Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) has always been my favorite character from Friends. I admire her taste in fashion, her ambitions for a career in fashion and for following her dreams. Her switch from spoiled rich girl to responsible adult began with her refusal to marry Barry (Mitchell Whitfield), which changed the trajectory of her life dramatically, albeit for the better. The adjustment didn’t come without its struggles as Rachel learned to do her own laundry and manage her own finances, among other things, but she made it work, and she had one of the most successful careers on Friends.
I’ve always thought her character grew and transformed the most out of the six friends over the course of a decade. Rachel blossomed into a successful adult and role model. She certainly made a noteworthy entrance, drenched and wearing a wedding gown as she raced into Central Perk looking for Monica (Courteney Cox), whom she hadn’t seen for some time but had been best friends with back in high school. Rachel running out on her wedding saved her from a bad relationship, but it also saved her from living a life just like her parents, who proved to be dysfunctional in their own ways as the show went on.
Though Rachel succeeded in many ways, she failed in others. Specifically, her relationships. Rachel seemed to have a disastrous time finding love, especially where it concerned her and Ross (David Schwimmer). Like every human, Rachel isn’t perfect, and came with her own set of flaws.
In any case, Rachel remains my favorite character for overcoming so many obstacles in her life, and for making something of herself in the process.
In the second season, Rachel finds out her parents plan to divorce and it shocks her terribly. Convinced she wouldn’t have to face something like her parents divorcing in her adulthood, she’s shocked even further when her mother wants to be more like her, even asking for marijuana at one point.
Rachel’s mother wants to be more like her, which is flattering and is her way of being proud of Rachel, but she’s also trying to live through her daughter, and that’s placing too much on Rachel’s shoulders, as though her daughter can right everything wrong in her life. Rachel’s parents are both dysfunctional in their own ways, and it’s possible that Rachel didn’t have the best example of a healthy relationship when she was growing up, which could explain her own relationship problems.
Her father has a nasty temper, to the point that Rachel is afraid to tell him she’s pregnant later on in the show. Her father may have given her endless credit card limits, but he has a powerful hold over Rachel that she has a hard time breaking out of. It’s domineering and controlling to a certain degree, which makes it even more impressive that Rachel made her own way, despite her father’s lack of faith of her in the beginning.
Her sisters, Jill (Reese Witherspoon) and Amy (Christina Applegate) never quite make their own path the way Rachel has, but Rachel tries to teach them what she can–and realizes how far she’s come from her own spoiled and naive days just by observing her sisters’ selfish behavior.
When Rachel made the decision to walk away from Barry, she didn’t exactly have the support of her family. They never really understood her or where she was coming from (her father certainly didn’t grasp her metaphor of wanting to be a purse or hat instead of a shoe), and really, it was Rachel’s group of friends who gave her the support and faith she needed to change her life. Her father cut her off in the very first episode. It couldn’t have been easy with her family never believing in her, but proving them wrong must have felt that much better, and she ended up becoming the one daughter her father was proud of, the woman her mother wanted to be and the sister that both Jill and Amy went to when they needed help. She’s not necessarily close with her family, but she maintains friendly relationships with them—at least until they do something that angers her, like Amy piercing Emma’s (Rachel’s daughter) ears. Then Rachel will stand up to them, backed by the confidence she’s built up for herself since leaving behind her father’s money and making her own way.
Rachel wasn’t always a successful businesswoman in the fashion industry. She started out as a waitress at Central Perk. She tried, but she never really cared about being a good waitress, something her group of friends often teased her for. She’d mix up people’s orders, spill pies in the hoods of jackets, or would sit back and let someone else clean the coffee shop for her, for instance.
It wasn’t her passion, and if not for Gunther’s (James Michael Tyler) massive crush on her, she probably would’ve been fired long before she quit to pursue a job in the fashion industry. It’s understandable why she wasn’t the best waitress–it’s because it wasn’t her passion. Rachel did well in the fashion industry, working hard and moving up in the ranks. Her work ethic had nothing to do with her being a terrible waitress.
However, like many of us know, you can’t start off with your dream job. You have to work your way up. If not for Chandler (Matthew Perry) spurring her to quit her job so she’d have the “fear” it took to find another, Rachel might have remained at the Central Perk a little longer. Luckily, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and his dad came through for Rachel by getting her an interview at a small fashion company and she landed the job when she needed it most.
Rachel was lucky in finding fashion jobs, specifically in making the right connections, but she worked hard and proved that she’d earned her place wherever she was, whether it was at Bloomingdale’s or Ralph Lauren.
Rachel’s climb from waitress to an executive at Ralph Lauren is inspiring to me. Her journey, and the struggles with it, gives me hope in my own path as I make my way to my own career goals. It reminds me that hard work pays off, as well as the importance of connections and that even if getting to where you want to go seems impossible, it’s not. Rachel had plenty of obstacles against her, but still she made her dreams come true, and she made something of herself.
It’s always bugged me that she stopped herself short. She worked so hard to get to where she was, and she left behind an awesome new job at Louis Vuitton that was going to pay well, and that was based in Paris, the fashion capital, no less. I’ve never liked the ending of the show for that reason. How could she get off the plane? She and Ross were never exactly stable, as they were always on and off, and with no guarantees, Rachel abandoned a brand new adventure that could’ve made her career and life even better. I’ve always wondered if Rachel later resented Ross for that, and what she did for work afterwards.
Rachel’s choice in significant others is scary, to say the least. She seems to choose people who have something seriously wrong with them (like the guy that had that inappropriately close relationship with his sister) or engages in a relationship that’s just doomed from the start.
Tag (Eddie Cahill) was too young for her, and Paul (Bruce Willis) was much older. She dated cheaters and screamers. Tag seemed to be Rachel’s attempt at reliving her youth, and her interest in Joshua (Tate Donovan) was great at first—until Rachel, devastated Ross was going to get married, tried to rush Joshua into something serious too soon. Expecting someone else, she opens the door in a wedding dress and declares “I do!”, effectively scaring Joshua into hiding, permanently.
Ross was her most prolific relationship, one that audiences either loved or hated. I have to say I didn’t care for her and Ross as a couple. While it was sweet that Ross finally got to be with her after crushing on her for so long, the fact that he was clingy and insecure with her wasn’t attractive. He couldn’t stand her being anywhere near Mark, and that’s what broke them up the first time. The entire group of friends suffered for their break-up, as Rachel harbored hurt and anger at Ross for sleeping with someone else.
The fact that Rachel wanted Ross to suffer and take responsibility for everything that went wrong in their relationship was childish and fallacious, given she made mistakes along the way too. When she and Ross engaged in a prank war that led up to their sudden marriage in Las Vegas it was an absolute disaster as they drunkenly stumbled out of the chapel. Ross keeping it a secret that he didn’t get an annulment was insane. Having a daughter together despite their history never made sense to me. A lot of things went wrong between them. I think they loved each other on some level, but they were too different and they clashed too frequently to really make it work, or at least repair their relationship to a functional level.
The two would’ve been better off having a civil relationship for the sake of their daughter and finding happiness with other people. I actually liked Rachel with Joey; they were both fun and creative, and they complemented one another. Plus, Rachel loved going to events with Joey, given her obsession with celebrities and soap operas. Their chemistry was harmonious and easygoing, and they always seemed happy around each other. Joey helped her with Emma, and the two were friends and roommates first—it could’ve worked. I always thought the show could’ve explored it more had it not cut off the storyline of Rachel and Joey being together so soon.
Rachel might have even found happiness with Gavin (Dermot Mulroney), who took over for her while she was on maternity leave. They both worked in the fashion industry, and though he was arrogant and mean at first, he was shown to be kind and thoughtful beneath the abrasive exterior. Her complicated relationship with Ross, however, hindered any chances of a relationship between her and Gavin.
Plus, I always wondered what would’ve happened if Rachel had known Gunther had such a huge crush on her…
It’s a given that Chandler is the most awkward character on the show. Although, I’ve always thought that Rachel could give him a run for his money, given her many awkward and embarrassing experiences. Like kissing her future boss in an interview, having a wardrobe mishap while acting as the maid of honor at the wedding of her ex-fiancé and ex-best-friend, leaving a drunken message on Ross’s answering machine confessing her true feelings for him, wearing a revealing dress in front of Joshua’s parents by accident, Chandler unintentionally catching a glimpse at her breasts, finding Chandler half-naked in handcuffs in her boss’s office or her attempt at rushing to London to break up Ross’s wedding. Rachel has her share of greatest hits. While they are all cringe-worthy, you can’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for her.
Rachel can be selfish and childish, as shown in how she handles her initial break-up with Ross and how she convinces Bonnie to shave her head, for instance. I appreciated how the show realistically portrayed Rachel’s transformation from selfish and irresponsible to compassionate and mature. From losing Ross’s monkey Marcel to finding a way to soothe a crying Emma (with “Baby Got Back,” much to our amusement), Rachel came full circle in the decade she was on-screen. Plus, she managed to survive life in Joey’s and Chandler’s apartment when she and Monica lost a bet with them—though, it’s thanks to Monica the apartment looked as decent as it did.
We’re even given a few flashbacks as to what Rachel was like in the 1980s, years before the events of the pilot. She was a spoiled rich girl, but she wasn’t strictly that. She was friends with Monica, her total opposite. Monica was unpopular and overweight, but Rachel was still her friend, probably her only friend, and the two had good times together (even if Rachel’s attempt to teach Monica how to be sexy ended with Monica dropping a knife and Chandler losing a toe as a result). Rachel’s behavior then could partially be attributed to her upbringing, but she was still capable of looking beyond her own surroundings and befriending those outside of her usual social circle.
Rachel survived her dysfunctional family, going from riches to rags to follow her dreams and attain the life she truly wanted. She built herself up into success, maturing and becoming a better person for it. Her striving to be a better person and to make a career in her desired industry are truly inspirational and admirable, and given her woes in relationships and her awkward experiences, we can learn from her mistakes. Plus, we still have her outfits—and her hairstyle—to copy for eternity.