Growing up, Ross Geller was my second favorite Friends character, second only to Chandler Bing, whose cynicism would foreshadow my own in adulthood. Ross remains endearing to me, just as the other #Friends do in their own little ways, but he eventually fell far down my list of favorite characters.
The awkward, nerdy, good-guy persona began to wear thin around the time of my third viewing of the entire series (box sets of #TV shows are a great way to distract yourself from sick days, holiday periods, and crippling loneliness).
You see, there is an abundance of Ross Gellers in the world, both male and female. You might not know that they’re Ross Gellers, but the truth eventually comes to light thanks to their regular condescending quips and emotional manipulation to make them appear the affable hero. Because when you dissect and throw down the basic elements on paper, #RossGeller is not a good person.
He has a history of cheating on partners, is jealous and possessive, deceives his partners, friends, and family, and is known to be condescending. His character receives the full-circle and clichéd treatment of finally getting the girl, even though his happily-ever-after is not entirely deserved. Especially when the girl in question has the greatest character development of all six Friends.
#RachelGreen has always been cool and confident, used to getting what she wants. Early in life it was all planned out, going from rich little daddy's girl to the trophy wife of well-to-do Barry. In the pilot episode, when this all falls a part on her wedding day and she becomes Monica's roommate, her life is thrown into disarray. For the first time in Rachel's life, she has no central male figure to rely on for financial support. It is here that she finally enters adulthood, much later than her peers.
She takes a job as a waitress, but soon realizes she is not content with this and makes it her mission to carve out a career in fashion. Throughout the series she manages to climb her way up the ranks, ruffling Ross's feathers as she does so, forging a career doing what she loves.
Despite being portrayed as spoilt and shallow (as Ross later points out in the Season 2 episode "The One with the List"), she has always had a good heart, remaining Monica's best friend throughout high school despite their differing social statuses.
She deals with major life circumstances with a levelheadedness that a character initially set up the way hers was shouldn't. She standing as a bridesmaid in Barry and Mindy's wedding despite the humiliation it would cause her. She ensures her loved ones' feelings are always a priority, including that of Ross as she swallows her pride and attends his wedding to Emily to ensure it goes off without a hitch (until, that is, he famously fumbles his vows). She accepts her unplanned pregnancy without the dramatics of Ross's reaction, knowing that for the first time in her otherwise privileged life she would be fully responsible for the wellbeing of somebody else.
Ross: The Early Years
To understand a little more about Ross and his behavior, we must look at his backstory. The firstborn child to Jack and Judy Geller, he is immediately placed on a pedestal and becomes the apple of his mother’s eye, with the favoritism only growing more obvious after Monica’s birth. His possessiveness is clear from an early age, with Judy recounting to Rachel childhood stories about her son.
At another point, the early signs of his jealousy are pointed out by Judy as she tells the story of Monica’s first birthday and Ross’s desire for attention:
Skipping through all the years of fierce competitiveness between the siblings — and the constant basking in his parents’ attention — we reach the very formative Carol years. Carol was Ross’s first wife, and at that point the only woman he had ever been intimate with. So when Carol revealed she was a lesbian and had fallen in love with her gym partner Susan, Ross was understandably heartbroken. This heartbreak turned into resentment and trust issues as it so often can, and led to Ross being left with deep emotional scars.
Ross becomes reacquainted with Rachel after her intended wedding to Barry falls apart and she winds up living with his sister Monica. We’re immediately told of Ross’s years-long crush on Rachel that bordered on obsession in their teen years. So right off the bat they’re set up to become an on-screen couple, because viewers love a good romance and Ross is the friendship circle’s resident good guy.
Ross is an "intellectual," who'll make damn sure everyone around him knows it, and who has been gypped by love. Rachel is the dream girl he fawned over for years, but who always remained unattainable. Until now. Unfortunately for Ross, his quest is hindered by the Season 1 appearance of Paolo, the good-looking Italian Rachel begins dating and who Ross immediately hates.
Eventually, Paolo gets the boot, Rachel finds out Ross is in love with her and realizes she has feelings for him, too. Ross leaves for China in the Season 1 finale and then comes back with a girlfriend named Julie, much to everyone’s surprise and Rachel’s disappointment, and then our lovebirds are back to square one. Except this is also when the wheels of the anti-Ross movement really start to pick up speed.
(Be)little Things And The List
#RossandRachel recognize their mutual feelings, leading to Ross kissing Rachel while still dating Julie (she’s a secondary character so any wrongdoing a primary character, like Ross, commits against her won’t matter in a couple of episodes when she’s wiped from existence. Right?).
With Chandler’s help, Ross decides to create a pros and cons list of both women, to decide who he should be with, which should have sounded like a terrible idea the moment he said it aloud, but apparently didn’t. He ends up choosing Rachel, but she stumbles upon the list and calls things off. Ross’s habit of belittling people comes under the spotlight here, with the cons under Rachel’s name painting her as nothing more than a pretty thing he wants.
Rachel: Kind of ditzy? Too into her looks? Spoiled? Just a waitress?
To make matters worse, Ross later tells her he wants to be with her “in spite of all those things,” as if negging her will make the situation better. He places her in a little predefined box and then can’t understand why she can’t see this was all a big misunderstanding.
But this isn’t his first rodeo. Young Ross had already gained experience in humiliating Rachel and trying to come off as innocent. In the Season 8 episode, "The One with the Rumor," it’s revealed that Ross co-founded an "I-Hate-Rachel" club, which was responsible for spreading a high school rumor that she was a hermaphrodite. In true Ross fashion, he explains that the only reason he was a part of the club was because he was upset that she didn’t see how in love with her he was. Almost a decade later and Ross still hasn’t learned that negging a woman and expecting her to love you back doesn’t work.
In "The One Where No One’s Ready," Ross again humiliates Rachel in front of their friends when she can’t decide what to wear to a museum function. He cuts her off and yells at her, despite the fact she’s the closest of all the Friends to being ready.
It’s nothing new, as Ross tends to talk down to the gang, with Phoebe and Joey usually taking a lot of the heat from the prissy paleontologist. However, rather than developing a sense of empathy throughout the seasons, Ross continues with this particular flaw, using it in discussions with Rachel about her career and job prospects, and then in Season 8, when he shuts down any notion that Rachel could look after their baby without his help:
Ross: You can’t possibly do this alone.
Rachel: Excuse me?
Ross: Come on Rach, you can’t even eat alone in a restaurant.
Ross: I’m just saying if you can’t eat by yourself, how do you expect to have a baby by yourself?
The One Where Ross Is Super Possessive And Jealous
Considering Ross’s history of failed relationships, it’s understandable that he might have some trust issues when it comes to finding a partner. The mother of his firstborn and the first woman he was intimate with left him for another woman, bursting any bubble he may have been living in up until that point.
However, rather than growing from the experience, Ross’s issues morphed into a huge green monster that eventually led to Ross and Rachel’s legendary breakup, one which could have been avoided if Ross were the kind of person to acknowledge his own flaws and try to fix them.
When Rachel gets a job as an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s via Mark, an eavesdropping good Samaritan, Ross immediately expresses his dislike for Mark and insists the only reason Rachel was offered the job interview was because of Mark’s romantic interest in her. Unfortunately, no one has explained to Ross that undermining your girlfriend isn’t likely to win you any brownie points.
This jealousy and possessiveness hits new lows when Ross begins to bombard Rachel with workplace gifts, as well as dropping by with a picnic basket on the night of their anniversary when Rachel has made it clear she would be busy working. In their ensuing argument, Ross manages to undermine Rachel’s accomplishments — “It’s just a job” — and drag his jealousy back into the mix — “Is this about Mark?” — which leads to Rachel deciding that they need to take a break.
Sad and irrational Ross hits the town with Chandler and Joey, and suspects that Rachel is sleeping with Mark. In his emotional state he winds up sleeping with Chloe the Xerox girl, introducing the world to that now-immortal line:
“We were on a break!”
Break or not, Ross sleeping with Chloe is enough to sink the Ross and Rachel ship. Despite his initial, fervent apologies and the constant imploring, "We were on a break," the fact is, if the roles were reversed and Rachel had been the one to sleep with someone else, Ross’s jealousy would go into overdrive and his pettiness and ability to undermine her would skyrocket. His attempt to lie and hide the truth from Rachel only fueled the fire, and Ross comes out looking worse than ever.
The jealousy continues into Season 8, when during Rachel’s pregnancy Ross makes it clear that he dislikes the idea of Rachel dating while with child. However, during this time he not only dates Mona but also picks up a saleswoman while shopping for baby products with Rachel.
Just A Little Bit More
Despite appearing as the most sensitive of the six Friends, Ross’s actions tell a different story. His selfishness leads to his frequent lying, like the time when he fibbed to Rachel about reading the very long letter she wrote him to discuss their relationship.
He later misled her about the authenticity of their drunken Vegas marriage because he didn’t want to go through yet another divorce.
During the Emily saga he has the nerve to get upset with Rachel when she tells him she cannot make his destination wedding in England (most people wouldn’t be jumping at the chance to attend the wedding of a fairly recent ex IRL). He then plays with both women’s emotions by saying Rachel’s name at the alter instead of Emily’s.
He dates Rachel’s younger sister Jill for a short time in "The One Where Chandler Can’t Cry," because what’s more normal than dating the sister of your significant ex and future mother of your child?
And once again feeling the need to meddle in her professional life, Ross bribes Rachel’s former boss Mr. Zelner into giving Rachel her old job back so that she won’t move to Paris for the career opportunity of a lifetime. While she does keep the Paris job, she decides at the last minute to get off the plane and come running back to Ross.
Viewers' hearts burst with joy around the world. The sitcom gods had answered our collective prayers and brought Ross and Rachel back together. Was it memorable? Yes. Did it warm our hearts? Yes. Should Rachel have stayed on that plane, forged a life for herself in Paris filled with endless possibilities, and come full circle in her character's glorious personal development? My answer is yes, but this is a #sitcom, and love and romance — no matter whether they are under the right circumstances or not — will always triumph.
Did Ross deserve to be with Rachel?