My Transition from Rachel Green to Monica Geller (and Other Life Lessons I Learned from ‘Friends’)
#Tbt to the moment I first began to align myself with what was to become my false Friends identity: The one where I compared myself most to Jennifer Aniston Rachel Green.
Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge how totally crazy it sounds to spend more than a microsecond attempting to see yourself in a fictional character. It’s true that relatability isn’t the key to good TV, as my colleague so thoughtfully points out, but the more time you invest in a show, the more you gravitate toward characters that feel the most like you—so I’m embracing it. (For the record, I’m also a total Charlotte, Leslie, Lady Mary, Pam and Rory.)
But back to when I decided I was Rachel Green. It was 2004 and I was kind of green myself, embarking on a grad school career to study journalism in Boston in a program where I didn’t know a soul. The first pal I made? Well, she was just as Friends-loving as myself. Our bond over the series, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary this fall, ran the gamut: We spent hours re-watching all our favorite episodes together (season 5 is a triumph, we both agreed) and working our favorite lines into everyday conversation (“could I be wearing any more clothes?” anytime we braved the frigid Boston cold). Heck, we even moved into apartments across the street from each other (it’s Friends IRL, we laughed as I signed my lease).
But the true defining moment came when my brand-new bestie started calling me by a brand-new nickname: Ray Ray Green. It was only natural—my name was Rachel, after all. As crazy as it sounds to me now, as we cued up DVD after DVD straight out of our commemorative box sets pre-Netflix, Rachel was the character I was convinced felt the most like me. I certainly wasn't a Monica—blech. Rachel and I had a lot in common, according to me. Wayyyyy more than me and Monica.
How? First off, we had the same hair color (!). Truth be told, if you asked my stylist, the layered look he gave me haircut after haircut also looked eerily similar to “The Rachel,” her character’s signature ’do. (We were the same, see?)
Superficial details aside, Rach was also witty and stylish and willing to start at the very bottom to pivot from coffee barista to fashionista. (“I’m funny, too!” I told myself. I was also in the early days of my destined-to-be trendsetting magazine career, regularly texting the friend who dubbed me Ray Ray to lament the more dues-paying days: “It’s like there’s rock bottom, 50 feet of crap, then me,” one of Rachel’s more classic lines.) Finally, she spent her days dramatically lusting after a dorky paleontologist—LYMI, Ross—in an on-again, off-again relationship. (At the time, my crush was an emotionally unavailable a cappella nerd. OK so our relationship wasn't dramatic like Ross and Rachel's...but did I mention our hair was, like, the same?)
Flash forward to 2019—the 25th anniversary year—and to my grad school friend, who turned out to be a lifelong bestie, I still go by Ray Ray Green. The only problem? As it turns out (yeah, you saw this coming), I’m a total Monica.
As the saying goes, hindsight is easy, but the truth is that Monica and I are kindred spirits—we always have been. For one thing, she’s a first-class neat freak. (Every time I dust off my Dyson vacuum or lecture my spouse about leaving a wet towel on the floor, I think of her—fondly, I should add.) She’s also a people-pleaser (guilty!) and competitive to a fault (I’ve never loved Monica more than the episode where they play football on Thanksgiving). Like Rachel, she also fell in love with a total dork—Chandler Bing—but one that wasn’t drama-prone. (They hooked up in London, declared their love for each other, got married and adopted twins. My husband and I met online, dated for six years, got married and had a kid. On-again/off-again? There was none of that with us.)
Why had I been so resistant to embracing my inner Monica for all those years? Monica is hilarious. (Two words: Erogenous zones.) And stylish in her own way. (She may not have been a fashionista, but she had her own brand of downtown cool.) But, unlike Rachel, who fumbled along as she found her way to Ralph Lauren, Monica had her career plans on lock from the very start. She always knew what she wanted. In fact, her ambition and gumption as she bopped around the restaurant circuit, working in, then running her own kitchen, is what resonates with me the most, circa 2019.
Looking back, my own career trajectory wasn’t like Rachel’s, it was like Monica’s—1,000 percent. From the get-go (and long before my grad school days), I also knew what I wanted to do and went after it. I didn’t waiver on those “rock bottom” days in the magazine biz when, after working my way up at a publication in Boston, I quit to pursue a job in New York—perfectly timing my move with the stock market crash of 2008. Cue another classic line from Friends: “Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re going to love it,” as Monica consoles Rachel in season one.
Still, perhaps the aspect of Monica that I most relate to (and the one that is so decidedly not Rachel) is her comfortability and honesty about the quirks that make her uncool. (“I’m breezy!” she says in a voicemail to Richard at one point when she’s acting anything but.) For all her flaws and faults—and OCD cleaning tendencies—she owned them, she laughed about them, she was lovable for them.
And while the show’s creators led us to dub Monica as the neurotic one and Rachel as the all-American girl-next-door, I realize now that I got caught up in characteristics that were superficial (hello, Rachel’s hair) and perhaps a bit aspirational (again, the hair) versus taking a hard look at which character truly felt like me.
But that’s the funny part: After years of thinking of Monica as blech, I now watch the show and know she is the character I most want to be (and to a large extent, have always been). She’s the one who’s the most authentic to herself when the show concludes. (There’s a reason Joey wants to follow her—and, OK, Chandler—to the ’burbs.)
Do I still go by Ray Ray? To my closest pal, sure. But, in my heart, I'll always be a Monica—and proud of it.