I came of age during the Friends and Seinfeld years, and I had always been team Seinfeld. I thought the latter show was sharper, grittier, more original, more realistic. But now, I find myself drawn toward the arguably more mindless, though perhaps less intense, phenomenon that is Friends. It’s what I queue up on Netflix when I need something silly. It’s what I watch clips of on YouTube when I need a quick laugh. I no longer have the energy for watching the terrible characters that made Seinfeld so iconic, even when I know the ending; instead, I much prefer the lighter tone and predictable plotting of Friends. And now, I can actually say that Friends has saved my marriage.
Recently, my husband and I had our home life blow up. Both kids had just been sick at the same time (resulting in lots of missed work for both of us), we were having our basement redone, we were having family coming to town, we were reviewing important legal documents like a will — obviously, we had a lot of stuff going on. We were barely keeping our heads above water.
But then the drowning came figuratively and literally after five straight days of rain, an unusual occurrence where we live. The contractors redoing our basement had jackhammered out part of the floor for plumbing work, which caused a giant hole in the foundation. This coupled with the six inches of rain in less than a week, caused our basement to flood.
We called the contractor immediately to halt everything. We called a flood mitigation company immediately for an estimate. We called our insurance company immediately to see how many savings we could salvage.
That isn’t entirely accurate. I should say that my husband called the contractor. My husband called the flood mitigators. My husband called the insurance.
He’s always been the go-to person for household matters. He meets with contractors, he deals with monthly budgeting, he mows the lawn. I am the person to make doctor’s appointments for the kids, research daycares and arrange activities, deal with legal documents and school forms. Not that we stick to traditional gender roles on purpose — that’s just what we naturally gravitate to and what we’re good at doing. We both share the everyday household chores like making dinner, dropping off and picking up kids, and cleaning the house.
And we make it work. Except this time it didn’t work. We were drowning along with our house. Suddenly everything got more expensive, more overwhelming, more exhausting. In the midst of all this, we had done the usual: put the kids to bed, cleaned up after dinner, prepped for the next day. We collapsed on the couch. My husband’s exact words were “I’m paralyzed.”
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to tell him to keep it together, to just. Keep. Going. I tried to assuage him, but only platitudes came out: “It could be much worse. We can come up with the money. We will make things work.” — But that only seemed to make things worse. He resented me for downplaying his feelings. I resented him for giving up.
Especially since I felt the same way. It was just too much. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept keeping on by default. It was like I was a robot, though. I was on survival mode. There was no meaning in my actions. I dressed the kids while thinking about the water in our basement. I cooked dinner while thinking about the flood in our basement. I drove to work while thinking about the deluge in our basement. I started picturing what he was imagining — the seeping hole in the floor of our basement, swallowing up our belongings, our money, our sanity.
I sensed the same lack of meaning in his actions, and tension grew between us. Neither of us could move, and both of us wanted the other person to do something. We were both drowning in different oceans. We were, at the moment, not partners.
But I was talking about Friends and likening it to my marriage for a reason. I’ve gotten into the bad habit of watching something in bed before I fall asleep. Recently, I’ve been bingeing on Friends, because it’s mindless and something I can fall asleep to since I’ve seen it so many times before. Around this stressful time, I was watching Season 9 and had just finished the episode where Rachel decides to move out of Ross’ apartment because he’s jealous of her dating (The One Where Monica Sings, for anyone keeping track). In that episode, Rachel says her situation with Ross hadn’t been weird because “it works for us.” But now, she says since his feelings have intensified, “it’s no longer working.”
Suddenly, my head was above water again. Rachel’s words lit a fire and I could see light again. While I knew internally that our situation changed, hearing Rachel say “it’s no longer working” and then figuring a way out of the situation by herself was an epiphany. Her words helped me craft my own, and allowed me to own up to my own realization that what we were doing for so long isn’t working anymore, and it’s okay to change it.
While this realization may seem like a minor development, it allowed me to be okay with exposing my flaws. It allowed me to be comfortable with admitting that I couldn’t handle it all. The very next day I sat down with my husband and used Rachel’s words: “This is no longer working for us.”
He agreed, and we talked about what we needed to change. He would no longer be solely responsible for the budget; I would no longer be solely responsible for legal issues. I was going to learn how to organize our budget spreadsheet, and he was going to learn how to parse legalese. These abilities were not in our skill sets, but we were going to help each other. We were our own back ups. After all, we had signed up for a partnership so we were going to work that way.
We also weren’t going to rush through having the basement redone. Even though we’d spent years saving up for it and had sacrificed other things to save toward it. Now that we’d have to use the money to pay for flood mitigation instead, we decided we would have to be okay with delaying a fancy new finished basement for several months. We both needed to change our perspectives and admit that we needed some help. We would still need to figure out what that meant exactly, but we were at least moving. That’s much better than being paralyzed.
This is how Friends — and specifically, Rachel Green (who perhaps had the largest transformation herself among all the Friends) — saved my marriage. It allowed me to find the feelings — and thus the correct words — to define why we were so miserable. It helped me become comfortable with change and, more importantly, to engage in actions that would lead to the correct change. After all, I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago, when I was a teenager, student, and daughter, who enjoyed Seinfeld and a booth at Monk’s. I’ve changed into a grown woman, wife, and mother, who now prefers Friends and an orange couch.
Elaine Ferrell is a working mom of 2 under 3 (3 under 5 if you count the dog). She lives in the DC suburbs with her husband, and is not a professional writer, but aspires to be one in her ample free time (ha, ha). When not stepping on toys, picking sippy cups off the floor, or writing, Elaine enjoys Pilates; binge watching reruns of 30 Rock and The West Wing (and of course Friends); and having adult conversations with adult friends. You can reach her through Facebook.