Sitcom Expectations

I write a lot about loneliness. Maybe a surprising amount given I’m married, I have a supportive family who I enjoy visiting, and I spend part of each day with other people whether that’s teaching classes or taking classes or leading tours or running with a running group or grabbing coffee with a friend.

I am not without people I care about and people who care about me. Yet, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that something is not right in my friendship world. And I think 90s and 00s sitcom television is to blame.

Because it’s the most obvious example, let’s consider Friends and the model of friendship it presents. Six people, three men and three women, form a tight circle. They know everything about each other, they’re there for each other no matter what, and they spend an inordinate amount of time gathered at a coffee shop.

The friendships that I have don’t fit this model. The people I feel closest too don’t necessarily know each other, and there’s no central place where I gather with them. My interactions are more one off or tied to a specific activity like a class or a show. They’re friendships of convenience to a certain extent, but does that necessarily make them less deep or worthwhile than the type of friendships portrayed on sitcoms?

I’ve spent time in my adult life deconstructing potentially harmful expectations around romance that I internalized as a child watching fairy tale movies about Prince Charming and dreaming of happily ever after. But until now, I haven’t given much thought as to how the models of friendship I was presented might have been unrealistic.

When the friends on Friends have parties, the other people who show up are for the most part completely unfamiliar to the audience–background extras who chit chat. Given the nature of most of my relationships, these are the characters that I identify most with. Up until now, I’ve considered this a shortcoming, an indication that I don’t really have friends. But I do have friendships, they just don’t look the way I expected them to when I was young.

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