up” after their argument. The definition of cheating is performing intimate acts with someone other than your significant other. Technically, when Ross was intimate with Chloe, he no longer had a significant other, according to both he and Rachel.
Take this tweet from “CF School of Sweat,” AKA Bryan Stoneking. All of his tweets have to do with Crossfit, sports (baseball in particular), and supporting the Troops. All these things are very typically associated with standard American masculinity. He also uses words in this tweet such as “bang” for sex, which suggests a very nonemotional connection to sexual relations. It is clear why he might believe that sleeping with another person on a break is justified.
Pro-Ross fans also state that Ross only slept with Chloe because he believed Rachel was sleeping with Mark. Ross had a long history of jealousy and suspicion with Mark, and the fact that Rachel would’ve called Mark immediately no doubt made Ross feel the human need to get revenge. Not to mention the justification that if Rachel was sleeping with someone else, it was okay that he was doing it.
Patrick Hall, according to his bio, is single and proud of it. His tweets about relationships are also pretty interesting. There is one that states he has a dream: to be with a 21 year old, with the hashtag “#pervytweet.” From his tweets and photos, he appears to be a lot older than 21. Someone who is so open about those broad standards that are slightly uncommon and racy for a middle-aged man definitely has interesting relationship opinions, and would definitely have reason to be detached from sexual relations or relationships.
Categorizing these profiles, we see the trend that those siding with Rachel are big fans of commitment and do not condone infidelity, and those siding with Ross seem to be more motivated by sex drive and in some cases masculinity.
Regardless of who is correct in this debate, one thing is clear. The creators of Friends, sitting back in their script writing meetings in the nineties, created a joke that recurred throughout the rest of the show; what they didn’t know is, twenty years later, the same joke would create a massive social media debate over an ethical dilemma. Friends came out over twenty years ago now. When the Ross and Rachel debate was created, social media was not there as a popular broadcaster for personal opinions or debates. However, according to Entertainment Weekly, when Netflix made all ten seasons of the show available on January 1, 2014, the show had another massive spike in popularity. Because it is now available and popular in the same generation that Tweets, posts, and blogs all of their opinions, this debate has also spiked in popularity in a whole new way, with a whole new generation.
Particularly on media sites like Twitter and Reddit, the conversational format of the posts (one person posts, others reply in threads) it makes it very easy to have a conversation about conflicting opinions. This includes users reading other people’s opinions and evidence, presenting their own, and then being able to read others’ reactions to what they had to say. Take this Reddit thread for example:
There are many conflicting opinions in that one small part of the thread, and each person brings up relevant parts of the plot line and justifies their opinion, displaying the convenience of Reddit. However, Reddit is missing something that makes Twitter a much more interesting platform to inspect: personality of the individual, and a profile.
Both are conversationally focused. However, when you click on someone’s Twitter profile, you see their bio and all of their tweets. With Reddit, you only see peoples’ usernames in threads. There is no way to recognize any bias or background to what anyone on Reddit is saying.
Because of the more personable nature of Twitter, Twitter users have made the argument into a lot more of a personal debate than a debate about a sitcom. According to the tweet below, it seems that people take opinions on the debate very personally.
In threads like this one, it’s evident that people take their opinions on the Rachel-Ross debate into their real lives. It’s not just about whether a person supports Rachel or Ross, it’s the underlying message: do they approve of infidelity? How do they define a break? After all, as Twitter user Jennifer Evans says, we are heavily influenced by what we watch on TV:
Notice how in this users tweet, she ends with a very opinionated and real-life applicable hashtag on how she felt about Ross’ actions:
After looking at @kirsty_greenx’s profile, we can see that she tweets quite a bit about marriage, both her own and about the other characters in Friends that got married. It is safe to say that she is an advocate for commitment, and felt that Ross betrayed a commitment to Rachel. Her opinion on Friends is communicating her opinion on real-life infidelity.
Or take this girl, who really hates Ross for his actions:
@honeyybunnyy clearly states in her bio and in her tweets that she is extremely into romantic films. For this reason, it would make sense that she would see Ross’s actions as very unromantic and inappropriate, which would lead to her strongly-worded opinion. She also expresses a very real-world opinion, communicated through an opinion about a TV show.
Both, regardless of reason, express strong disapproval for Ross’ actions towards Rachel, essentially expressing their disapproval for what they believe was infidelity. However, the background-search ability of Twitter makes it much easier to realize where their various opinions might be coming from: reading their Friends tweets or stumbling across one of their profiles, it would be pretty clear that they are not on board with cheating.
After all the argument, it’s fair to say there is still no clear answer. Both sides present very reasonable evidence, and there is a great deal of people who can’t even bring themselves to decide which side is correct. For example, take the results from this Buzzfeed poll conducted on the debate. Once the viewer can get over the massive amount of people who participated in this poll (almost 192 thousand), it is evident that most people participating did not answer with a strict “Team Rachel” or “Team Ross.”
Many people acknowledge that both Rachel and Ross were in the wrong, and that this is deeper than just cheating: there were serious communication barriers in the problem as well, that could’ve resulted in the whole fiasco being avoided. There is even a group that says they will “die without knowing how they truly feel about this question.”
The true importance of this debate over something as trivial and not real as a television plot-line is that modern social media users are able, whether they realize it or not, to express their opinions about infidelity, “breaks,” and more, just by stating whether their on “Team Ross” or “Team Rachel.” It is as though social media and pop culture creates a comfortable mask for our opinions to hide behind, taking sides on more trivial matters when in reality, there is more going on.
We might all die without knowing who was really in the wrong in this situation. But, if anything is certain, it’s that Friends has a fan base that is willing to defend its beloved characters to the very end through endless posts, memes and pictures.