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I Am Ross Geller
Tales from a Middle Age Father
When Friends originally ran, the appeal for Gen-X viewers was in the characters and their quirky personalities. We all knew a Chandler, Monica, Rachel, Phoebe and Joey. The odd one out was Ross due to his PhD in paleontology, fatherhood, job in a museum and later university, and of course his unfortunate luck with women – specifically three failed marriages.
At the time I idolized Chandler. I wanted to be the guy who worked effortlessly in the corporate world and navigated life through uncompromised wit and self-deprecation. His reactions to little inconveniences were similar to mine, and his own battle against proving his masculinity while projecting a borderline metro-sexual style was something I personally connected to on several plains. Many has been the time where I have been confused as a homosexual man. And though I find nothing wrong with homosexuality, my sexual preferences for the female form have often led to frustration much like Chandler and his on again – off again war of the same ilk. Chandler Bing was me and I was him.
Life, however, chose a different path for me. In the last 21 years, I have been christened as a Ross Geller.
The qualifications for my transition follow Ross’s trajectory with one caveat: I have three children from two marriages. Ross only had two. Everything else follows the great Geller almost perfectly. I have an advanced degree; I work for a college; I have been married three times; one of my ex-wives is now a lesbian.
Unlike Ross, who got to the conclusion of his whirlwind crusade to finding substantial love in only 10 seasons, it has taken me twice as long to accomplish the devastation I have left in my wake. This inevitably leads to the great question I (and Ross) am presented with on a regular basis: what is wrong with me that I could not sustain meaningful marriages?
The easy answer that I tumble around in my mind is “I made poor choices” – but three times? I often argue vehemently that failed marriages are never 100% one party’s fault. There is an exception to this argument in the form of an abusive situation, but in all other cases, the fault is split 50/50 down the middle.
There is something to be said about members of my generation as a whole. Yes, we are the ironic generation left so often in our youth to MTV, Nintendo, and a key under the door mat (or around our neck). We watched our parents divorce more than any other generation before them, and in turn lost the understanding of what a nuclear family was supposed to be. Our mothers became professionals, and our fathers became a mid-life crisis. On TV and in the movies, we were told we would have to do it ourselves; that we were alone. Our music taught us to be strong in our independence because we should never trust the “angels with their wings glued on.”
I am a child of that desolate land of X, and irony proved to be too much for many of us. Those broken homes of our youth have led many of us now in our 40s and 50s to finally look back on the wasteland of destruction and ask why we did what we did. I believe that the one common factor for all of us can be seen in two massive events from our youth: Watergate and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yes, the dotcom bust of the late 90s ruined many of us, and 9/11 shocked the shit out of us, but to deny the earth-shattering quake of those two key moments is to deny looking at ourselves in the mirror.
Watergate dealt a crushing blow to the misgivings about government left over from Vietnam. And our parents absorbed that shock by realizing, like Eliot did when he wrote about the death of civilized humanity in “The Wasteland,” that nothing mattered. That loyalty was fleeting in not just government, but in society and personal relationships. The divorce rate skyrocketed, and the birth of the after school special as babysitter was born. In 1981, MTV took over and we were never the same.
The Berlin wall fell in ’89, and with it, any sense of normalcy that may have remained. The world was reborn for us and promise and hope lay on the horizon. What the coming years taught us, as the older cohort of our generation began making the music that would become our soundtrack for life, was that hope was imagined – it was a commodity packaged and sold to us; and we bought it wholesale. The result, as we continued to grow, was a focus on helicopter parenting and following the great Geller’s lead in placing the importance of relationships to the side.
Through the course of the series, Ross involved himself in several serious relationships that all ended in some sort of disaster. Rachel was the ultimate goal, and he failed not once but twice. Even at the very end of the series finale, you can’t help but wonder exactly how long the final version of Ross and Rachel will last.
It is in his inability to maintain a sustained relationship that we can see ourselves as a generation. His failures are our failures as he bumbles his way through trying to fake it until he made it and creating even worse problems that he was not prepared to reconcile. And so, he crashed, and crashed, and crashed.
One of the most poignant episodes of Friends has to do with Ross himself. Rachel gives him an 18-page handwritten letter, and when she confronts him about it after he falls asleep reading it, he lies and tells her he has read it. This is Ross’s malfunction – he’s laying the groundwork for ultimate defeat and destruction.
And of course, the lie is revealed later in a comical scene heightened by one of the show’s most famous bits – Ross yelling “we were on a BREAK!”
What the sequence reveals, however, is Ross’s inability to recognize the lost communication and honesty he needed to reconcile correctly with what we as an audience understood to be the love of his life. And so, the mighty Geller stumbled through the rest of the series with a generation asking the question, “what if he had just read the damn letter?” Yeah, the writers gave us a semblance of happy-ever-after for Ross and Rachel in the series finale, but the question still looms like a storm cloud over the series.
And that is where Ross and I share our most common trait – not being able to communicate fully and instead hoping the easiest option is to fake it until you make it. I was not the entire reason for the end of my three marriages, but my communication skills were sub-par with each one, and my half of the ending of each was more focused on how well or not I expressed my internal dialogues. I was hoping the truth would out itself and the relationship would, inevitably, make itself right. Three times I tried this. Three times I failed.
I own my half of each failure, and I do not want it to seem as though the four decades I have completed so far on this planet groomed me for these failures. However, I do believe that environmental circumstances do play a key role in developing how we react to specific situations, and Gen-X was given every opportunity to soak in the inevitable cynicism that grew from the mistrust we saw and were taught as children. What I own is not learning from the first failure. Or the second. At 44, I am confident the third is my education as I begin the second half of my journey here.
When Friends originally aired, we knew all six of them well. Chandler Bing was my idol. Chandler Bing also appeared to be the closest thing to a real personality that anyone could relate to. Ross was not. Ross was someone that we would make fun of (and we did).
But, although I wanted so badly to be Chandler Bing, I have come to the realization that in my short path of 44 years, I am Ross Geller. As so many of us are.