“We were on a break!” Those five words would became the most oft-repeated and controversial phrase to ever come from Friends during and after its epic 10-season run at NBC. This refers, of course, to the were-they-or-weren’t-they conundrum between Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) after the two lobsters’ newfound bliss was interrupted by the unthinkable: Ross, who claimed to think he and Rachel had just broken up and she fell straight into the arms of her colleague Mark (Steven Eckholdt), slept with Chloe (Angela Featherstone) from the copy shop and launched the endless argument over whether he was justified in doing so by the fact that they were, in fact, “on a break.”
Rachel long maintained that they hadn’t actually split up when it happened, and Ross insisted otherwise. The line would find its way back into dialogue between them and others throughout the episodes to follow — sometimes in jest, but always to an irritating degree — and the two never quite resolved their differences on the subject, even when they decided to get back together for real in the finale.
We’re hoping the upcoming cast reunion of the series can put this issue to rest once and for all, but since Friends is soon returning to the streaming scene with the Wednesday, May 27 launch of HBO Max, we’re probably about to relive this drawn-out argument all over again (and again and again). To celebrate Friends‘ return to your streaming queue — and perhaps preempt any real-life arguments about this subject which may result — we’ve taken a hard look back at all the evidence to determine, once and for all, if Ross and Rachel really were on a break.
Evidence for them being on a break
1. Rachel had reached a breaking point: Ross was a doting boyfriend, no doubt, but his jealousy brought out some terrible tendencies. Once Rachel got into a career field that didn’t involve her literally serving him (and others, to be fair), he snapped. He became utterly paranoid that Rachel was falling for her colleague Mark and couldn’t stand it when she prioritized her career needs over their date plans. When she had to cancel their anniversary dinner at the last minute, he showed up to her office and tried to set up an impromptu picnic, caring little for the fact that he was actively disrupting her workflow. When she later tried to confront him on the issue, she seemed utterly exhausted by his overtures and began to unravel when he again suggested that their bickering was “about Mark.” Her frustration with him was sincere enough to justify a breakup, that’s for sure.
2. She actually said “take a break”: The phrase didn’t come from nowhere. When Rachel and Ross argued on their anniversary night, she was the first one to coin the term, saying, “Maybe we should just take a break.” Ross initially perceived that as a sign that they should put a pin in the argument and head out for fro-yo, but then she clarified that she meant “a break from us.”
3. She repeated the same phrase with Mark: If there was any question about whether Rachel realized what she said, her later words to Mark proved she did. “I told him I wanted to take a break,” she confided over her Chinese food. “I don’t want to take a break.” She clearly knew the implications of what “taking a break” meant, even if it wasn’t her actual desire.
4. The episode was also titled plainly, “The One Where Ross & Rachel Take a Break.” Doesn’t get much clearer than that, really, but let’s keep going for argument’s sake because goodness knows, this subject caused a lot of them.
5. She called it a breakup. In “The One the Morning After,” Monica (Courteney Cox) asked Rachel how the anniversary dinner went, and she said, quote, “we kinda broke up instead.” Once again, her understanding of the severity of their fight was clear, even if she conceded that she still wanted to “make it work” between them.
6. She asked if she could be his girlfriend again. Why would she ask that if she didn’t actually believe they were broken up? She called “the whole breakup thing…just stupid” and said she didn’t “want to get back together over a machine,” but there again, her words reiterated her understanding that it was, in fact, a break.
7. She said, literally, “we were on a break.” When Rachel and Ross had their fight about what happened with Chloe, Ross said he thought they were broken up, but Rachel herself clarified that they were on a break. Those might’ve become fighting words later, but they did come from her own mouth.
On the other hand…
Evidence against them being on a break
1. She agreed to try and work on things before the dalliance happened. Before Ross started swapping spit with Chloe on the dance floor, he called Rachel on a payphone from the bar, and she made it clear that she was glad to hear from him. Although she didn’t get to answer the question of whether they could work on things before Mark started talking in the background, and Ross slammed the phone shut, Rachel was clearly backtracking on her statement that she wanted to “take a break.” She also attempted to explain to him that Mark was only there on a friendly visit but was unable to finish her sentence.
2. Ross knew he’d gone too far. If Ross really believed that his actions were justified by them being broken up at the time, he probably wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble to conceal them and cover his “trail,” even if it was Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) who’d suggested it.
3. When confronted, Ross admitted it was “a mistake.” After Ross was unable to keep the news from reaching Rachel, he immediately referred to the hook-up as an error on his part.
4. Rachel might not have actually believed they were broken up. Ross’ attempt to clarify that he thought being “on a break” meant they were broken up didn’t sit very well with Rachel. Even though she’d used the same phrasing before, she referred to Ross’ understanding of it as “a technicality.” Whether or not she wanted a break from Ross, she didn’t really want them to be broken up enough to see other people, even if her own language caused the confusion to begin with.
Verdict: They were on a break, BUT…
Rachel herself considered her big fight with Ross to have produced a legitimate breakup both the night of and the next day, even if she didn’t like what happened as a result. The proof is in her own words.
That said, she was still right that it didn’t justify Ross’ decision to sleep with someone else. Rachel tried to patch things up as soon as he called, but his jealousy over Mark again controlled their conversation, and so it wasn’t until the next morning that she was able to get through to him that she did not want things to end between them — but by then it was too late.
Friends will be available to stream when HBO Max launches on Wednesday, May 27.
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