Remember when Ross and Rachel were “on a break?” If you do not, I am firstly really surprised because almost EVERYBODY alive at the time was watching “Friends” when it originally aired. Those that were born after are watching it or binging it now. I am also really sad for you because it was/is such a funny show about life and friendship. Finally, go watch it—all of it! (Disclaimer since this is on a mental health therapy practice’s website: Watching “Friends,” binging or otherwise is not an adequate substitute for professional therapy.} Any way, now that I have called you out for not being familiar with such an iconic television show, allow me to explain to you or remind you of one of the most memorable story lines of the show.
Ross had been in love with Rachel since they were in high school. Rachel was oblivious to this because she was the popular girl and he was the geek. Fast forward to their mid to late twenties. Rachel is now roommates with Ross’s sister. They live across the hall from Ross’s college roommate. All of them, plus two others who’s specifics are awesome, but not necessary for this part of the story become a group of friends—hence the name of the show. I do not remember what happened in which season exactly, except for the pilot and the finale. For several seasons Ross pined over Rachel semi-secretly. It was semi-secret because I think everyone knew, except for Rachel.
After the funny of Ross’s exasperation pretty much wore out, the show writers got them together. That is not a spoiler. I mentioned they were “on a break” in the first sentence. Even a bad guess as to what that refers in this context has to be pretty close to correct. So they got together for a while. After a fight on their anniversary in season three (thank you Dr. Google) they decided they should “take a break.” Spoiler Alert!! (though how you would not already know this is amazing!) While on their break, Ross sleeps with someone else. Rachel finds out and ends their relationship. Ross thinks her reaction is unfair because, as he famously says repeatedly for the rest of the SERIES, “we were on a break!”
Now I have had conversations about this topic with a few clients, my own children, and some very good friends who are notably younger than I am (read millennials—not a critique, just a different world view). My temptation is to tell you what I have said to my children and my millennial friends. Namely, Ross did nothing wrong. Before you start to proverbially burn me in effigy or blame it on my male privilege (Ooo! That might be a good blog topic). I only say he did nothing wrong because I believe being “on a break” is not a thing. I know! I know! That is not a popular opinion. Yet why do people go on a break instead of breaking up? (They even sound the same.) They go on a break because they want to see if there is someone else that they like better out there without fully letting go of the one they have. There are so many “fish in the sea” that they want to dip their toe in the water while keeping their other foot on shore. The only way they can be sure about that is by doing something with someone that would not otherwise be acceptable to the current partner. It is sanctioned cheating. Or turning a blind eye to cheating.
However, I am not going to give in to the temptation to tell you what I have told my friends and family. (See what I did there?) Instead, like the good therapist I am, if you were contemplating going on a break from your significant other, I would ask you what you think being “on a break” means? Does it fit into your understanding of and desire for your romantic relationship? Does your partner agree with you? If so, how do you know? Have you talked about it? Or are you just assuming because you are on such a similar wavelength that it must be the same definition? Obvi! (One of my millennial friends likes to say, “you know what happens when you assume! You make a fool out of you and me.” I don’t have the heart to tell him he’s too young for Dad jokes.)
That was a long (though entertaining if I do say so) way to get to this nugget of relationship therapy truth. You have to communicate in relationship—any relationship! That communication HAS to be two-way and open. If you have that, you won’t need a “break.” One or the other of you might need some time to themselves, but the relationship can stay intact. If the relationship cannot handle that kind of honesty, maybe you need to actually break up. If “on a break” actually makes sense to you and to your significant other, if you can agree to the specific boundaries of the “break,” and if you can agree to the specific purpose of the “break;” then, perhaps, what it is called becomes nothing more than semantics. If Ross and Rachel had ironed out the details of some time to think and contemplate their relationship…well “Friends” probably would have gone off the air a lot sooner. Misunderstanding and miscommunication make for good comedy TV, but less so for healthy relationships.