Friendship is hard. They’re important relationships in your life, but without the safety of blood bonds or a ceremony in front of a priest or judge. There are arguments and misunderstands, falling outs, long distances and intimidating new connections. Your circle of friends changes as you get older, and making this all the more complicated is the fact that we, as people, are constantly, consistently sold completely idealistic and improbable ideas of friendship thanks to the sitcoms that enter our homes every evening.
The curse of sitcom friendships
Sitcoms depict friendships in an entirely unrealistic and, as far as I’m concerned, entirely appealing way. In the world of TV, friends are as codependent as these two pandas.
They spend all their time together. They rarely have other friends outside of the group. When they argue, the argument consumes everyone’s entire world – it’s not simply a crappy thing that happened that you have to deal with in between doing your laundry and going to work. Everyone always makes up, no one ever moves (unless they’re off the show, and you never see a storyline about how hard it is to schedule a Skype date), and every time someone ever drops by the local hangout or a friend’s pad, someone else is there.
You know what I would find if I walked into my favorite bar right now? A room full of strangers. Because all my friends are at work!
Oh hai, real life. Thanks for nothing.
The Five Myths of TV Friendships
Number One: Everyone’s always around
How is it that everyone on Friends was always available to sit around a coffee shop? I know they (mostly) held down jobs, but didn’t anyone have any other commitments? Movie dates with other friends, or work travel or dental appointments or Spanish lessons? No. Do you have any neighbors that just barge into your apartment, eating your cereal, like Kramer did with Jerry?
In real life, you have friends that you rarely ever see. Friends who always have plans when you ask them to hang out and never reciprocate making plans, friends who you only see when you invite them to a party eight weeks in advance. You have friends who move away, leaving an important void in your social schedule because THAT friend was the one you always went for dinner with/took yoga classes with/could call up on a moment’s notice to come over with a bottle of wine when you had a bad day at work. In real life, it’s incredibly hard to get six friends (there always seem to be six) in a room together because, guess what, everyone has their own life that’s not connected to the lives of everyone else.
Number Two: Everyone dates each other
Seriously, how often do you date all three of your closest male friends? It’s rare that a boyfriend or girlfriend enters a friendship circle on a sitcom (it’s a constant problem on How I Met Your Mother, a show that’s devoted to finding a spouse for its lead yet can’t find anyone to gel with the chemistry of the tightly knit group), but in real life you usually have to look beyond the bar booth you’re sitting at to find your soul mate. And then you have a whole new set of problems. Do your friends like him? Do his friends like you? How much time do you spend with each other’s friends? Does one group lose out to another? I’ve “lost” several friends to a new boyfriend’s new, cooler group of pals. And worse, what if someone in your group starts dating someone that you hate?
So it’s no wonder that on sitcoms, dating can be like a game of hot potato. Jeff and Britta, Jeff and Annie, Britta and Troy, Annie and Abed? Rachel and Ross or Rachel and Joey? Robin and Ted or Robin and Barney? Veronica and Duncan (please) or Veronica and Logan (obvs)? Dating exclusively within your own tiny group of friends eliminates the aforementioned problems while, of course, introducing a host of new ones.
Number Three: Coworkers = BFFs
There will be a chapter of this series, at some point, on how my idea of professional office work has been warped by years of watching television. This is one aspect of that – the idea that everyone at work hangs out all the time.
For me, it began with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sure, Mary had Rhoda. But she was such good friends with Murray and Lou! Even the people they didn’t care for, like Sue Ann and Ted, were completely integrated into their social lives. When was the last time you invited the guy from work you hate to your birthday party?
You see it on TV all the time now. On Parks and Recreation, the only people who started out on the show as simply friends, Ann and Andy, eventually made their way to Pawnee’s city hall, working side by side with all their pals. Community is set at a community college rather than a work place, but it still features a tight-knit gang of comrades who seem to have no other relationships outside the walls of the school. I mean, what did these people do before Greendale or the parks department or the Cheers bar or whatever?
Number Four: It’s OK to be a jerk as long as you’re funny
Sitcoms need characters. Not just characters on the show, but characters. They need Sheldon Coopers and Cosmo Kramers and Jeff Wingers and Barney Stinsons and the untrustworthy B in apartment 23. These people appear on our TV screens and they’re funny and crazy and rude, and we love them all the more for it. But in real life? Crikey, it would be exhausting to have these people as friends.
When Sheldon insults Penny on The Big Bang Theory, it’s funny. It got even funnier in later seasons of the show, when the writers realized that the hot neighbor girl was allowed to have a personality other than “bubbly” and started giving Penny barbs to shoot back. But in real life, you can deliver a jab so witty you’d think it came from the mouth of Jeff Winger himself, and people will just call you a bitch.
At the very least, if you are like this (sheepishly raises hand), you need friends who will call you out on going too far rather than sulkily stewing in hurt feelings and passive aggressive anger. When I make a sarcastic remark, I’ll ask my friends “Funny or mean?” and they’ll give me a verdict and move on. It’s glorious. But no one wants to be the Jeff Winger of the group, not really.
Tomorrow: Part two of “Everything I Know About Friendship Comes From Sitcoms”!