I realize the last thing this world needs is my opinion on Ross Geller and Rachel Green’s breakup. Fans have debated/fought/screamed about it since it first aired. I’m willing to bet money that someone, somewhere, is discussing The Breakup at this very moment. But you know what, I’m watching season three (for the upteenth time), and I’ve never spelled out my thoughts on this particular topic before despite being a die-hard Friends fan.
So, the Short Version: Both Ross and Rachel messed up. They weren’t meant to be together at that point in their lives. I’m not even a big fan of them as end-game. (I prefer Monica Geller and Chandler Bing, or “Mondler.”)
The Long Version:
Let’s go over Ross and Rachel’s relationship. Even when it’s good, it isn’t perfect. They fight constantly and have no common interests, even mock each other’s careers. At the root of it they lack respect for each other. Instead of trying to overcome their communication issues they brush them aside. Ross doesn’t trust Rachel with Mark right from the beginning and never makes a real effort to change. While Rachel never has any intentions to cheat on him, telling Ross she wants to keep part of her life separate (episode 3.14) isn’t reassuring. Rachel becomes more focused on work and neglects Ross. Meanwhile, Ross plans their future together and blames Mark for her disinterest entirely.
I don’t believe Ross ever sees Rachel for who she really is. Even after she’s been in the real world for three years, he still thinks of her as the spoiled princess he knew in high school. He’s her knight in shining armor who can whisk her away to a picket-fences life in the suburbs. He has no idea she’s still running from that picture and the expectations of the world she left. I suspect this is partly because he’s still recovering from his own disastrous relationship and needs to be the knight in shining armor again to boost his fragile ego. To him, everything falls into place: “The girl I crushed on in high school comes back to me right after my marriage ended. We’re meant to be.” It never occurs to him she’s not in the same frame of mind.
With that shaky foundation, they’re bound to collapse eventually. Their ruined anniversary and a one-night stand happens to be the trigger. In a way it’s similar to Monica’s breakup with Richard Burke – Ross and Rachel want different things at this point in their lives. Ross wants to be married again and Rachel has a newfound career. They’re never going to work until Rachel achieves her professional goals and feels ready to settle down.
That’s why I don’t care who did what. Rachel should have acknowledged their anniversary and promised to make up for missing it. Ross should’ve talked things out with Rachel and not hooked up with Chloe. Regardless, their relationship is doomed to fail from the start.