We’ve talked a lot here on Zelda & Scout about the pop culture phenomena that shaped our preconceptions of the city we now live in — from How I Met Your Mother and Sex and the City to many, many Nora Ephron movies. But nothing shaped my view of the life of 20-somethings in New York more than Friends. I cherish those ten seasons, with their laughs and their romance and their unagi. Theirs was the life I thought waited for me once I arrived at that glamorous, carefree era known as my 20s. “Would I be a Monica?” I wondered. “Or maybe more of a Phoebe?” I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could grow into one the show’s main roles. Now I’ve hit twenty-five, in New York, and I realize just how skewed my expectations were. As I look at those six boxes, none of them seem to fit.
At the outset of Friends, all of our favorites are between the ages of 24 and 28, with most of them skewing toward the younger end. So when I pictured my life in those mid-twenties years, I modeled my fantasies off the stories they told me. I would to live in the city, with my best friend, in a cute apartment that had room for all my stuff. I would work at a job that I loved, pay my bills, and be financially independent from my parents. I might not be a complete Monica, but there was no way I’d be the Rachel of my group. And twenty-five seemed like a reasonable goal post. Surely, I thought, by the midpoint of my twenties, I would have my life figured out. Well I turned 25 in October, and as I ran down my checklist — job, apartment, solvency — I found myself without a single definitive check. Cue the quarter-life crisis.
[Don’t even get me started on the romantic expectations laid out by Kauffman and Crane. By 25, I thought I might be in a serious relationship, or at the very least that dates would be easy to come by. My adolescent and college days spent mostly among the same sex would finally be cancelled out by the 4 million males that reside in New York City. I would meet people at bars or in coffee shops, and they would offer to buy me dinner, or at least a beer. After all, that was how the Friends did it, at least twice an episode. But at 25, in the “greatest city in the world,” dating as sitcoms knew it no longer exists. Meet-cutes have been reduced to a swipe or a tap. And so far, none of the males aged 24-35 this city has offered up have held a candle to my long-term boyfriend, Netflix.]
So here I am, a quarter of a century old, having reached that benchmark that lurked in the back of my mind for so long. Being twenty-five was supposed to mean that I was a fully formed adult with her act at least mostly together. And with this adulthood, I’d be able to identify with one Central Perk regulars in ways I hadn’t at a younger age. One of the boxes would fit. But I’ve been 25 for nearly 4 months now, and I’m still waiting for one to click. It’s not just that some of the details don’t quite match up: I can barely recognize a single piece of myself in any of them at all.
From the outside, it may seem like some people do fit into the boxes. You could argue that Zelda, for example, is a Monica. She’s not in her dream job yet, but she’s paving the way; she’s got a good job in the industry she wants to work in that’s going to teach her things and hopefully open up doors for her — and she’s always the hostess. One of my roommates could be Phoebe, an artist who somehow manages to pay the rent every month, though I’m never quite sure how. I have friends who are a little bit Rachel and kind of Chandler or Joey (no Ross’s though: having a PhD and a pregnant ex-wife at age 26 is just not feasible for anyone). But if you asked any of these people if they thought their lives lived up to their expectations, you would get a resounding no. It seems I’m not alone in my disillusionment: When the studio lights die down and reality strikes, none of us fit. It turns out the closest Friends got to describing real life was the lyrics the theme song.
Maybe it’s because it’s a different time; our early adulthood isn’t happening against the same cultural landscape as the Friends’ did. Maybe the solution to my problem is less me and more zeitgeist. These days, finishing college, or grad school for that matter, doesn’t flick a magical switch that makes you an adult. Maybe there was a time years ago when it did — you left college with a degree, stepped right into a job, and before you knew it you had a spouse, a family, a mortgage, and a career, all before you hit 30. But that’s not how the story goes anymore, at least not with anyone I know. Our generation was told that we were exceptional, that our jobs should be fulfilling and challenging (in an enjoyable way). We leave school impatient for the lives we were promised, but we find ourselves disappointed. Our jobs, by and large, suck. You get lucky if you like the people you work with, much less what you do. This dissatisfaction isn’t singular to New York — there are twenty-somethings from LA to Miami who profess the same quarter-life cognitive dissonance — but the disconnect between fantasy and reality is bigger here. We’ve been fed so many pictures of what life in this city is like that we thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into, which makes the disappointment even harder to bear. Everyone tells me not to worry, it’ll work itself out, paying my dues takes time, and I hope they’re right. But until then we have…adultolescence.
See none of us feel like an adults, so we hold on to the last vestiges of adolescence. And I’ve decided that’s okay. We cling to our young adult novels and our teenage primetime dramas, because we are still young adults, damn it. And we need new stories to help us process the reality of this weird life stage. So we aren’t Rachel Green, or Monica Gellar, or Phoebe Buffay, but we’ve got Abbi Abrams and Ilana Wexler (who in this writer’s opinion encompass the New York Adultolescence much better than Hannah Horvath and Co). We order too much Seamless, and we FaceTime because the 10 minute walk to meet face to face is too long. It’s not ideal. It’s not what we expected. But we manage, because being an adult isn’t huge sweeping romantic moments, or getting your dream job when you’re completely under-qualified (looking at you Rachel Green). It’s going to Maspeth to pick up a package, or navigating a crowded subway. There’s no laugh track, but maybe, if you’re lucky, you and five friends might just snag the couch at your favorite coffee shop.