I have a confession many of you might relate to – I am a HUGE fan of the show “Friends”. So when the reunion show was announced, I was excited. As ridiculous as it sounds, I started crying within the first few minutes, right around the time David Schwimmer walked on to the reconstructed set. My husband walked in a few times, found me teary or full out crying and, having never been a fan of the show, promptly left me to my reminiscing. The reunion show was terrific, in my opinion, but it was the after effects that left me curious.
For a few hours after the show ended, I found myself experiencing what I initially identified as sadness. In all honesty, my patience was also low as evidenced by some of my responses to what would usually be innocuous comments from my husband. What the heck? I just spent 2 hours watching one of my favorite casts come together to discuss a show that I loved; why was I left with sadness? Since much of my work with clients is about identifying the thoughts that create emotions, I forced myself to sit down to figure it out. The easy answer was that I missed the characters and show, or that there wasn’t going to be a revamped “Friends – Middle Age” series. But my brain almost immediately discounted those reasons as trivial. So why was I left feeling sad? Except it wasn’t sadness. When I challenged the emotion, I discovered that what I was experiencing was closer to a bereft feeling, a loss or grief.
Since I consider myself a rationale person, I was not about to accept that the overwhelming feeling coursing through me was about the loss of a television show. I started to think about when the show started in 1994. I was 23 years old. I was starting my first month in my doctoral program in Long Island, New York. I was engaged to my college boyfriend. For the first time in my life, I was letting go of my tightly held belief system of being “responsible” and putting everything before having fun. My whole life was ahead of me. Each week I would watch this new show, living vicariously through characters who in some ways represented parts of me. Ross’ geeky love of his scientific field. Phoebe’s vulnerability. Chandler’s self-doubt. Monica was the easiest with her intense need for organization and control. And later in that first year, my connection to Rachel when I tried to break off my engagement. As I sat on the couch in my bedroom, I tried to remember my 23-year-old me. I felt scared for her. I envied her. I missed parts of her that have been watered down or eliminated over time. And I started to cry more, a clear sign I discovered the thought path which was creating the bereft feeling.
I thought about the series’ 10-year span and what that decade had looked like in my own life. Over the ten years of “Friends”, I experienced significant milestones and twists in my life. I ended up getting married to the college boyfriend, and in the first few months of marriage, realizing it was not a healthy relationship, and moving out. I lived on my own for the first time ever. I questioned my sexuality. I dated people who were different than anyone I had in the past. I traveled alone across the country “just because” and realized I wanted to break from my dependency on my family, so I applied for jobs in Arizona and moved there. I got my first “adult” job as a school psychologist. I got divorced. I was in a horrible car accident that the guy at the tow yard said, “I didn’t think anyone in that car lived.” I met a sweet, fun guy who was the opposite of my first husband, fell in love, got married (again). I finished my PhD. I went against my long-standing belief not to have children and we decided to get pregnant. I got pregnant. Bought my first house. Got pregnant with my second daughter. Moved across the country to South Carolina because my husband wanted to. Was a college professor. Bought my second house. It was a decade of life changes and “Friends” mirrored many of them in the storylines.
I was 33 years old when “Friends” ended in May 2004. At 33, I had no idea where life would take me. I also couldn’t conceptualize the sacrifices, pain, or grief that would come, or the intense happiness, self-discovery, and achievement that would follow. I caught myself wishing that I could go back to watching that first episode, and tell my younger self to be confident, to choose herself more often than choosing others, to listen to her inner voice, to have more fun, and to not get distracted by relationships until she really knew herself. I wanted to scream at her to chase all her goals until she got them so that at 50, she didn’t go through the desperation so many women do to finally have the career or life they want.
Sitting on my coach, identifying all these thoughts, helped me know why there was such an intense emotional reaction to the reunion show. I also knew I didn’t want to stay in that place of reminiscing. I made the choice to take the advice I would have given to my 23-year-old self and apply it all now – strongly, assertively, definitively – to get back on track with where my life has been and is headed, and not focus on the regret. I apologized to my husband for being cranky and thanked him for loving all parts of me. I looked at myself in the mirror and focused on the positive aspects of my reflection instead of the self-critical analysis of “aging”. I revisited my monthly goals. I stood in front of my vision board. I outlined this article. I reconnected with my almost-50 year old self, appreciated her, and focused on the day and the next steps. Monica would be proud.
Dr. Robin Buckley has her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Hofstra University and is also a certified coach. She owns Insights Group Psychological & Coaching Services in New Hampshire, a practice offering coaching (executive, elite athletes, couples), neuropsychological evaluation, and cognitive behavioral therapy. Dr. Robin works specifically with executives and high-powered couples to achieve their goals efficiently and successfully through the use of a business framework. To find out more about Dr. Robin, please go to drrobinbuckley.com, or to learn more about her practice, insightsgroup.net.