What’s Sex Got to Do With… Friends?

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve discussed college hookup and dating culture in class. What is especially interesting about this is that we are able to observe our studies outside of the classroom. But what comes after college? In my experience, the easiest access point we have to glimpse our futures is on television. Honestly, most of the ideas I have about adult dating culture comes from one of my favorite shows, Friends.

Friends exposes a dating scene that does not differ too much from hookup culture: they go on a date or two with a stranger who finds them attractive, have sex, and then they may or may not end up in a relationship. Essentially, their social/romantic lives are not all that different from that of college students, save for some conversation which adds a level of legitimacy to their quest to find a life partner. This isn’t extremely different from Katherine Bogle’s observations in Hooking Up. A recent alumni says that romantic exchange “Definitely changes. There are more dates now… where you meet someone in a bar [and] they are a complete stranger… Sometimes maybe a girl goes home with a guy [to hook up]… but I think that’s a small percentage” (Bogle, 130). It seems as though the primary difference between dating in Friends and dating in Bogle’s account of post-grad life is the amount of actual sex people are having.

A major shift between college and post-college sexual exchanges that is easy to observe in television shows like Friends, as well as in Bogle’s account, is that the stakes for dating are much higher. “Hooking up” with a stranger is the norm for many college students, and it seems to be an occasional practice of graduated adults. However, Friends—among other television shows—is quick to explain that hooking up with someone right away, male or female, denies the participants a real opportunity to be in a long-term partnership. It seems as though this isn’t the case in college, unless a woman has already developed a reputation as a “Houserat” or a slut. Bogle says, “Many of the college women with whom I spoke were interested in hookup encounters evolving into relationships” (Bogle, 51). In the understanding I’ve been given about the adult world, sleeping with someone isn’t the best way to start a long-term relationship. The major stakes for relationships that appear after college is over most often come from societal pressures to “settle down” and eventually get married. On the other hand, a college relationship that stems from a hookup isn’t expected to be long-term or necessarily serious.

friends animated GIF

My hopes for high school were dashed when I realized that life was nothing like Dawson’s Creek. On the same note, it’s likely that Friends doesn’t accurately display the most common dating culture in the adult world (it’s easy to question the validity of the show if they’re a group of semi-unemployed adults living in a massive apartment in downtown New York).

Do believe that television shows warp our expectations for romantic relationships? Is it important to have a realistic representation of post-college life in pop culture, or is no harm done by idealizing a version of hookup culture for independent adults? Are there shows which more accurately depict what Bogle has learned from college alumni in Hooking Up?

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3 thoughts on “What’s Sex Got to Do With… Friends?

  1. I definitely believe that the representation of romantic relationships on television (and movies) warps our expectation for our own romantic relationships. How many times in high school did you see the most popular kid in school fall in love with the nerdiest kid? How many people have you met in college who are in a steady relationship with the person they bumped into on day one? And, like in Friends, how many times post-college do you see people meeting a new guy/girl every couple weeks and forming a sort of relationship with them for at least a little while? These types of relationships are rare, and not necessarily desirable, yet they are portrayed in television show after television show, movie after movie. The more we see these romantic relationships take place, the more we begin to believe they can happen to us. Can they happen? Maybe, but these relationships certainly aren’t a likely or frequent occurrence.

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  2. This is a very interesting post and I think that television shows and media really contribute to how we view societal norms, especially hooking up culture. It almost seems like movies that include post-graduate adults participate more in the hook up culture than expected. Bogle mentions that after college people seem to abandon the hook up culture, but after seeing movies like No Strings Attached or Friends With Benefits it is noticeable that that is not the case. Are these cases portrayed in the media inaccurate or are Bogle’s findings not accurate depictions of hook up culture post college?

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  3. I do not believe television or pop culture should warp anyone’s vision of a romantic relationship because you’ve got to know that everything is not perfect and be willing to except imperfections. Why do you think that people rely so heavily on media making their perceptions instead of making their own perceptions first?

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