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F.R.I.E.N.D.S. On Marriage, Divorce, And Family Ethics

Throughout this analysis, we will explore how the popular tv series Friends portrays marriage, divorce, and family ethics. We will explore various episodes and analyze how these topics have changed over the years, for "better or worse."

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MARRIAGE: 1) If You Haven't Said "I Do" There's Still Time to Run

Season 1: Ep.1 / Via Netflix

Runaway bride alert!! Right from the pilot episode of Friends, we can see that marriage is still avoidable if you haven't yet said the vows. Rachel was supposed to be wed to Barry Farber but realized right before the wedding that she was "more turned on by a gravy boat." Through Rachel's realization, we can see that you shouldn't get married, unless you truly love your partner. If Rachel had lived in the Calvinist era, she would not have been allowed to break her engagement contract and would have had to go through with the wedding regardless. Luckily for Rachel, times have changed for the better and there was time to reconsider.

2) Getting Into Marriage Can be Messy!

Season 1: Ep. 20 / Via Netflix

What?? I thought Rachel left him at the altar?? Yes, yes she did. But now he's getting re-married. To another woman. And Rachel is the maid of honor. Awkward. It's not as bad as you think though. When Rachel was engaged to Barry, his new fiancé, Mindy, slept with Barry too. In the end, the two girls bonded over their distaste for Barry, but Mindy ended up marrying him anyway, because "nobody's perfect." Sadly, sometimes marriage is this messy, although mostly commonly it's not. But what you have to remember, unlike Mindy, is that you don't have to settle because you think "nobody's perfect." There is someone out there that will treat you how you should be treated.

3) Define the Relationship Before Getting Married

Season 3: Ep. 15 / Via Tumblr

Before the relationship gets too serious, define the status of your faithfulness to each other. Ross and Rachel went on a break and it meant two different things to them, so Ross slept with another girl. According to St. Augustine, one of the three goods of marriage is fidelity and it can be easily blurred when not discussed. With open relationships and polyamorous relationships, what's cheating and what's not? It all depends on the couple. There will be less trouble to avoid if both parties involved are clear and upfront about the status of their relationship.

4) Lesbian Weddings in New York!

Season 2: Ep.11 / Via Netflix

Ross's ex-wife Carol gets remarried...to a woman! Carol and Susan's wedding was the second gay marriage on a sitcom. It drew some media attention due to the fact, Candace Gingrich (Newt Gingrich's sister), a gay-rights activist, was the one officiating the wedding, shown up in the left hand corner. The episode only received four complaint phone calls, meaning that gay marriages were slowly gaining acceptance and Friends was continuously promoting these relationships with their focus on Carol and Susan. Years earlier this would have never been possible, but through our mainstream media, we can see that it's becoming more and more common.

5) Free Love Met with Resistance

Season 2: Ep. 11 / Via Netflix

Although Friends broadcasted a lesbian wedding, they also highlighted the resistance gay marriage was continuing to face. Carol had second thoughts about her wedding when she found out her parents wouldn't be coming because they didn't approve. However, Friends does a good job proving their stance when Ross talks Carol into marrying Susan saying, "if you love her, then that's it...do it." In addition, they paint out Carol's parents to be the villains because they won't give away their own daughter. Of course there is still some tension against homosexual couples, but America has made great strides in the past few years, evident in the Obergefell vs. Hodges ruling in 2015.

6) Weddings Can be Quite "Extravagant"

Season 2: Ep.24 / Via Netflix

Looking good Rachel! Back to Barry and Mindy. Here we see Rachel as Mindy's maid of honor and wow, what a dress selection. As time has progressed, weddings have included much more detail. The average wedding cost in the United States is $26,645. Friends pokes fun at how over the top some weddings have become. If Mindy had followed Calvin's 1545 Marriage Liturgy, there would be no clapping, music, or kissing. Both of these sides seem a little extreme, but most people are good at finding a middle ground.

7) Marriage Age Gaps

Season 3: Ep. 18 / Via Tumblr

In this particular episode, Phoebe finds out that her step-brother is going to marry a woman twice his age, who was also his teacher! Phoebe struggles with this new information and doesn't know whether to be happy for them or not. There is also an underlying tone of marriage for childrearing when Alice says, "We talked about just living together, but um...we want to have kids right away!" Friends is portraying that around that time, it was more accepted to have kids within the safe confines of marriage and not out of wedlock. This is a view that aligns quite nicely with St. Augustines first good of marriage, procreation. However, it is far more common in our modern day for people to live together and have kids before marriage than it was years ago.

8) Rushing Into a Marriage May Cause Problems

Season 4: Ep.24 / Via Netflix

Wedding #2 for Ross...and he screws it up again. This time around, he met a girl named Emily and decided to propose after 6 weeks. This proved to be a problem when he called Emily "Rachel" during the vows. Ouch! Ross obviously had some unresolved feelings for Rachel and thought that rushing into another marriage might help. We can see from this episode of Friends that it may be helpful to make sure you're fully committed before planning such a serious event. It also might help if you can remember the right name. However, for some people it works out great when they quickly get engaged and married. It all depends on the parties involved. Overall, it seems that modern weddings can be full of drama and it would be peculiar if the day was picture perfect.

9) Marriage Can Be A Drunken Mistake

Season 5: Ep.24 / Via Netflix

Uh oh! While in Vegas, Rachel and Ross got blackout drunk and decided to get married at a 24 hour chapel. When they found out the next day that they married each other, they were surprisingly calm about it. They would just simply, "find a divorce lawyer." Friends paints marriage as a light subject in this episode and shows that it's not a big deal if you accidentally get married. However, in my opinion, marriage is a serious matter and should be treated as a more serious commitment. But you have to admit, this episode was pretty funny.

10) Patriarchy Is Removed

Via Giphy

By depicting women as friends to men, Friends is trying to emphasize gender equality. In addition, they set up each character in a way that goes against traditional gender roles. For example, all the women have jobs and make a living for themselves. The male characters are all very sensitive and vulnerable, which breaks down the idea of male dominance . Looking at relationships without the patriarchy is a very refreshing view.

11) Soul Mates Do Exist!

Season 7: Ep. 24 / Via Netflix

AWWWW. After being friends since their late teens, Monica and Chandler finally tie the knot. Though they've had their ups and downs as most couples do, they have always been meant for each other and finally realized that in the seventh season. Friends shows us that no matter how long it takes, if two people are soul mates, they will overcome anything and everything to be together. In real life, the idea of soul mates is highly debated. Some people believe it is true and some believe it is merely fiction. Luckily for Monica and Chandler, they didn't live in the era of arranged marriages. Whatever you may believe, how can you not love this happily ever after?

DIVORCE: 1) You May Not See the Divorce Coming

Via Pinterest

Remember Ross's first ex-wife? They split because she was lesbian. However, Ross didn't know this until she asked for a divorce. In fact, he was just happy that she had a female friend that she spent a lot of time with. Friends highlights that sometimes divorces are not foreseen by one of the partners. In fact, it is not rare that one of the partners had no idea it was coming. Fortunately for Ross, it was for the best and led him to his high school sweetheart, Rachel.

2) A Lack of Trust Can Lead to Divorce

Season 5: Ep.6 / Via Netflix

Divorce #2 for Ross. Remember when he said the wrong name at the altar? Well, this is Emily and she still went through with the wedding, but has had trouble forgiving Ross. She agrees to keep the marriage intact as long as Ross cut out Rachel from his life. He agrees until he realizes he can't do it and says to Emily, "this marriage is never going to work out unless you trust me. Do you trust me?" And she says, "no." So Ross and Emily get a divorce because of the lack of trust and Emily's request to keep Ross away from one of his friends. This is a very accurate representation of relationships. Trust is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship. St. Augustine would have concluded the same as one of his goods of marriage was fidelity. However, there is more than just trust that goes into relationships, but it is one of the main ingredients.

3) Adultery Can Lead to Divorce

Season 6: Ep.16 / Via Netflix

Remember Barry and Mindy and how they got married? Well, now they're getting a divorce. Mindy caught Barry cheating on her and immediately wanted a divorce. This is a little peculiar because Barry cheated on Mindy with Rachel during their engagement, but still married him. However, now she actually got the divorce. In this episode, Friends highlights that infidelity is one of the leading causes for divorce. Back in the day of Calvin, Augustine, and Lactantius, adultery was one of the only grounds for divorce and we can see that it is still commonly used as a grounds for divorce today.

4) Sometimes Divorces Don't End Well

Season 2: Ep.22

On Rachel's birthday, her friends have to throw two parties because both of her estranged parents showed up and they don't want them to be in the same room together for fear of an argument. Rachel's dad goes to Chandler and Joey's party and her mom goes to Monica and Phoebe's party. While switching parties, you can see that the gang had to distract them. Here, Friends shows that sometimes two people still can't get along cordially after a divorce and therefore, the gang would rather them not be together. We can also see in this episode that this is a very stressful situation for Rachel. It is not rare nowadays that two people don't want to be in each other's lives after a divorce. It's also not uncommon that kids may suffer stress from divorces, depending on how they perceived the event as stated by Constance Ahrons.

5) Ross is Ashamed of His Multiple Divorces

Season 6: Ep.2 / Via Netflix

Remember that time Ross and Rachel got drunk and married? Now they're trying to get a divorce, but Ross lied to Rachel and said he got it annulled when he actually didn't. He doesn't want his tombstone to read, "Ross Geller. Three Divorces." It is apparent from this episode that Ross is ashamed of how many divorces he has and will do anything he can to limit that, including staying secretly married to Rachel. Here, Friends highlights through Ross's fear, the culture surrounding divorce and remarriage. I would argue that divorce is more commonly accepted nowadays. There is also a study that shows each remarriage after a divorce has a higher likelihood of divorce. Sorry Ross, those odds were obviously not in your favor.

6) Divorce Becomes a Source For Jokes

Season 9: Ep.16 / Via Giphy

What a title. Maybe that should be on his tombstone! After Ross's three divorces and being the butt of many jokes, he starts to make jokes about his own divorces. In fact, he even feels like he can give good advice about it since he's been through it so many times. Friends makes a mockery of Ross and divorce, when in fact, people don't often think it's that funny matter. Many people don't even like to talk about it. Perhaps Friends is trying to change the norm about divorce by showing people that it's not a big deal and it's actually very common nowadays.

FAMILY LIFE: 1) Lesbian Parents

Season1: Ep.23 / Via Netflix

Right after Ross and Carol's divorce, Carol informed Ross that she was pregnant with his baby. After much thought and discussion, they agreed Carol and Susan would raise the baby and Ross would babysit now and then. Friends showed that non-traditional families were becoming more popular. As we read in George Chauncey's Why Marriage?, we saw that the lesbian baby boom began in the 1980s. Perhaps that is what this episode is referencing, in order to gain more acceptance for the homosexual community.

2) Surrogate Babies!

Season 4: Ep.11

After Phoebe's brother and wife try to have kids and can't, they ask Phoebe to be their surrogate mother. She agrees and ends up having triplets for them. If we look back on Christianity, we can see that surrogates were also used in the Bible as told by the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16. Although, there are questions of its morality in the Bible as well. Today, surrogates are more common, as shown by this episode. About 750 babies are born each year from using surrogacy.

3) Raising a Child in A Homosexual Relationship

Season 3: Ep.4 / Via Netflix

Ross and Susan bring Ben over to Ross's apartment and he is playing with a Barbie doll that he picked out for himself. Ross then becomes very confused and starts to worry why he has the Barbie. We can see through Ross's reaction that there may have been some tension regarding how kids grow up in homosexual households, and whether or not that would make them homosexual as well. Now, there is research that suggests kids who grow up with homosexual parents don't fare any worse than kids who grow up with heterosexual parents.

4) Family Struggles

Season 3: Ep.9 / Via Giphy

Cheap trick Ross. Ross and Monica grew up in a traditional family with very loving parents. They have always been extremely competitive towards each other. When they were younger, Ross would make fun of Monica because she was fat, and Monica would tease Ross for being nerdy. As you can see, they get into many fights, but are always there in the end to support one another. Through Ross and Monica's relationship, Friends shows that family relationships are often put to the test, but can withstand a great amount.

5) More Non-Traditional Families

Season 7: Ep.24 / Via Buzzfeed

Chandler's parents walk him down the aisle. His parents got divorced when he was 9 years old. His dad(on the right) was gay and later became a Vegas Drag Queen. Once again, Friends highlights that non-traditional families were becoming increasingly popular. Furthermore, it also shows their acceptance of one another and their ability to get along. Hats off to this episode.

6) We all Need to Start Being Independent Some Day

Season 1: Ep.1 / Via Pinterest

After Rachel ran out on the wedding, she confronts her father and tells him she is moving in with Monica. He proceeds to cut her off and she panics but ends up cutting her credit cards with help from the rest of the gang. Friends suggests here that the "real world" is where you are independent with your life. However, Rachel's journey to independency is made easier with the help of her new friends. This episode of Friends suggests that although we don't have to cut off ourselves completely from family, there is a point in time where we should all start taking responsibility of ourselves. Ansari draws on how this point in people's lives excites them and is one of the reasons people may be marrying later.

7) Children out of Wedlock

Season 8: Ep.23 / Via Tumblr

That looks painful! Throughout Ross and Rachel's on and off again relationship, Rachel gets pregnant with Ross's baby. Once she tells him, she makes a point to say that she can do it on her own, but Ross wants to be there through it all, and assumes they will be getting married. Rachel tells him no because they are not in love. However, they end up living together to raise Emma, but don't immediately start dating again. Through this episode, Friends portrayed that having kids out of wedlock was much more common and accepted. In addition, through Rachel's rejection of marriage, we see that having a child doesn't call for a wedding. Rachel is perfectly fine being independent, as are a lot of single parents.

8) Adoption!

Season 10: Ep.17

Friends is really tackling infertility when Monica and Chandler find out that they are both infertile. They decide to adopt and get two beautiful twins. In earlier times, theologians such as Augustine and Calvin would have argued that sex in marriage was strictly for procreation. One of Calvin's grounds for divorce was sexual incapacity and Augustine would have thought it sinful to have sex if procreation wasn't the main purpose. However, today a marriage can continue intact, even if one or both members are infertile. In addition, there are various other ways to "be fruitful and multiply"(Gen. 1:28) through adoption or surrogacy, as mentioned previously.

9) Settling Down

Season 10: Ep.18 / Via Netflix

In the final episode of Friends, the idea of settling down is highlighted by Monica and Chandler leaving their apartment to live in a house in the suburbs with their twin babies. As you can see, the friends say goodbye and realize they won't be seeing as much of each other from now on. As Aziz Ansari argues, marriage and children don't necessarily have to mean "settling down." However, Friends took this approach to emphasize the growth and change in all of the character's lives and to use this idea as a conclusion to the entire series.

10) Friends Are Family

Via TV Series Finale

The last theme of family life is perhaps the most obvious in the series. Friends are family. This one speaks for itself. Well actually, it speaks through the 236 episodes in the ten season series.

Overall Critique of the Show

Although I already critiqued each point listed above, I wanted to conclude with an overall critique of the show. In my opinion, Friends did a great job portraying relationships and how they progress through people's lifetimes. In addition, they highlighted a very modern and contemporary view of relationships at the time. For example, the first couple seasons were platonic relationships, which later progressed into marriages, divorces, and families. I think they were very effective in challenging views of the time, such as the lesbian wedding or the many nontraditional families. There are of course some views of marriage, divorce, and family life that weren't all that touched on such as interracial relationships, but I don't think I ever realized how progressive Friends was for its time.

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