When I saw on Twitter that “Friends” stars Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer were a couple, my heart leapt.
I won’t deny that for the brief moment it was real to me, it seemed like the best thing that had happened all year.
For a brief moment I forgot about the delta variant, the writing assignment that was crushing my confidence, my in-laws’ health issues and the condolence card I’d been putting off writing, because how do you tell someone you’re sorry that her beloved son has died of an accidental opioid overdose?
Instead, I allowed myself to get lost in the clichéd fantasy of a fictional TV couple’s stepping out in real life 17 years after their show and their iconic on-and-off relationship as Ross and Rachel went off the air. Never mind that the speculation was launched during a brilliant reunion show in May in which Aniston and Schwimmer confessed to having had crushes on each other when they were on “Friends.” If it was a publicity stunt, it was one I was willing to buy into.
I hadn’t been following the (purported) couple’s activities since the show wrapped up, so I had no idea that Aniston is apparently as firmly rooted on the West Coast as Schwimmer is in New York (though I did know he lived there, because a friend once stood next to him at a dance recital where her niece was performing along with his daughter). According to a social media post I read, the geographical discord means the relationship is doomed. (Sources claim Aniston’s divorce from Justin Theroux provides historical precedent for this.)
I wasn’t discouraged. I love a good love story, even if it’s a fantasy; it’s why I gravitate to rom-coms and gossip columns. It’s also why I allowed myself to get sucked into the drama about the former sitcom stars. As did many others.
This week the Twitterverse was lit up with blissful, optimistic posts from folks who, like me, wanted to believe the news was true because it makes us happy. “Not to be dramatic, but if Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer are dating I am throwing my whole life out the window and dedicating it entirely to this narrative forever,” wrote @SophLouiseHall.
@jbwardrop saw the reunion as a harbinger of things to come: “David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston are reported to be dating IRL. Ben Affleck and J-Lo are back together. Good things come in threes, so let’s see Stevie Nicks & Lindsey Buckingham patch things up once and for all. THE UNIVERSE OWES US, DAMMIT.”
I’m not convinced that an Aniston-Schwimmer love affair is the one chance we have for world peace or that it means that the Earth is hurtling into the sun. Still, I won’t deny that for the brief moment it was real to me, it seemed like the best thing that had happened all year.
“We all need an escape from reality once in a while,” said author and social science researcher Jeremy Sherman. “It’s not just Covid and craziness and apocalyptic weather — this is a lifelong thing for us. All organisms have to take in some stuff and keep out some stuff. We take in ideas that regenerate us and try to keep out ideas that degenerate us. That’s confirmation bias. That’s human.”
When Schwimmer went on the record Wednesday to say he and Aniston are no more than friends, I accepted a reality I had instinctively known about two minutes after I saw the news on Twitter. Among other things, I’m the author of a picture book about gossip, so I understand how easy (and dangerous) it is to get carried away with unconfirmed facts and also why others have latched onto the possibility of a Schwimiston (Deniffer?) romance.
Retreating into the past, away from reality, is comforting — perhaps the most comforting form of escape. Especially when that retreat is into a familiar world with people who are always there for us, in good moods and entertaining. And even when bad things happen to them, we can be assured of a happy ending.
That makes the brief (and nonexistent) Jennifer Aniston-David Schwimmer pairing the ideal coupling. Its fictional origin story makes it more far-fetched than the recent reunion of former real-life flames Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez but also more exhilarating.
For almost three decades, thanks to reruns and streaming services, the Ross-and-Rachel will-they-or-won’t-they storyline has kept viewers hooked on “Friends.” Even if you thought they were entirely unsuited to each other, the tension between them made it hard to ignore the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they’d wind up together — which is why their reunion show admission about their mutual crushes was utterly irresistible and led us to where we are now, a midsummer night’s (and day’s) dream featuring two of the most beloved stars of one of TV’s most beloved sitcoms.
There’s nothing like a good romantic fantasy to provide an escape hatch, the more implausible the better. And really, this one is so implausible that it probably never should have gotten off the ground in the first place. But given the state of the world right now, a fantasy romance time machine seemed like just what the doctor ordered. Although, to be honest, I’d much rather be reading about an uptake in vaccinations, the end of Covid and — since we’re trafficking in fantasies here — Donald Trump’s heartfelt apology for attempting to subvert democracy.
‘Friends’ stars Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer let us all be happy for a moment is written by Debby Waldman for www.nbcnews.com