Starting out in the mid-90s and running over ten seasons, twenty years later Friends is still the theme of countless pub quizzes and the source of inspirational quotes printed on cheap Primark t-shirts.
Friends fans have watched Ross pine for Rachel for almost two seasons, celebrated their first kiss, and had debates about whether they really were on a break or not. Over the course of ten seasons, Rachel and Ross break up several times but ultimately end up together. Even though their relationship was initially envied by many, after re-watching Friends years later and looking back on ten years of the show, it becomes apparent that maybe we all missed something about Ross.
At first, Ross might simply seem like a slightly annoying-yet-smart and reliable guy, but in actuality his character is utterly toxic, with pathological jealousy, selfishness, and struggles with gender nonconformity as his three pillars.
- Ross’s jealousy and possessiveness
One of the prime examples of Ross’s possessiveness is in his reaction to, and interaction with, Rachel’s colleague Mark. Mark is first introduced in the third season and soon becomes the centre of Ross’s attention and obsession. Though Rachel assures Ross that she and Mark are just friends, Ross does not trust her and – presumably in an effort to assert his dominance – starts showing up at her work and repeatedly sends gifts to her office.
The epitome of both his jealousy and possessiveness however is when Rachel and Mark make plans to attend a lecture on fashion together – an interest they both share. In spite of their plans, Ross tells Rachel that he would like to accompany her instead, causing her to cancel on Mark. Yet once at the lecture, it becomes apparent that Ross’s sole intention was to prevent Rachel from spending time alone with Mark. Not only does Ross not show any respect to either the professor or Rachel (repeatedly whispering in her ear and distracting her from taking notes), but after the lecture he actually ends up complaining about how bored he was. When Rachel understandably gets mad and asks him why he even came in the first place, he finds her anger incomprehensible.
- Ross’s selfishness and inconsideracy
Even though a certain extent of self-indulgence can arguably be healthy, season ten Ross crosses the line. Rachel is offered a new job for which she would have to move to Paris, and despite being nervous, she is excited about this new opportunity, especially because living in Paris had been a dream of hers for years. Ross however – entirely disregarding Rachel’s wishes – wants her to stay in New York for his own (selfish) reasons. In an effort to keep her from leaving, he convinces Rachel’s old boss – behind her back – to offer Rachel her job back and to even increase her salary.
Despite this, Rachel turns down the job and spends one last night with Ross, still set on heading to Paris the following morning. Upon realising that Rachel has left, Ross decides to drive to the airport and stop her from boarding the plane. Although Rachel ultimately does decide to stay in New York of her own accord, what was possibly intended as a big gesture of love simply highlights Ross’s lack of care for Rachel’s choices and desires – in favour of his own.
Four years earlier, Ross had let his selfishness cloud his judgment once again. At the end of the fifth season, Rachel and Ross drunkenly get married in Las Vegas – and subsequently decide to get an annulment in the following season. Rachel trusts Ross to take care of it, but – unbeknownst to her – Ross decides for himself that he can’t have “another failed marriage”. As he already got divorced two times prior, he simply decides to stay married to Rachel – without her knowledge. Not only does Ross not get the annulment, but he blatantly lies to Rachel when she asks him about it; only after telling his friends and seeing their appalled reactions does Ross start to question his decision, and tries to play it off as a joke.
While it may have been funny at the time, looking back years later it is apparent that there is nothing entertaining about keeping someone in a marriage they do not want to be part of.
- Ross’s struggles with gender nonconformity and homophobia
Though Ross’s character is arguably rather problematic already, he also repeatedly goes out of his way to reassert traditional gender roles. One of the most memorable instances of this occurs in season three, when Ross’s son Ben becomes obsessed with a Barbie doll. Instead of letting his son play with something that makes him happy, Ross spends all day trying to force “more manly” toys on Ben – like a G.I. Joe action figure or dinosaurs – he fails to accept that the toy is simply a toy and can be played with regardless of gender or sex.
Similarly, six years later, Ross and Rachel are looking to hire a nanny for their newborn daughter, Emma. Initially, both are happy with an applicant named Sandy – until Ross learns that Sandy is in fact a man. As he is highly qualified, Rachel hires him, but Ross yet again struggles to understand that a profession – much like a toy – can be pursued regardless of gender or sex. Unable to comprehend that being a nanny has nothing to do with masculinity or femininity, Ross ends up calling Sandy “too sensitive”.
Not only does Ross reassert traditional gender roles, but he also decides that if a man chooses to pursue a career that Ross sees as feminine, he must “not [be] manly enough” and therefore – according to Ross – gay. Ross’s struggles with gender variance and homophobia culminate in him firing Sandy, only to hire a female nanny that he ends up sexualising and goggling at.
While Ross’s homophobic, jealous and selfish character is problematic in itself, it is arguably more problematic to leave it unaddressed; a TV show featuring a homophobic – and outright toxic – character who is depicted as funny and entertaining sends the wrong message. In essence, it communicates to the audience that such behaviour is culturally acceptable and doesn’t face any repercussions. If a character like Ross Geller were to appear on a TV sitcom in 2020, it would presumably spark societal outcry and generate a whole lot of discourse – and that alone might classify as progress.
Words by Samira Rauner