Why Rachel was right to get off the plane

Recently, I’ve seen and heard a lot of people comment on Rachel Greene’s ending on Friends. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past 25 years, Rachel starts off the series as a runaway bride, with adult responsibilities and jobs a completely alien concept, and ends up as a middle management employee at Ralph Lauren, successfully juggling being a single mother with a fairly impressive career in a field she’s passionate about. At the end of the last season, she’s offered a job at Louis Vuitton in Paris, and, although she accepts it initially, makes a last minute decision to stay in New York with Ross, her daughter’s father and the second half of potentially the most famous will-they-won’t-they of TV history, to try to work things out together and finally give their relationship a chance. This was of course a very satisfying ending for the audience at the time, but for many modern viewers, it seems to cause a lot of frustration, with many people claiming she should have taken the job in Paris. This Twitter thread started the debate as far as I can tell, with various articles following suit and YouTube channels such as The Take including it on their list of “Why the Friends ending is actually sad”.

The thinking goes: She says before leaving that she’s already gotten everything she can out of her job at Ralph Lauren. Therefore, her natural next step would be to take this dream opportunity in the fashion capital of the world, starting the next chapter in her life and progressing onwards and upwards into the world of business. By staying behind and working on her relationship with Ross, she is essentially sacrificing self-fulfilment in order to focus on romance, the very opposite of the message the show seems to be sending initially, when she decides to say no to marrying for money and settling down, instead deciding to brave it in the big wide world. The thinking goes that although the show is generally quite progressive, with Rachel’s arc sending her through many challenges that she tackles on her own, in the end she still needed to settle down and get married in order to have a happy ending, potentially sacrificing career fulfilment in the process. Additionally, almost all of Ross and Rachel’s relationship problems hinged on the fact that she was starting out at a new job, and he didn’t feel like they were spending enough time together. Many viewers felt that Ross was an unsupportive boyfriend who selfishly put his own needs before hers in the relationship, and was therefore “toxic” – further supporting the notion that making the decision to get back together with him would further disrupt her career and overall life fulfilment.

I’m here to tell you that getting off the plane and NOT taking the job in Paris was the right decision for Rachel. I realise this may not be where you’re at right now – but hear me out, READ ON, and let me know if my arguments have managed to sway you (even a little bit!)

There’s no indication her career wouldn’t be equally fulfilling in NYC

The twitter thread from 2017 says:

37/ Y’all. Y’all. It was 13 fucking years ago and I am still furious AT LEAST WEEKLY that Rachel got off that goddamn plane.

41/ Somewhere there’s a way more feminist version of “Friends” about a spoiled privileged girl who’s never had to work a day in her life –

42/ – going on to become a brilliant and competent executive at the top of an insanely competitive creative field, as a single mom.

53/ No one in the FUCKING WORLD loves Rachel Green more than Monica Geller and yet Monica still wanted her to get on that plane for Paris.

54/ They ALL did. They GOT it. Rachel was maxed out at her old job. She’d gone as high as she could. She said so REPEATEDLY. She needed more

55/ There was nothing left for her professionally in New York, and the Paris job was her literal dream. Her friends wanted her to take it.

56/ GUESS WHO DIDN’T. FUCKING ROSS. BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT HIM.

57/ I have never wanted any finale retcon more than for Rachel to be allowed to go to Paris & make a brand-new life. IT PHYSICALLY PAINS ME

58/ AM I SUPPOSED TO THINK IT’S ROMANTIC THAT ROSS WENT BEHIND RACHEL’S BACK TO HER BOSS TO MAKE HIM TAKE HER BACK BECAUSE I FUCKING DON’T

Now, this is a thread I’ve thought about a lot, as I do on some level buy the point it’s making – that Rachel and Joey were a better couple than Rachel and Ross, and that they should have ended up together at the end (in fact, I’ve specifically referred to this thread in an earlier blog post about how Ross and Emily were dream team).

However, I could not disagree more with the point it makes about Paris. Yes, Rachel was “maxed out” at her old job, and yes, it was probably time to move on. But moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving away. Yes, Paris is considered by many to be the “fashion capital” of the world – but New York City is up there, and it’s absolutely ludicrous to suggest that the only way for Rachel to advance in her career would be to move to Paris.

Additionally, there is nothing in the show that indicates to me that this was her “dream job” (or, in the words of the above twitter thread, her “literal dream”). She’s not Emily from Devil Wears Prada – she’s literally never mentioned Paris before. She just wants to go because it sounds cool and glamorous and because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s considered the fashion capital. There’s also little indication the job with Louis Vuitton would be significantly better than her previous job – by all accounts, it looks like she’d still be in middle management, just with some perks and a higher salary.

To suggest there would be nothing comparable to this step up for her in New York is insane. If her only chance at a promotion for the rest of her life is to travel halfway across the world, then maybe she’s just not that good at her job (which is confirmed to the viewers on multiple occasions anyway – let’s not forget the reason she needed the Paris job to begin with is that she was fired for “not being a team player”).

Yes, if Ross getting her old job back for her meant that she’d be stuck at Ralph Lauren forever, then that would be a bummer and a potentially selfish action on his part. But that’s not the case at all – him getting her her job back simply gives her some stability in New York, so that she can keep her family together while she searches for a job in a city that actually makes sense for her to work in. Which brings me to my second point…

She has responsibilities

Rachel is no longer a carefree young woman in her 20s who can move across the world on a whim and start life afresh whenever she pleases. She has a child. Her child’s father has another child, and he is therefore pretty much anchored to New York. Additionally, he is a tenured professor at NYU. If she were to move to Paris, she’d be breaking up at least one family. To be honest, it would be a complete dick move for her to do this to Ross. It was her decision to keep this baby, and one of the responsibilities that comes with having a child is that sometimes, you have to do what’s right for them. Separating Emma from her father because Rachel wanted a glamorous Parisian life would have been beyond selfish, even if her work would have flown them back and forth for the occasional visit. We’re talking about a seriously long-distance situation here.

To me, Rachel making the decision to stay shows us just how much she’s grown since Season 1. She is now a mature, responsible adult. Because let’s face it, running out on a wedding is a complete dick move too. “Do I really want to marry this guy?” is a question you should really be asking yourself before walking down the aisle. Rachel putting the needs of her family ahead of her own shows to the audience that although she cares about her career, and although she has become highly successful considering her starting point of needing to to find a large enough font that “waitress / head cheerleader” filled out an entire CV, she can still see the bigger picture, and knows when to put the needs of others ahead of her own.

Having a family means sometimes not taking that promotion. It means sometimes letting opportunities slide by; making those touch choices can sometimes mean saying no to success. There’s a time and a place to put your needs first, and Rachel was wise enough to see that this wasn’t one of those times.

A lot of these people complaining are, I think, coming from a very different position than that of Rachel Greene. These are not people with families saying “Rachel should have stayed on the plane!” When you are young with a carefree life, it can be difficult to understand what true commitment and responsibility really means. Had Rachel not had Emma, then I agree – she should have left New York. I don’t think her relationship with Ross was particularly great, and I wouldn’t pick him over a glamorous job in Paris. But in my view, she’s not picking Ross; she’s picking Emma.

One point that often comes up in the Paris debate is that it was selfish of Ross to want Rachel to stay in New York with Emma. I’m going to tackle that next.

Ross was not “unsupportive” of Rachel

Being a follower of the “Friends Addiction” facebook page, I see a significant amount of Ross hate. It seems to be the accepted norm that he was a toxic, horrible boyfriend, who could not support Rachel’s career and who did nothing but hold her back. I blame the twitter thread, once again. The intense Ross hate seemed to start post- thread, and it hasn’t really died down.

First of all, it’s clear that Ross means a lot to Rachel. He time and time again prioritises her needs over his own, breaking up several happy relationships at her beck and call, and missing out on a chance to be on TV, i.e. HIS “literal dream”, in order to take her to hospital. When she talks to him before leaving for Paris, she says “the thought of not seeing you every day makes me not want to go.” This isn’t a case of Ross holding Rachel back – this is a case of Rachel having a touch choice to make involving more people than just herself. Last I checked, being a feminist doesn’t equate with being self-centred.

Let me take you back to a particular part of this thread:

41/ Somewhere there’s a way more feminist version of “Friends” about a spoiled privileged girl who’s never had to work a day in her life –

42/ – going on to become a brilliant and competent executive at the top of an insanely competitive creative field, as a single mom.

This is what I find most frustrating about this point of view. That Rachel deciding to put her marriage and child first in this instance was somehow “un-feminist”. And that, by extension, Ross asking Rachel to stay in New York somehow takes their relationship back to the 50s. This also tends to extend to the earlier seasons; Ross and Rachel’s relationship starts to crumble when he states that he’s “tired of having a relationship with her answering machine”, he complains that he’s been asleep before she gets home from work every night for two weeks, and he’s unhappy about her having zero time for him on their anniversary.

Rachel going to Paris doesn’t make her a “strong, feminist woman”. Consistently putting your work above your partner is a dick move. This has nothing to do with gender – it’s a dick move either way.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if something is a dick move or not, because we’re so used to things being the other way around. There are so many stories of husbands being completely unsupportive of their wives earning money for the family, or husbands expecting their wives to put their careers on hold in a way they would never themselves do, that it can be easy to project that onto every situation that bears even a slight resemblance. It can be easy to overcompensate, and to assume it’s ok for women to do the exact same thing to their significant others, as we feel this “balances out the scales”.

I think a good test of whether something is a dick move or not involves switching the roles. Had Ross been the one spending every night at work in his brand new job, missing his anniversary and kicking out his girlfriend when she tried to show up at his office with a surprise lunch, while Rachel successfully manages to balance her career with her personal life and feeling like she was having a relationship with his answering machine – would we have called her an “unsupportive girlfriend” then? Even if Ross had previously been living in his parents’ basement and never worked a day in his life, and even if this was his first real job and he really wanted to do well at it, we would still expect him to put some sort of effort into his relationship. Let’s not forget that history (and, in fact, the present) is riddled with men who have done just that as well – put their careers ahead of their families and accused their wives of being unsupportive if they complained. This isn’t a “tit for tat” situation, where because husbands have historically treated wives badly it’s now our turn to do the same – either something is a dick move, no matter which partner does it, or it isn’t. In my book, being emotionally absent and constantly prioritising your career is not only massively self-centred – it’s a sure-fire way to make sure all your relationships end in heartbreak.

I might get into this a bit more one day, but when people say “relationships take work”, what they mean is “relationships take prioritising”. Sometimes, you need to put your own goals and dreams aside for the sake of your relationship – something Ross actually understands very well (“Why don’t we have this conversation when one of you guys gets married? You have NO IDEA what it takes to make a marriage work. It’s about compromise. Do you always like it? No. Do you do it? Yes – because it’s not all laughing, happy, candy in the sky, drinking coffee in central perk all the time. It’s real life, ok? It’s what GROWN UPS do.”). Relationships take prioritising, and this is something Rachel doesn’t learn until right at the end of the show. But she does learn it. She’s finally confident enough in her abilities to be able to put her career aside when it really matters.

Does Friends have elements of sexism when it comes to work/life balance?

I think, given the situation between Ross and Rachel, their career storyline is very sensible. Being a tenured professor gives you the sort of stability you wouldn’t want to give up if you had a child (or two, in Ross’s case), and it simply makes no sense for Rachel to move to Paris at this point in their story. Maybe she can go for fashion week sometime.

Additionally, I think at the start of their relationship, Ross was right to be pissed off. I’d have been pissed off had I been in his shoes and my husband in Rachel’s.

However, there is one relationship where I actually do think the creators got it wrong, and where underlying sexism does seep through a little bit: Chandler and Monica’s relationship. Specifically, when Chandler accidentally gets himself transferred to Tulsa and tries to take Monica with him, despite her being offered the job of Head Chef at one of the top restaurants in New York. In this case, a) they have no responsibilities tying them to follow Chandler’s career and not Monica’s, b) Monica is about to reach the top of her career trajectory, which makes her more successful than Chandler in this case, in contrast with Ross’s tenure in comparison to Rachel’s continued middle management, and c) Chandler doesn’t even like his job in the first place. I actually find it baffling that they even consider moving to Tulsa – the obvious move would be for Chandler to look for a different job in New York, whether that’s in an entirely different field, as he does in the end, or simply with another company. As we saw in Season 1, unlike Rachel, Chandler is actually good at what he does. The companies seem to be bending over backwards for him – surely he can be a data analyst somewhere else? New York is hardly short on jobs in statistics. The reason this felt sexist to me is that the assumption would be that Monica would move with him – that was just the base point they started from. In an equal relationship, when something like that happens, I think it’s important to consider the situation from all possible angles before proposing a solution (particularly a drastic one like “let’s all move to Tulsa!”)

Not only does Chandler put pressure on his relationship by going long distance for literally no reason whatsoever, he doesn’t quit his job for the sake of his family either – he quits because he realises he doesn’t actually enjoy his job, making his decision selfish rather than centred around his family.

Another example of the Friends men prioritising work involves Phoebe Buffay and her first love David, who decides to move to Minsk rather than stay in New York and pursue his relationship with Phoebe. Again, they don’t have a child together, so this in theory makes sense as a decision. In fact, they’re right at the beginning of their relationship, so the whole situation is even trickier.

I think the show makes it pretty clear that this wasn’t the right decision for David, and had he stayed in New York, he would probably have been happily married to Phoebe by now. And he wouldn’t have lost that toe to frostbite.

Is there a more general point to be made?

After centuries of being told to prioritise family above all else, it’s understandable that many women want to avoid falling into this trap, and therefore lean (sometimes a little too hard) the other way into prioritising career above all else.

Again, this is something I’ll delve into another time, but I firmly believe career will never give as much fulfilment, or have the same impact on your life, as family will. That’s not to say it’s not important! But, as Ross says – we need to remember at the end of the day that it really is “just a job”. Many people seem to prioritise work as a sort of defence mechanism – they’re worried other people will let them down. But jobs can let you down too; and just because relationships can end badly, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth pursuing and prioritising (be that romantic or otherwise). Sometimes, allowing ourselves to be happy involves taking risks.

I think Friends makes a very firm point throughout that relationships are more important than jobs. We can see this most clearly with the David/Phoebe situation, but also to a lesser extent with Chandler/Monica – in the end, quitting his job was what worked best for them both as a family. Last but not least, when given the choice between a real shot at having a family unit, and getting a promotion which would break her family up entirely, Rachel chooses the former. The entire premise of the show (and in fact, that which gave it its name) is that despite life’s ups and downs, our relationships (including friendships) are the most important things we have. Had Rachel gone to Paris, perhaps the show should have been called “Careers”. Friends is not a show about successful 20-somethings rising through the ranks, although that does end up coincidentally happening to most of the characters. In fact, How I Met Your Mother, the 2000s version of the show, does focus more on careers, and we do see the potential downside of that (again, something I’ll delve into another time). Sometimes, decisions have to be made – and I believe Rachel made the right one.

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