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Why Friends’ Rachel and Joey was the feminist love story we all deserved

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Kayleigh Dray
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Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Matt Le Blanc as Rachel and Joey.

As we edge ever closer to the release of Friends: The Reunion, can we just admit that Rachel should never have ended up with Ross?

Updated on 20 May 2021: It’s been a whopping 17 years since Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel Green got off the plane and declared her love for David Schwimmer’s Ross Geller in the final ever episode of Friends. And it’s safe to say that it was a very big moment for fans of the hit TV show. 

Why? Well, because the “will they won’t they” storyline of Ross and Rachel has always been the show’s biggest love story – and it seems set to take centre stage in the upcoming Friends: The Reunion episode, too, if the latest trailer is anything to go by.

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But, to the satisfaction of many a frustrated fan, one Twitter user has pointed out that Rachel and Joey could – and importantly, should – have been the happy ending of our feminist Friends dreams.

Oh yes, we went there.

As reported on 6 September 2019: Let’s recap on the Ross-Rachel thing. Way back in the very first season, we learn that Ross is in love with Rachel. Or, to put it more accurately, that he’s secretly been lusting after his little sister’s best friend for years and never done anything about it. You might say that he’s more than a little bit obsessed, actually.

When she introduces him to a boyfriend, Paolo, Ross makes a point of mocking his Italian rival’s accent/hair/fashion sense – and purposefully forgets his name on more than one occasion. When the possibility of an actual relationship with Rachel presents itself, the palaeontologist later makes an ill-advised list of her flaws (including her being a waitress and not a fellow scientist) to decide if she’s a worthy girlfriend or not.

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When they eventually do get together, Ross proves to be a horrible, horrible boyfriend. Think about it: he bullies and berates Rachel over her burgeoning career and gets overwhelmingly jealous about her platonic friendship with a male colleague – to the point where she feels so unbelievably stifled that she needs to take a break from their relationship. Ross, just hours later, sleeps with “the hot girl from the copy place” and attempts to hide his one-night stand from Rachel the next morning.

She finds out, however, putting an end to their relationship forever.

Or not.

Instead, Ross continues to actively pursue Rachel – even saying her name at the altar during his wedding to someone else. He hides messages from men who call her when they’re living together. He’s endlessly threatened by the men she dates. He sabotages her career. And when Rachel drunkenly marries him in Las Vegas, he refuses to file for divorce and attempts to hide their marital status from her.

Rachel becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with her obsessive ex – and it’s at this point that another of her close male friends, Joey (Matt le Blanc) realises that he has feelings for “my pregnant friend”. He is heartbroken when she tells him that she does not feel the same, but happily resumes their friendship without pressuring her to change her mind.

Later, though, Rachel does change her mind. She wants to be with Joey, and tells him so – but their relationship is brief and ill-fated. Partly because Ross refuses to accept it, obviously, but mostly because fans weren’t shipping Rachel and Joey one bit.

And Twitter user @kaneandgriffin says Joey should have been The One. With very good reason.

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Writing to defend Joey and Rachel’s relationship from the naysayers, @kaneandgriffin’s (now deleted) thread expertly points out that their relationship was healthy, happy and meant to be. Joey sees her as a real person, with her own heart and mind. He values her friendship above all else – and knows that he doesn’t “deserve” anything beyond that, no matter what his feelings for her may be.

On the other hand, Ross is a possessive and manipulative creep, intent on holding Rachel back and preventing her from achieving her full potential. He’s the self-titled “Nice Guy” who sees Rachel as the reward for his good behaviour – and he genuinely believes that she owes him a relationship solely because he was attracted to her.

“Ross never saw Rachel as a friend, but Joey did,” begins @kaneandgriffin.

“From the moment the Friends first meet Rachel, Ross immediately sees her as a romantic prospect. He’s never gotten over his crush on her. But Joey’s relationship with Rachel is platonic almost right away. They have a genuine friendship.

“He frequently gives her dating advice. (Sometimes questionable AF, but, you know. Well-intentioned.) He sets her up on dates with men he thinks she’ll like. He lets her crash the set when he’s filming and flirt with soap actors… [and] he makes her laugh.”

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@kaneandgriffin goes on to point out that it’s Joey, out of all the characters, who reminds Ross that he doesn’t own Rachel. More importantly, though, Joey’s feelings for Rachel stem from real friendship, not a teen fantasy of ‘winning’ the girl. 

It’s a lengthy thread, but a compelling argument we are well on board with; Rachel deserved to end up with someone who recognised why her career was so important to her (someone like, say, Joey, who helped her to get her first big fashion industry break). She shouldn’t have got off the plane that was whisking her away to her dream job in Paris. In fact, she shouldn’t have seen Ross’ attempts to make her stay in the USA as romantic at all.

And, as if this weren’t compelling enough, @kaneandgriffin goes on to prove that Joey and Rachel actively make each other better people.

Ugh.

The evidence is damning: despite his claim that his dismissing of her job was just about having things in common, it’s clear Ross sees Rachel as “just a waitress” for the entirety of Friends.

“Crucially, this is NOT because Rachel isn’t smart,” points out @kaneandgriffin. “It’s because ROSS doesn’t think she’s smart. No matter how high she advances.”

The Twitter user finishes firmly: “The bottom line is, the Rachel that Ross fell in love with was a teenage fantasy he never outgrew… [but] Joey fell in love with a bright, funny, competent single mother he’d been friends with for seven years and knew inside-out already.”

The writers could have ditched genre stereotypes and had Rachel tell Ross, in no uncertain terms, that he’s a toxic influence on her life and she is so over him. Then she could have moved to Paris and pursued her dreams – either with or without Joey (aka the man intent on helping her to shine as brightly as she possibly can).

It would have been the feminist story we all – especially Aniston’s character – deserved.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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