It’s hard to explain how Friends, especially Rachel and Joey’s relationship is just one of those things that occasionally pops into my mind. I know, I need to get over it. It’s been more than 25 years since it first premiered, and since then, How I Met Your Mother has arguably perfected the art form. As a New Yorker, it feels like the series has been lying to me about life in the Big Apple since I was a toddler. I’ve even inexplicably accepted the fact that the fountain in the opening credits is in Central Park (despite strolling by the actual fountain in Central Park several times and knowing it looks nothing like the on the show).
At this point, Friends just feels like family. You don’t get to pick them, but you’re stuck with them regardless. I’m not even sure I like the series despite watching each season at least three times. Yet, somehow, every once in awhile when I’m paralyzed by the great injustices of the world (which have erupted into a very long list since the 2016 election), I will conjure an image of Ross Gellar and Rachel Green at the Season 10 finale and think, “What the heck?”
Now, I may not know the secret to getting a massive, rent-controlled apartment near Central Park. For that matter, I don’t even know the secret to finding a lasting group of friends in Manhattan who, like, actually show up for each other. Can anyone hang out in a coffee shop all day (besides me, who happens to work from a not rent-controlled four-bedroom I share with four other roommates)? Nonetheless, there is one thing I’m absolutely certain of: Ross may be the man that Rachel got, but Joey was the man Rachel deserved — and here’s why.
Ross Is A Creep
Let’s cover the brief basics: Ross is a total creep. Yeah, it’s a little weird to be pining over your high school crush well into your 30s, but remember the episode where he literally tried to bang his cousin? What about that time he started dating his teenage college student as a 30-something professor? Now, I don’t want to make too harsh of a judgement, but when someone has been divorced three times before they even reach their mid-30s, you have to start wondering what exactly they’re doing wrong.
The Break Was Inexcusable
Ross and Rachel were meant to be, if only because co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane had written it in the stars from the beginning, but that’s the only reason. Why is everyone forgetting Ross’ inexcusable behavior during the pair’s infamous break?
For those who need a refresher: in the Season 3 episode “The One Where Ross and Rachel Take A Break,” Rachel suggests the pair “take a break from us” in the heat of an argument (of course, they’re pretty much always arguing). Ross — completely forgetting about the woman he’s allegedly loved since he was a teenager — goes off and sleeps with some girl later that night.
Most fans have spent innumerable hours thinking about whether or not the couple were actually on a break. Cosmopolitan even brought in relationship therapists to analyze it — but whether or not they were technically broken up isn’t even the point. Ross exploited a relationship loophole, then showed absolutely no remorse. If he cared about the person that is Rachel, rather than the possession that is Rachel, he would have never done that, which brings me to point No. 2.
Ross Viewed Rachel As A Possession, Not A Person
We’re supposed to believe that Ross has been genuinely in love with Rachel since high school, but almost nothing he does shows us that he actually likes anything but the idea of her as his girlfriend. Let’s go back to the Season 2 episode, “The One With The List.” In the episode, Ross makes a list of pros and cons to decide if he should date Rachel or Julie. He calls Rachel “spoiled, ditzy, too into her looks, and just a waitress.” Might I repeat: Just a waitress. The only negative thing he could think of about for Julie was that “she’s not Rachel.” What does that say? He’s pretty obsessed about possessing his “just a waitress” love interest even if he doesn’t think very highly of her.
This does not change when Rachel finally becomes a major fashion executive at Ralph Lauren (proving that she is, in fact, much smarter than Ross actually thought). The college professor seems to take issue with her new success, even though he wasn’t happy with her lack of success before. Not only does he constantly complain about her busy work schedule, but he allows her to get off the plane and significantly hamper her career.
Joey never once treated Rachel this way. He accepted her for who she was and only encouraged her to do better. He didn’t view the former waitress any differently when she was “just a waitress” than when she started working in the fashion industry. Let’s not forget that Joey was the one who helped her break into the fashion in the first place (see: “The One Where Rachel Quits”). He always believed in her from the start.
This isn’t to say Ross never did nice stuff for his high school love, but any sweet gesture — like taking care of her when she broke her rib in Season 3 — feels kind of cheap when it starts to seem like a baseline responsibility of ownership. If your dog was sick, you’d stay home too.
Joey Actually Cared About Rachel’s Happiness, Even If It Hurt Him
Joey Tribbianni didn’t exactly start Friends off as the most selfless character, but it was hiding deep behind his ladies’ man image the entire time. Flatly put: he cared about Rachel’s happiness more than he cared about his own. Case in point: he welcomes her into his home and takes care of her and her child even if it completely disrupts his life as a bachelor. He fell in love with the former waitress when she was pregnant with another man’s baby, and that’s no small deal, and his selflessness goes a lot further than handing over his beloved childhood toy Huggsy to Emma.
In many ways, Joey is the reason that Ross and Rachel are together in the first place. Though he was absolutely in love with the former waitress, the soap opera star still suggested that she should move out of his apartment and in with her paleontologist baby daddy during Season 8. Joey also turned down Rachel in Season 9 — when he actually did want to be with her — again because of Ross. He only made a move after Ross kissed his literal girlfriend.
Meanwhile, Ross is one of the two founding members of an “I Hate Rachel” club, is selfish enough to try to score both women his best friend is in love with, and — I cannot stress this enough — he let Rachel get off the plane. Throw in that whole creepy, controlling plotline where he was hiding phone messages from Rachel, and it’s inexcusable.
Rachel And Joey Actually Make Each Other Better People
A good relationship makes you a better person, not a worse one, and Joey and Rachel truly do that for each other. Throughout the series, Joey is transformed from a soap opera stud to a caring, selfless friend. He’s the kind of person who’d trade in his exciting sex life to care for another man’s baby — and not many men can say that.
Joey helps Rachel make the same transformation. He doesn’t write her off as a ditzy waitress and encourages her to realize her dreams in the fashion industry in the same way she supported him when he was a struggling actor. He also helps the highly-strung character let loose enough to sit back in an armchair and spill pasta all over the floor.
Meanwhile, Ross at the end of Season 10 is the same Ross that emerged in the earlier seasons. He hangs out with a pet monkey like he’s Justin Bieber, cracks jokes about his lesbian ex (who is the mother of his son), and holds onto arguments like his relationship with Rachel is some sort of competition.
In a just world, Joey and Rachel would have ended up happily ever after. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the world we live in. Instead, the character’s brightness is dimmed by a controlling, spiteful on-and-off lover whose most tenacious goal throughout the entire series was possessing his high school crush.