Unpopular Opinion: Ross and Rachel were on a break - and she was to blame
On Friday (February 21), the main six stars of the hit 90s sitcom Friends confirmed that they are reuniting for an unscripted reunion episode with HBO.
So, with the world once again talking about Friends, it is time we take a look at one of the biggest storylines of the show's 10 series, and answer once and for all: Were Ross and Rachel on a break? And more importantly: Who was to blame for the downfall of their relationship in season three?
Friends is one of the most beloved television series of all time. First hitting our screens on NBC on September 22, 1994, the show ran for 236 episodes over 10 seasons, with the show's finale airing on May 6, 2004.
During the show's original run, tens of millions of viewers would watch globally every week. The world was captivated by the dynamic bond between Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), and Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), as they grew from a group of 20-somethings struggling to navigate work and relationships in New York City to a group of parents, married couples, and individuals at the top of their respective careers.
To this day, Friends still draws a weekly audience of 16 million in the US from various syndicated airings, and the show still makes an eye-watering $1 billion each year for Warner Bros - with each of the main cast taking home 2% ($20 million) of that figure.
I was just two years old when Friends first aired. When I turned seven in 1999, my parents bought me three Friends VHS tapes that I would watch over and over again. When I was a teenager, I would fall asleep to my Friends DVDs. And now, as a 28-year-old man, my wife and I still fall asleep watching Friends on Netflix every night.
My love of Friends grew from my parents and grandparents watching the show, and now I have teenage relatives binging the show on Netflix. It truly is one of the only shows that can be quoted by Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millenials, and Generation Zers.
And one of the most popular quotes to reference in almost any given conversation is Ross' now-iconic proclamation: "We were on a break!"
Ross and Rachel are one of the most cherished couples in television history, and over the show's 10 seasons, they became the epitome of an "on-again/off-again" relationship. From Ross making his list to a drunk marriage in Vegas to Rachel falling pregnant with Emma after a one night stand - viewers were left on tenterhooks about whether or not the pair would ever end the show as a couple.
But nothing tested their relationship more than the "We were on a break" storyline from season three. So, let's delve into the history of this declaration...
After realizing they were each other's "lobsters" in season two, Ross and Rachel's relationship is tested roughly a year later in season three when Rachel quits her job as a waitress at Central Perk in an attempt to pursue a career in fashion.
In the episode 'The One Where Chandler Can't Remember Which Sister' (S03, E11), Rachel meets Mark Robinson at the Moondance 60's diner. Mark is an Executive at Bloomingdales, and after pulling some strings, Robinson is able to help Rachel get a job working alongside him in the same office.
Skeptical of Mark's true intentions, Ross becomes jealous of Rachel working in such close proximity with her new handsome coworker, and starts to behave erratically in an attempt to prove his love to her.
He calls her during busy shifts, drops by unannounced, falls asleep at a fashion seminar after insisting he go with her, sends a barbershop quartett to her office, and all-around fails to understand that she is too busy to be dealing with Ross' neediness while attempting to build a career at her new workplace.
However, Rachel's breaking point comes four episodes after meeting Mark (S03, E15) when Ross attempts to hold an 'anniversary picnic' at her desk during a manic shift. But rather than enjoy some "COUS-COUS" (as Ross puts it), she orders him to leave so they can talk about their issues later at home.
After a heated argument, a frustrated Rachel and a scorned Ross "take a break" from their relationship - leading to a devastated Ross to go and meet Chandler and Joey at a bar, get drunk, and sleep with the beautiful Chloe from the copy place.
So, let's jump into the first question that fans incessantly debate over: "Were Ross and Rachel ever on a break?" (Seriously, there are COUNTLESS Reddit threads on this topic).
Well, yes - and it was all Rachel's idea.
During the end of their argument at Rachel's apartment, the jealous Ross once again questions whether or not Rachel spending less time with him has anything to do with Mark. It is this comment that causes an exasperated Rachel to suggest they take a break from their relationship:
Ross: Is this about Mark?
Rachel: Oh my God.
Ross: Okay, it's not, it's not.
Rachel: Oh my God. I cannot keep having this same fight over and over again, Ross. No, you're, you're, you're making this too hard.
Ross: Oh I'm, I'm making this too hard? Okay, what do you want me to do?
Rachel: I don't know, I don't know. Urrrgh! Look, maybe we should take a break.
Ross: Okay, okay, fine, you're right. Let's ah, let’s take a break, let's cool off, okay. Let's get some frozen yogurt or something.
Rachel: No. A break from us.
Now, I am fully aware that I said "suggest" up above, and that at no point did the couple actually shake hands and agree that they were categorically, unequivocally, and emphatically on a break. But, this doesn't mean that they weren't.
In fact, when you look at the history of the iconic catchphrase, "We were on a break", the very first person to say those words in the show was Rachel in the next episode, 'The One With The Morning After' (S03, E16):
Ross: Look, I didn't think there was a relationship to jeopardize. I thought we were broken up.
Rachel: We were on a break!
And my next point is perhaps my strongest argument as to why Ross and Rachel were definitely on a break; the episode in which Ross sleeps with Chloe - the aforementioned S03, E15 - is literally called 'The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break'.
Quite frankly, these episode titles are not up for discussion. They are chosen by the show's creators and are as factual and concrete as the characters' names. In 'The One Where Rachel Smokes' (S05, E18), Rachel does smoke. In 'The One With Monica's Boots' (S08, E10), Monica gets new boots! And in 'The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break', Ross and Rachel do - in fact - take a break.
So, when fans ask each other: "Were Ross and Rachel ever on a break?", they're really asking "Whose side are you on - Ross or Rachel's?"
As you can probably tell by this point, I am on Ross' side - and with good reason. By taking a closer look at all three individuals involved in this breakup, it is clear to see why Rachel is to blame for the breakdown of their relationship in the space of these episodes. Let's start with everybody's favorite douchebag, Mark...Mark Robinson
Isn't Mark just a great guy for getting Rachel that job at Bloomingdale's? Only a decent, respectful, and all-around neat fella would go out of his way to overhear a struggling stranger at a diner, introduce himself, and bend over backward to help her get a job working alongside him.
I'm sure Rachel Green being so damn beautiful had nothing to do with it. It's not like men and women in the 90s were adding 'Rachel Green' to their own laminated 'Freebie Lists'. No, it's just that Mark is the kind of man that sees somebody in need and instinctively knows he must do what he can to make things right for them. (By now, I hope my sarcasm is radiating through your screen.)
Look, I actually struggle to watch any episodes with Mark in because his slimy tactics are so damn obvious. Why? Because I've been that guy. I've been Mark Robinson. I've gone out of my way to say and do the "right" things in order get a beautiful girl to like me even though I'm fully aware she's got a boyfriend - and I'm not proud of it. (Okay, I'm a little proud of it...)
Regardless, after the couple breaks up, Mark's true feelings for Rachel come out in 'The One With The Tiny T-Shirt' (S03, E19). Meeting Rachel at Central Perk, Mark divulges his true feelings:
Mark: I've kinda of had this, ah, this crush on you. But since you were with Ross, I didn't do anything about it. But, now that you're not, I'd really like to ask you out sometime. So that's-that's what I’m doing, now.
Like hell you didn't, Mark...
Once Mark reveals this to Rachel, it is impossible not to go back to S03, E15 and closely analyze his actions.
Not knowing Ross and Rachel had broken up, the guy calls her during what was supposed to be her "big anniversary dinner" (he even says that with an underlying mocking tone). After hearing Rachel on the brink of tears down the phone, he asks if she wants to talk about it, suggesting that he come over. She tells him not to, but he insists and comes over anyway - with Chinese food. Talk about making yourself comfortable.
Then, later that night, when Ross and Rachel are on the phone and it looks like there is still hope for TV's favorite couple, Mark just has to make his presence felt:
Rachel: Hi! Oh, I'm so glad you called.
Ross: Really? I've been thinking, this is crazy, I mean don't, don't you think we can work on this?
Mark: Hey, what do you want to drink?
Ross: Who's that?
Mark: Is it okay if I finish the apple juice?
Ross: Is that Mark?
Rachel: Umm, honey, look he just came over to....
Ross: Yeah! Got it!
That douche just couldn't help himself. He knew what he was doing; shouting loud enough so that Ross could hear him down the phone. Well, mission accomplished, Mark. Now drink your damn apple juice. I hope it makes you very happy.Ross
Firstly, let's just remind ourselves how much Rachel truly means to Ross. In the second season, 'The One Where Ross Finds Out' (S02, E07), we discover that Ross has been concealing his true feelings for his high school crush since he was a young teen:
Rachel: So, you're just gonna, what, put away feelings or whatever the hell it was that you felt for me?
Ross: Hey, I've been doing it since the ninth grade, I've gotten pretty damn good at it!
Ross is also a divorcee. From the very first episode, we learn that his ex-wife, Carol, is a lesbian, and had left him to start a relationship with Susan. We later learn in 'The One With The Flashback' (S03, E06) that Carol had been meeting up with Susan on a regular basis prior to leaving him.
Can you imagine what that did to his psyche? After crashing and burning with Rachel at high school, he finally fell in love and married this amazing person, only to have her sneak around and leave him for another woman.
To quote Phoebe in 'The One With Rachel's New Dress' (S04, E18): "Carol really messed you up! [...] Yeah, she turned you into this-this-this untrusting, crazy, jealous, sycophant." Which, understandably, is true.
In addition, above, I said that I had been "that guy" when referring to Mark, and when you look at Ross in season one, he was also "that guy". When Paolo was on the scene, Ross would frequently undermine him in an attempt to belittle Rachel's relationship with the "Weenie from Torini".
In fact, in 'The One With The Dozen Lasagnas' (S01, E12), Joey and Chandler convince Ross to be there for Rachel literally minutes after Rachel breaks up with Paolo:
Chandler: What are you still doing here? She just broke up with the guy; it's time for you to swoop in!
Ross: What, now?
Joey: Yes, now is when you swoop! You got to make sure that when Paolo walks out of there, the first guy Rachel sees is you, She's got to know that you're everything he's not! You're like, like the anti-Paolo!
If all of this sounds familiar, it is because we literally discussed Mark doing the exact same thing above when Rachel and Ross go on a break.
So yes, Ross is a petty and jealous boyfriend - but that's only because he has loved Rachel for more than half his life, and he is seeing his relationship with Rachel fall through his fingers, much like his first marriage.Rachel
Keeping it simple; Rachel is the one that suggested that they take a break in the first place (and later confirmed that they were indeed on break), and given everything we've already discussed, the blame must lie with her.
Just read or watch that scene back. Ross thought the argument had reached the point where the two needed to chill out with some frozen yogurt, but Rachel just jumps straight in the deep end and suggests that the couple needs to take a break from their relationship.
This is a couple that had been together for a year. They had declared their love for each other. She had helped Ross raise his son (and even coaxed Ben into saying his first word). And just because a rightfully jealous and hopelessly devoted Ross was trying to make sure she got to enjoy their anniversary and questioned Mark's true intentions, she wants to take a break? That is straight-up cold.
Later in the night, Rachel confides in Mark and reveals: "I told [Ross] I wanted to take a break, I don’t want to take a break." Well, you know what, Rach? Ross isn't a mind reader. You can't just make such weighted comments about your relationship and expect them to disappear because you're starting to regret it. That is some toxic powerplay, right there.
Then again, I wouldn't expect anything less from a woman who jilted her ex-financé on the day of their wedding by climbing out of a bathroom window, rather than actually sitting Barry down and talking to him like a mature adult.
(And I'm not going to tell you what Rachel's parents spent on that wedding... but forty thousand dollars is a lot of money!)Side Note: Did Ross cheat on Rachel?
This is perhaps the biggest grey area of the "We were on a break" storyline. Is sleeping with another person while on a break considered cheating?
Well, once again, I found myself on various Reddit threads looking for answers, and the overall consensus is that it really depends on the couple and the individuals within that relationship.
Some people say yes, while some people argue yes but only if the couple is married. Others say no, and others argue that a "break" is the same as a "break up" (just as Ross does in 'The One With The Morning After', featured in the video below), so just accept the relationship is over and move on.
Ross and Rachel clearly had differing opinions on this matter, as I'm sure we all do. But the real issue here is this: Whose fault is it that the relationship crumbled in the first place?Conclusion
Listen, I'm not saying Ross is without blame. Sleeping with Chloe that night was NOT the best thing to do. Then trying to hide the fact he slept with Chloe was also NOT the best thing to do. And sending a barbershop quartet to Rachel's office while she was trying to start her new job was definitely NOT the right thing to do.
All I'm saying is that - as unpopular as it may be - Rachel is primarily the one to blame for the breakdown of their relationship in season three, and Ross is correct when he bellows "WE WERE ON A BREAK!" throughout the show.
From all the evidence in this article, I'd say the blame lies 80:20* to Rachel. (*Mark is not in this equation simply because he's not in the relationship. Despite being a huge factor in the breakup, a stronger couple with more mature individuals should have been able to overcome his deviancy).
But, let's face it, both Rachel and Ross are petulant and needy people, and I think it is safe to presume that their relationship would have broken down regardless of what occurred in season three. In fact, it probably benefitted them in the long run that it happened sooner rather than later - as a breakup after two, three, four+ years could have resulted in them never getting back together.
That being said, can we all agree that couples should just aspire to be more like Monica and Chandler when it comes to relationship goals. Any Friends fan worth their salt knows that they're the true love story throughout the show...