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Do TV shows place unrealistic expectations on our friendships?

WORDS BY MAGENTA PORTER

Why the friendships we see on our screens aren’t always healthy.

These colder months really bring out my inner sloth, with the extra time spent rugged up on the couch easily filled by the endless amount of bingeworthy series at my fingertips. For me, it’s the shows about twenty-somethings trying to figure out their lives that truly get me hooked. 

The Bold Type, Younger, Girls, Good Trouble, or if I’m going a bit ‘vintage’ as the kids say, Friends, Seinfeld, Sex And The City – the list is endless. Granted, I am clearly choosing to omit my more guilty pleasure shows (the number of times I’ve rewatched The Vampire Diaries shall not be mentioned). (It’s four.)


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These shows are all successful for a variety of reasons. However, I believe there are three key ingredients that each show must possess in order for it to reach peak popularity.

Firstly, the main characters all have to work at the same company (very millennial) or live in the same apartment building, probably somewhere in New York City. According to television, these are the only places one can meet new friends. 

Secondly, it is very rare for the main characters to have close friends or relationships that actually last with anyone outside of their workplace or home address. These people also rarely have any other family members, and if they do, they are sure to become the romantic interest of one of the other core ‘friends’. 

Thirdly, the friendships of all the main characters must be extremely close. 

Last week, I watched Friends: The Reunion, like everyone else and their mum. Whilst watching, between the celebrity fashion show and revelation that Rachel and Ross were definitely on a break, I learnt that the original elevator pitch for the show was, ‘A show about the time in your life when your friends are your family’. In hindsight, it’s obvious that Friends and most other comedy sitcoms and on-demand series are about exactly that. 

Reflecting on this, I did think how sweet and wholesome this baseline idea was, and at least a little bit, I could relate. But ultimately, what these shows don’t show are all the messy bits of life that can seriously impede on these closer-than-family friendships. 

‘Vintage’ shows, like Friends and Sex And The City, completely neglect the impact that financial troubles, family issues, politics and even world events can have on our lives, never mind our friendships. 

More modern shows, like The Bold Type and Younger, do explore important, real life issues more broadly. However, in these newer, more technologically advanced series, social media is almost regarded as a member of the cast itself, and because of this, the boundaries between the main characters are completely non-existent. 

None of these shows value the need for boundaries in any friendship, rather, everyone drops everything for everyone else at their beck and call, no matter what.

‘SOS’ texts at all times of the night are met with instant responses. Characters drop whatever they are doing at work and go out for midday crisis drinks, just to deal with the most recent breakup among them. Even when one friend is at their lowest, if another suffers the most minor inconvenience, the one suffering is still expected to bounce back, perk up, and hold their hand. 

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love these shows and this is not one huge neg on any of them. I honestly don’t think I’d make it through the week without the escapism they provide. However, they do perpetuate the falsehood that friendships should know no bounds. In reality, everyone is just trying to cope with their own dramas and issues, and can’t always drop everything for their friends. And that is okay. 

What these shows do highlight is the importance of friendship, which I am not arguing with. But what they don’t show is the importance of caring for yourself, the same way that you care for others. Instead, they create unrealistic expectations of what friendship should be. 

No one should watch these shows and think that there must be something wrong with their friendships because you don’t FaceTime your best mate every time you’re in the bathroom. Nor should you be worried if you don’t see your friends every night for dinner or every day in the workplace. 

The characters in these shows are rarely ever alone. Almost every night of the week they are out at some fancy party or sprawled across the couch with their mates, with takeaway boxes and wine for effect. In reality, not even the most extroverted people among us could live like this. 

We all need time to recharge and rejuvenate, alone. Being alone is okay – you are not lonely if you spend most weeknights tucked up in bed by 9pm, or only catch-up with your friends once a week. If your friendships don’t look anything like the ones you see on your screen, then that is absolutely normal, because they aren’t real, and yours are. 

Want to learn more about how to set healthy friendship boundaries? Head here.

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