10 Best to Worst Romantic Pairings in 'Friends'

Although Valentine’s is long over with, the current cold winds are cutting through my many layers of jumpers, sleeves and vests, and so this week I want to continue to spread a little love with a focus on some of the romantic pairings in Friends. Whether you’re watching for the first time, or you’re on your fifth re-watch since 2017, Friends is the kind of show you need when it’s (still) cold outside, you’re feeling under the weather, and your hours of free time seem to be dwindling down even more with the countdown to dissertation. Even though there are some elements of the show that are now dated and perhaps problematic, I believe that it is okay to be aware of these faults, be glad that more and more viewers are seeing these flaws, and still enjoy the show. With that in mind, I want to focus on the good and the bad romances on this extremely popular show!

I’ve ranked some of the more significant romantic pairings from best to worst based on my opinion, and I’m aware that I may have made some controversial decisions! *spoilers ahead*

1. Monica and Chandler

There are times in the first few seasons when the creators hint at the chances of these two getting together (such as when Chandler tells Monica in season one that they can be each other’s “go to” if they’re not married when they’re 40), but it’s still completely plausible that, just like me, you didn’t see this relationship coming. Whilst many people frequently reference the “will they, won’t they?” plotline featuring Ross and Rachel, my mind always goes to Monica and Chandler when I think of good television romance. Their relationship that goes from best friends, to lovers, to husband and wife, is one of the most complex storylines on the show. I particularly love watching Chandler’s growth from an immature, anxious character with commitment issues, to a loving husband and father. For the most part, these two support one another and care for each other as any loving couple should. Their relationship and eventual relocation out of the city with their adopted newly born twins is a deserved ending for two of my favourite characters, and the most-developed romance on the show.

2. Phoebe and Mike

There were times on the show when Phoebe’s jokes used to go over my head, but now I absolutely love her humour and embrace every one of her crazy nuances. This is one of the reasons why I love her relationship with Mike, as he really loves her for everything about her, and vice versa. I was saying to my friend the other day that Phoebe goes on more casual dates than Monica and Rachel, and I really love her self-confidence and approach to romance and to sex. It’s refreshing to see a female character in the 90's who is unafraid to talk dirty, and go for what she wants in life and in love. This means that her somewhat speedily developed relationship with Mike (as she marries him fairly soon after Paul Rudd has been introduced as the character) is believable; Phoebe knows what she wants and when she finds Mike, she knows that she can be truly happy with him. My favourite moment in their relationship is when Mike stands up for her in front of his snooty parents, and it is in that moment that he announces he loves her, which was the moment I also knew that Phoebe and Mike were going to stick together. I also love Mike's air piano - it's his first goofy scene, and shows how perfect he is for Phoebe! 

3. Ross and Rachel

So these two don’t make it to the top of my list, but they do make it to third place. Ross is perhaps my least favourite character, as I think a lot of his negative characteristics are heightened in later seasons - such as his arrogance and pettiness - but I still get sucked into the Ross/Rachel love story every time I watch the show. Despite his flaws, I do think that Ross loves Rachel, and I want them to be happy, especially after they have their baby and grow closer in the later seasons. My favourite moment is, of course, the iconic, “I got off the plane scene.” I know Rachel gives up her job in Paris for Ross, and that is a problematic element to the final episode, but I like to think that after this finale, there is the possibility for happiness in love and in work for both of them. That might just be my wishful, unrealistic, TV-obsessed thinking, but nevertheless, I root for Ross and Rachel every time.

4. Jack and Judy Geller

Although only recurring characters, Ross and Monica’s hysterical parents Jack and Judy are a particularly fun and endearing couple. Their parenting skills may not be ideal, especially when they favour Ross and often (although arguably inadvertently) belittle Monica, but their love for each other is obvious, and with the other Friends parents either unstable or absent, these two provide a relationship for the core six friends to look up to. Jack and Judy then represent the older generation but are also couple goals for the characters to aspire to be, although I do understand why Monica and Ross often cringe when their parents give detailed accounts of their sex lives!

5. Phoebe and David

Phoebe and David have the saddest relationship in the show, in that they go together really well but never work out. I’ve included them here though, mostly because I think they are such a lovely, wacky couple. With their equally quirky and cute personalities, I really connect with both characters and in the few episodes that we do see them together, they do seem to really work. However, it was never meant to be, and when David headed off to Minsk, I really felt for both characters. With every return he makes throughout the show, my heart soars and I do find myself rooting for them to get back together, even though Phoebe appears to move on. When Mike becomes a recurring character though, David’s guest appearance seeks to complicate one of my favourite romances, and if I’m being honest, I will always pick Mike. I do hope David found happiness after his failures in Minsk though!

6. Carol and Susan

As the only prominent LGBTQ+ recurring characters on the show, Carol and Susan could have become stereotypes or caricatures but I think their relationship and their personalities are actually quite nuanced in many ways. The way Ross talks about his wife is far from perfect (and potentially a whole essay could be written on the problems with the shows’ handling of their divorce and the lack of consideration for the possibility that Carol could love men and women), and the way Carol and Susan meet, as Carol leaves Ross for Susan, is less than ideal. However, beyond the possibility that Carol may have cheated on Ross before she divorces him, Friends develops a romantic, supportive and somewhat underdeveloped relationship for the two women. When they appear separately or together, the two always seem loving and happy, and in a ridiculous storyline where Ross is afraid that his girlfriend Emily will fall for Susan, Carol never appears jealous or untrusting. Sometimes I wish we could have seen more of these characters, especially as I think Ross could have done with some proper closure from his first marriage, which might have perhaps lead him to be less jealous in his future relationships. 

7. Monica and Richard

Other than Chandler, Richard is perhaps Monica’s longest relationship on the show, and despite the age difference, I do really like the two of them together. Their relationship makes up a lot of the plot of the early seasons, and I like the way Richard is never condescending or degrading towards Monica even though she is younger, and her friends can seem a bit ridiculous sometimes. I also think the troubles they go through are relatable, as couples do often want different things, and I like that the shows portrays Monica taking a long time to get over Richard when they break up, because it means that their relationship did hold meaning and I think she will always value her time with him. Later storylines featuring Richard are less favourable, however, and I’ll never enjoy watching him ask her to leave Chandler. Not cool, Richard – you’re supposed to be the mature one!

8. Chandler and Janice

I’ve mostly included this relationship because Friends wouldn’t be Friends without Janice. Love her or hate her, Janice is a prominent part of the show and has one of the most iconic and recognizable catchphrases: “Oh My God!” In my case, I never actively disliked Janice. She does some bad (and annoying) things, but so does Chandler. Yes, she is a very irritating character, but I like the way that she seems oblivious to this and just fully embraces who she is throughout the show. When she returns in later seasons, it often feels like a negative reminder to Chandler that he dated someone like her but I actually think that he should remember how badly they treated each other (like when he pretended to move to Yemen to break up with her!), and be glad that he found love with Monica, and she found love again with someone else. Janice, you’ll never be forgotten, and I hope you found a nicer house than the one next to Monica and Chandler’s in their new neighbourhood, seeing as they basically pushed you out!

9. Rachel and Joey

I feel very strongly that this storyline should have never happened, and if you’re not there yet, I’m warning you, it’s not great. I really liked the initial season eight episodes in which Joey thought he was falling for Rachel, because it felt like a character development that could have seen Joey mature into someone more committed to the idea of a serious relationship, but, unfortunately, it just led to some really weird episodes in which Rachel laughed when Joey kissed her, and Ross drank too many margaritas because of how uncomfortable he was. This would have been number 10 on this list if it wasn’t for the fact that the one where Ross does drink too much, “The One Where Ross is Fine”, is actually a hysterical episode, and worth watching even if it does include the train wreck that is Rachel and Joey hooking up.

10. Ross and Emily

So we have come to the final romantic pairing I’ve chosen to include, and I have to say that my main reason for putting it last is that after Ross’s slip-up at his wedding in England, he truly does becomes my least favourite character. Although David Schwimmer is a phenomenal actor and Ross is a hilarious character, he is also really exasperating and I get so much second-hand embarrassment from later-season Ross, that I can barely watch some of his more cringe-worthy scenes. Ross’ mistake in saying Rachel’s name is iconic, however, and shows why his relationship with Emily would never have worked, because he was not ready for such a serious step so soon after breaking things off with Rachel. I never hated Emily, and felt for her when Ross said Rachel’s name. In many ways, how she reacts beyond the wedding is perfectly understandable. I’d be upset too if the man I’d just married had said someone else’s name in our vows! Having said that, the way she tries to manipulate Ross into never talking to Rachel again and selling all their furniture makes her less relatable, in my opinion, and I am always glad to see the relationship finally end in season six.

It takes a long time for Ross and Rachel to make it work again, but at least if you’re on your re-watching binge and you’re almost at what I call “the really bad Ross seasons”, you’ll know that there’ll be a “phalange” reunion by season ten. And until then, enjoy Monica and Chandler’s blossoming relationship, and look out for Mike’s arrival after their wedding. Just because Ross and Rachel spend a lot of time pining for each other, it doesn’t mean you have to pine for them all the time either! Just grit your teeth through the Rachel and Joey moments – I promise there’s no wedding bells coming up for that pairing!