Last week, Shakesville reposted an article that Ana Mardoll wrote back in September called “Why I Dislike Ross Geller.” The article is my second-favorite thing that Ana Mardoll has written (my favorite is his analysis of The Little Mermaid, which IS SO a mostly-feminist movie, nyah!) In a couple of thousand words, Ana brilliantly deconstructs why Ross Geller is an entitled, emotionally abusive Nice Guy who has no business being the romantic hero of a sitcom.
Whenever I rewatch Friends, I’m struck anew by how much of a jerk Ross is to Rachel, and how he’s often condescending and nasty to his sister and his so-called closest friends.
But even though I agree that Ross Geller is an emotionally abusive Nice Guy, I was still a little sad to read Ana’s article. Because in a different universe, Ross Geller is my favorite character on Friends.
Sure, Chandler Bing was the wittiest of the group, and one of my first-ever fictional character crushes. Sure, Phoebe Buffay had the most interesting backstory, and Lisa Kudrow was the most talented cast member on the show. Sure, Rachel Green had the best character development and was the only one of the six who wasn’t Flanderized by the end of the show’s run.
But Ross Geller was a nerd, reaching heights of Nerddom that no other character reached, and there are moments scattered throughout Friends that make me really love him. I love that he’s in the world of academia. I love that he loves dinosaurs. I love his nerdy references, one-liners, and dumb jokes. (“If I were a salmon shirt, where would I be? Upstream.”) (“I’ll prove it! I’ll prove it like a theorem!”) I love his freakouts and his dumb dancing with Monica to The Routine:
So how did the Friends writers drop the ball with Ross Geller? How did they turn what could have been a delightfully dorky character into an emotionally abusive jerkass?
The answer, I believe, lies in the third season. The season with all the jealousy.
In season three, Ross and Rachel are in a happy, committed relationship. But Rachel is unsatisfied in her work life. She’s not content with being a coffee shop waitress, and she wants to enter the fashion world. She gets her dream job thanks to a connection with a new male friend named Mark, who works at Bloomingdale’s.
Ross is not happy about this. He’s threatened by Mark’s presence in Rachel’s life, and he’s threatened by her job taking up too much of her schedule. He constantly demands proof from Rachel that she’s not interested in Mark, and shows up to her office with a picnic basket even after she’s told him multiple times that she’s too busy to see him that night.
(Yes, that night was their anniversary. Yes, it’s upsetting not to be able to spend time with your significant other on your anniversary. But I guess Ross forgot what he was doing the night of their second date the previous year – working. And I guess he also forgot that Rachel was disappointed but handled it like a grownup.)
Anyway, I don’t need to list all of the details about Ross’s possessiveness and jealousy, because Ana Mardoll did that already. Instead, I’m going to talk about the episode that shows the root of Ross’s jealousy issues – “The One with the Flashback.”
In “The One with the Flashback,” Ross is still married to Carol, and it’s evident that their relationship has been rocky for awhile. Ross mentions that Carol was feeling isolated because she didn’t have her own group of friends, and was starting to be happier now that she’s become friends with a woman named Susan.
Ross then becomes very encouraging of Carol’s new friendship. He tells her on the phone to enjoy her girls’ night out with Susan, and he seems genuinely supportive of his wife. He seems to recognize that Carol making new friends and expanding her horizons is good for her and good for their relationship.
A few days later, Carol tells Ross that she’s a lesbian. His heart is broken and his world is shattered.
Four years later, Ross sees Rachel making friends with a man who appears to be interested in her, and he sees it happening all over again. He doesn’t want to lose Rachel and he doesn’t want to be blindsided for the second time, so he becomes incredibly jealous, possessive, and controlling.
It also doesn’t help that he gets some bad advice from Chandler and Joey:
To be fair, Chandler and Joey are partially right – they almost perfectly describe predatory Nice Guy behavior (and Joey’s bit at the end, including his impersonation of Ross, is hilarious). But telling Ross to show up at Rachel’s workplace is a terrible idea. If Rachel doesn’t like Ross’s possessiveness, his being more possessive will only hurt their relationship.
Monica is the one who gives Ross the better advice, reminding him that any designs Mark may or may not have on Rachel are irrelevant. Mark wanting to sleep with Rachel doesn’t mean a thing if Rachel doesn’t return his feelings.
But Ross doesn’t listen to Monica. Being the supportive and non-jealous husband didn’t work out for him the first time, so why should it work out for him the second time?
That, I think, is the key to Ross’s jealousy and possessiveness. From all accounts, he seemed to be a pretty good husband to Carol, and it’s not until we see him with Rachel that he allows his jealousy to overwhelm his good sense and his better qualities.
His jealousy issues are not Rachel’s fault. They’re not even Carol’s fault (lest anyone think I’m arguing that Ross was a perfectly good guy until that lesbian ruined him!) But it’s important to recognize that a lot of the negative qualities he displays in his relationship with Rachel are a result of a painful experience in his life.
And that season of Friends would have been a great time for Ross to get to the root of his jealousy issues. He could have eventually realized at a) Rachel and Carol are not the same people, b) Rachel loved him and wasn’t going to leave him, c) Carol still would have left him if he had been just as controlling with her because she’s gay and it had nothing to do with him, and d) being possessive and controlling is a great way to make the person you love resent you.
Instead, we got “we were on a break!”
And then Ross and Rachel’s relationship issues stopped being about possessiveness and jealousy, and became about whether or not he cheated on her.
And Ross’s jealousy issues were never fully addressed, and at the end of the show’s run, after years of Ross being jealous whenever Rachel so much as spoke to a man, he and Rachel still ended up together, with her giving up a great job to be with him.
Season three of Friends was a great opportunity for Ross to examine the root of his jealousy in a funny way, but it never happened, and he and Rachel got back together because rom-com rules dictated that they were supposed to do that.
I wouldn’t trade Ross and Rachel’s second breakup for anything (“Y-O-U-apostrophe-R-E means You are, Y-O-U-R MEANS YOUR!”/”And hey, just so you know, it’s NOT that common, it DOESN’T happen to every guy, and it IS A BIG DEAL!”), but if the writers had allowed Ross to go through some character development and recognize how unfair he had been to Rachel, their reunion in the series finale would’ve felt earned instead of tacked on.
And it wouldn’t have left us with the vague, unsettling feeling that maybe the writers always thought that Rachel’s job was less important than the relationship with the guy who was threatened by, and dismissive of, her career.