Some people watch reruns of “Friends” from time to time when they need to forget about climate change and capitalism. Some have seen it so much, they can quote large portions of many episodes. And then there are those people that are so into “Friends” they daydream about singing with Phoebe, shopping with Rachel and sitting courtside at the Knicks game with Chandler and Joey. This one’s for you.
While you can’t actually sip cappuccinos with the gang, you can make coffee at home in a Central Perk mug, wearing the same T-shirt Monica has. According to Tracy R. Gleason, a developmental psychologist who studies children’s relationships with imaginary companions, you may be better for it.
As Gleason tells it, feeling kinship with Ross or Joey can be classified as a “parasocial relationship,” or a one-way imagined relationship with a media figure or fictional character. It’s like a grown-up version of an imaginary friend, one that can help you work through your emotions and problems.
“Parasocial relationships can provide all kinds of social affordances,” Gleason told Huffpost, “like affiliation, companionship, affection and validation — you can imagine them approving of you and everything you do.”
If you were privy to any of the John Mulaney discourse on Twitter this past fall, you probably heard the term “parasocial relationship” more than a few times. Like most things that go viral, the term gets liberally thrown around in a fear-mongering manner, often by people who don’t really know what it means.
It’s not too surprising then, that Thomas Baudinette, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in studying fandom, says parasocial relationships are much more nuanced than they’re given credit for.
“The concept of the ‘parasocial relationship’ is often misunderstood, particularly on social media,” Baudinette said. “Simply put, it’s a fairly neutral term that is used by scholars to explain and make sense of the sense of intimacy which dedicated fans of media/celebrities feel towards the object of their fannish affection.”
Baudinette added that connection to a fictional character or group of characters, like the friends on “Friends,” can make you feel soothed and emotionally supported.
“Fans often speak of ‘comfort characters’ who provide them specific emotional support and toward whom the fan feels a specific feeling of intimacy,” he said.
While this “comfort” can function as a low-stakes distraction, (i.e. turning on “Friends” before a first date when you’re nervous), Baudinette said it can also assist you in better understanding your own life. In watching Rachel and Monica fight about candlestick holders when, really, they’re sad about each other moving, you may think about how to better communicate with your own best friend during a big life transition.
“The sense of intimacy which develops represents a lens through which the fan makes sense of their relationships,” Baudinette said. “This is not a form of ‘delusion’ as some would put it, but is instead a critically reflexive relationship where the fans’ emotional interactions with [the fictional character they like] provide frameworks to interpret the various issues which they face in everyday life.”
If “Friends” is your comfort show, rocking Joey’s Knicks jersey or installing your own yellow picture frame on the inside of your font door may make you feel even closer to the gang. Instead of rocking specific fan gear, like a “Friends” logo crop top with the little dots between the letters, you can snag the “Girls” sweatshirt Monica wears in her apartment or the “That Girl” T-shirt Phoebe plays football in. From kitchen gadgets to clothes, we’ve rounded up a ton of fun options of things worn or used on Friends that you can take for yourself.
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