Love is just a four letter word
I was 14 when a Dhanmondi girl first told me about Valentine’s Day — no, not asking me for a date, rather informing me about hers. In the quarter century since, in and out of relationships, the day has never really resonated with me. Call me unromantic? Not so fast. You see, I do love rom coms, particularly on the small screen.
And could there be a better show to showcase my case?
Romances in and among Friends — famously Ross and Rachel, but also Rachel-Joey and Monica-Chandler — are apparently a philosophical treatise on love, standing on the shoulders of Plato, Aristotle and Schopenhauer.
To those unromantic types who like to model every aspect of human behaviour, Schopenhauer’s concept of will to life is the Ur text. He didn’t know about the biochemical machinations of the selfish gene, but that’s really what he gets at — what we call love is really our biological drive to seek out mates to make babies. Not just any odd baby, but babies that have a good chance of surviving, you know, healthy, sociable babies. And since a baby is statistically an average of its mummy and daddy, Schopenhauerian theory predicts that love really means opposites attract — our brains are programmed to find those-unlike-us attractive, so that the resulting baby would have the best of both (of course, things could go horribly wrong and we could end up with Danny instead of Arnie).
Monica and Chandler seem to fit this bill rather well, and Joey and Rachel don’t. For the latter, Aristotle’s idea of philia — mutual attraction and empathy of equals — might seem a better fit. Of course, Rachel doesn’t really love Joey in-that-way, and whatever being-on-a-break means, Ross is the one she chooses. Is that Aristotle or Schopenhauer?
Or perhaps it’s Plato, at least initially, from Ross’s perspective? Think about it, he was a horny nerdy teenager who had a crush on the hot friend of his younger sister — isn’t that the very epitome of the Platonic idea of love being about seeking the essence of beauty?
Like everyone else I know closing in on 40, I too watched Friends regularly, except for the season after Rachel ruined Ross’s second marriage and Monica-Chandler had their London tryst — I had a course in Bayesian econometrics in the evening, luckily my sister recorded most episodes and I binged on trips home. But Friends were a bit older than us, whereas the other show about good-looking-white-people-in-New-York-hooking-up-with-mates — we could see ourselves in them:
Okay, that’s not quite the whole story, but you don’t really know, you’re probably not finding this post very interesting. And if you do, well then you’d instantly recognise that Marshall-Lily are both Schopenhauerian and Aristotlean — they complement each other, but are also compatible and comfortable with each other. Perhaps that’s what love is really all about?
Of course, the show isn’t really about them. And they’re not even the most interesting couple. That would be, wait-for-it, Bernie-Robin, who may well be Aristotlean, but are the anti-thesis of Schopenhauer in the sense that they were very much alike — no wonder they
failed had an awesome marriage that ended in three years.
As for the protagonist of the show, well, he did have a longer, happier marriage which ended when the wife died, but by all accounts, he married a female version of himself — again, not Schopenhauerian. And after she died, he spent 72 hours telling his teenage kids how he has had the hots for a girl since the moment he saw across a pub — Plato — a quarter century ago and now that mummy is dead, perhaps he should try to hook up with her again?
Of course, Robin is nothing like Ted, so perhaps it’s one for the German philosopher?
Or perhaps they are all wrong and Dylan had it right: