An Ode to Phoebe Buffay (on Social Anxiety)

As many of you may already know, all ten seasons of Friends got put on Netflix a few months back. I loved the show growing up, and now that I’m the same age the characters were in Season 1, I love it even more: a lot more things make sense, and are simply more relatable now. And it still never ceases to make me laugh.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been rewatching the series for the past couple of weeks, or maybe it’s the weird socially anxious funk that I’ve found myself in lately, but I’ve really been discovering just how much I relate to Phoebe Buffay (First World Problems: relating to a TV character). She was always one of my favorite characters growing up. In fact, my family used to call me the Phoebe of the group — I was an oddball, usually offering up the unexpected perspective and saying things that sometimes only made sense to me. I used to revel in that oddness (and still do… though I do feel that I’ve lost some of my “Phoebe-ness”, in that respect. As I age, the horrific truth of it is that I’m becoming more grounded and boring) — but now I realize that there’s more than just Phoebe’s weird personality that I relate to.
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Phoebe was also kind of the black sheep of the group. Everyone else seemed to have connections with each other (best friends in high school or college, roommates, brother and sister, etc), but Phoebe was just there — she was still a part of the group, but she often seemed to be on the peripheral. There was even an episode in which Rachel specifically points this out — how if anybody would get phased out of the group, it would be Phoebe — and Phoebe gets really offended (and rightly so!).

In college, I sometimes felt like “the Phoebe”. I had a lot of friends who were international students and MK’s (missionary’s kids), and they had this natural bond in the fact that they grew up in a culture completely different to the one they lived in now. I, on the other hand, grew up in Massachusetts (for those of you who would like to tease me and say that that’s like another country, shush. Not the point). The only cultural experience I had was a two-week trip to Guatemala when I was 15, surrounded by my American friends. Did I like learning about different cultures? Yes. Did I have any personal reference to them? No. I’m not saying that it was the fault of my friends that I felt disconnected… I just had a kind of natural separation called My Past.


During my senior year, I shared an apartment with my two best college friends. They were best friends with each other, but during senior year some issues arose between them. Both of them later claimed that I acted as a kind of mediator in the apartment (I don’t remember ever feeling like the mediator, but okay, sure). Years after college, I was hanging out with one of them, and we were watching an episode of Friends — The One After the Superbowl, Part 2 — in which Rachel and Monica are fighting, and Phoebe gets involved and forces them to make up. My friend turned to me, laughing, and said, “You really were like Phoebe!”

This is the part where being the Phoebe of the group starts looking really awesome, if only by association. Even though she was my favorite Friend, I never fully appreciated Phoebe as a kid. I was young, number one, and didn’t understand a lot of the 20-something life that the characters were experiencing, but number two, I never really thought about just how much Phoebe went through. While everyone else was worrying about break ups and awkward first dates, Phoebe was realizing her mom wasn’t her mom, and dealing with a deadbeat dad — and had a past that would put an icy halt to any casual conversation.

The issues that Phoebe goes through in the show are the most complicated of all the Friends’, and yet she handles them just as any of the Friends handle any of their issues — and on top of that, she gladly takes on the role as mediator for the others’ problems. Phoebe may be weird, but she has an amazing strength to her, and that’s something I admire, whether in a fictional character or in real life.

I’m not saying I measure up to Phoebe in those regards, but it kind of gives me a perspective on things: yeah, I may feel anxiety about how I fit into a group, but I do recognize that I’m an awesome person, in many different ways. Sometimes it’s tough to remember that. Sometimes I forget to enjoy people for who they are — not for what they think of me. But that’s who I am, and it’s nice to have those moments where I can relax and enjoy myself for who I am…  to enjoy being the Phoebe of the group.

Oh! And I’m a twin! Guys, the fact that I didn’t think of that similarity until now proves just how much I am Phoebe.
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One thought on “An Ode to Phoebe Buffay (on Social Anxiety)

  1. Oh Sammi, I loved reading this. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of Friends. I mean, I watch it and find it sometimes funny, of course. For whatever reason though, it’s never been a favorite show. However, I’ve related to characters on other TV shows before and so it’s nice to see I’m not the only one who’s considered such a relationship.

    Like

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