The Hard Facts: My TV Friends Are Ruining My Life

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“The status of a romantic relationship could be in jeopardy if the couple or an individual in the relationship are frequent television watchers, according to a study from Albion College.  ” (“When TV and Marriage Meet: TV’s Negative Impact on Romantic Relationships,” ScienceDaily.com 9/18/2012)

What does this have to do with friendship? Nothing specifically. Except that the same TV factors that are screwing up marriages are messing with friendship, too.

Listen. I’m not one to hate on TV. I lurve me some TV. (These days, Parenthood, The Voice, Grey’s Anatomy, and SVU are high on the list.) But I absolutely believe that my all-time favorite shows –Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Sex and the City– directly impacted my friendship expectations. According to this study, fans of popular shows like Burn Notice, True Blood and The Big Bang Theory are “less committed to their spouses and think alternatives to their spouses are relatively attractive.”

Similarly, TV portrayals of friendship make us think what we have isn’t enough. Why can’t we find our BFFs across the hall at a moment’s notice? Or go to McLaren’s Pub together, every day? How is it that I don’t have three ladies to eat brunch with every. single. Sunday?

It took me a year and an entire book to realize that the best friendships I adore on TV (Meredith and Christina, anyone?) aren’t necessarily realistic. That if I hold all my adult friendships to that standard I might never be content. So I certainly believe this marriage research — and I would encourage the researchers to look into friendship next. Dr. Jeremy Osborn, who authored this study, said: “I found that people who believe the unrealistic portrayals on TV are actually less committed to their spouses.” I bet those who believe in the TV friendships are less committed too, because they don’t realize that the relationships they have might be the real true BFF thing! It’s tricky stuff.

What do you think? Do TV relationships skew your expectations of friendship? Which TV friendship do you hope to emulate in real life?

25 Comments

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25 responses to “The Hard Facts: My TV Friends Are Ruining My Life

  1. Expecting friendship or marriage to be similar to those depicted on the screen is unrealistic, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t disappointing when it doesn’t happen.
    I’ve often asked my husband why he doesn’t say romantic things like (fill in any great romantic tv beau/husband) and he says he doesn’t have a writer handing him a script.
    As much as I love many of my long term BFFs, I’ve never once told them they are “my person.” Only Shondra could write that and make it sound less than cheesy.
    Just wanted to reconnect and welcome you back.
    You were missed.

    • I wrote a whole blog myself comparing the Sex and the City friendships, esp. in the first movie, to my own, which of course came up lacking. None of my friends ever spoon-fed me the way those gals did Carrie after she’d been left at the alter, or took care of me like that, and I had need of it too! But you know that show is a romanticization of friendship. I’m going to go find the URL and shamelessly plug myself by pasting it in antoher comment!

    • I cannot believe my blog on Sex and the City is no longer up. I think I know what happened….but anyway, I just found it in my files and plan to re-post it. I’ll come back after that’s done.

  2. I say TV definitely has an impact. Heck, the whole media culture – TV, films, books, comics, everything. Not just on friendships but relationships too. It makes you think that that is the norm. When it’s really not!

    Being a TV addict I can admit that, yes, sometimes I found myself wishing I had friendships resembling what was on TV. Sometimes. It’s human nature to compare, right?

  3. I’ve fallen into the trap of wishing that I had the sort of friends you only find on TV – then I got to realise that I don’t have lots and lots of money, and we all have lives to live rather than constantly hang out with each other! It’s good having more than that core cell of friends that you normally see depicted on Tv.

  4. Ah I can completely see myself in this study! Me and my husband love films and TV shows like Big Bang Theory and Sex and the City (maybe that one is just me) and I know I want all our dates to be worthy of the silver screen. I think it impacts my expectations of friendships more though. I really want a group of friends who hang out every day in the coffee shop, but… do they never go to work? It’s a big gutting for me then when me and my friends need to actually do studying instead of spending all day in coffee shops! Thanks for sharing this, definitely going to keep this in mind and watch my behaviour.
    Love Katie x

  5. 100 percent agree. I grew up watching Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, Dawson’s Creek, and One Tree Hill–and all of them gave me false expectations–“Fall in love with my best friend”–“Have a group of 5-6 friends who go through everything and anything–on low levels (Saved by the bell) and on the deepest levels, Creek and Hill. It wasn’t til most of these shows went off–or One Tree Hill left my age bracket that I started to see how different EVERYONE’s friendships are in real life.

    I try not to get too involved with my shows now.

  6. I would expand this study and include the online media. I have a friend who recently discovered some online games, and I haven’t seen her since, nor can I carry a conversation on the phone – cause I know she’s in her game the whole time, no matter what excuses she uses.
    TV and games are the ultimate social enemies!
    Now excuse me, I have to go pass a new level on the angry birds…

  7. Emily

    This study is completely accurate, and I think based on the comments here, it can easily be expanded. Shortly before reading your book, Rachel, I moved to Minnesota for my husband’s job. I had just had my second child, and it was the middle of winter. I left my career and all my friends back in Texas. Your book helped me in so many ways (don’t know if you intended for it to be self-help, but it was for me!) because I think I was operating under the impression that I needed friendships like on TV. But it doesn’t work like that. I followed some of your tips in the book, such as say yes to everything, and have been finally able to develop some solid friendships. I don’t have “my person” yet, nor do I have five friends to hang out in a coffee shop with or a weekly brunch date, but I do know when and what channel all the reruns are on every day. :)

  8. yeah I agree. I don’t know if there’s been a study about it, but as a teenager I read tons and tons of romances. It gave me a completely unrealistic view of what the ultimate relationship is like. While I never was so ditzy as to actually expect that in real life, I know in the back of my head it still rattles around. If its true for things like romances, or (these same arguements go for porn) it absolutely can go for TV and any kind of relationships that are shown. All forms of media are affecting our lives. That’s why there are so many protests to how women are portrayed in the movies in terms of unrealistic bodies and etc. Of course its true. How could it not be?

  9. This is a good topic. My husband and I watch Parenthood together and we’re always deconstructing the Bravermans. To me they are the family version of Friends or Cheers or Sex in the City. We know it’s a fantasy and we love cutting it up together…it kills us how when one member of the family has a problem everyone else drops what they’re doing and is equally concerned about it.

    The first movie I ever saw alone, in the theatre, was St. Elmo’s Fire. I was 20 years old and when it was over I can remember how I felt coming out into the lobby – like a sad loser with no friends. Of course the movie featured a group of college students from a fancy private East Coast College adjusting to life after earning their degrees. They lived in cool lofts and drank scotch and drove around together through streets lined with ancient oaks in a topless Jeep. They were facing the sorrow of growing up together, of screwing up together. I was just haunted by their privilege of being there for each other. I’ll never forget Rob Lowe sitting on Demi Moore’s bedroom floor trying to bring her out of her psychotic delusion, her window was open and the wind was blowing her long elegant curtains across her hot pink room. Of course, all the other friends from the group were huddled outside her locked door and barred window (she had locked everyone out, but still, they were determined to break past her annoying barriers to reach her), cheering on Rob Lowe’s character, so happy he was able to redeem himself by saving the other wayward member of their group.

    For the longest time I was always looking for a friend to mimic St. Elmo’s fire, those imaginary flashes of light sailors used to guide themselves when lost at sea.

    There are some interesting movies that show friend groups dissolving because of the reality of life. Metropolitan, by Whit Stillman, is one of my all time favorites. It also features an outsider entering the established group which is interesting too.

  10. I completely agree – especially when it comes to female friendships! I can totally see how TV can skew one’s perception…I blame Sex & the City.

  11. Interesting study. I can definitely relate to envying the tight social circles in shows like Friends. Though I can think of another factor that might be responsible for the correlation of TV watchers being less committed to their spouse/finding alternatives more appealing. The fact that they are watching so much T.V. in the first place might be indicative of pre-existing dissatisfaction and desire to find an alternative to their relationship. The average American watches 35 hours of T.V. a week- that is a LOT of time that they are choosing to escape active engagement with their spouse or their friends.

  12. I don’t feel like they skew it, but I sure wish that there could be more friendships like the ones on TV or in movies just the same as a woman wanting a man like the ones on the big screen.

    I think I would love a friendship like the friends on the cast of Friends. They were thee greatest examples of friends!

  13. I’d love to be somebody’s “person” like Meredith & Christine.

  14. I’m not married so I can’t speak to that part, but I do spend a lot of time at the country bar dancing so it is akin to the coffee shop. The nice part about it is I’ve become friends with a wide variety of people and made some really good friends.
    I guess I do get to enjoy the fantasy, because it’s true that my relationships are different with my dance friends than my previous friends. Part of the reason I started dancing was my previous friends were get busy with their own stuff and weren’t around much.
    Great post! I like research Wednesdays.

  15. My favorite TV friendship is that of Samantha and her two best buds from a short lived sitcom called Samantha Who? You can find it on Netflix.

  16. Such a great topic of conversation (and one that I address in my book, Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). The TV world of friendships is alluring to the viewer because it all seems so easy and fun. When one steps out of the TV world and into reality, it can seem overwhelming and well, not so fun.

    Friendships take work (on both ends) and all the TV viewer sees is the parts of the friendship that are fun: going to brunch every weekend, making up after a fight, etc.

    TV can be a great form of comic relief, or just a way to de-stress after a hard day. However, it’s not totally accurate when it comes to realistically portraying friendships. As those of us know, not every friendship is perfect, but that’s what makes them unique and amazing!

  17. Great post. TV is having a negative influence in a lot of areas. It is a powerful tool that reaches primal parts of our brain and stirs our emotions. It is programming! The Matrix provides a great vmetaphor for TV.

    What especially concerns me is when people base their choices on political issues on a 30 second sound bite without reading the pamphlets and doing research on who is fo and against an issue.

  18. “How is it that I don’t have three ladies to eat brunch with every. single. Sunday?” Love that! How many times have I thought something similar? I’m married and still want that, then realize that the friends I have, and love, I only see every few weeks because I don’t put the time in to making it happen more often. And that’s ok! Because honestly, I like sitting at home with P and our baby and just relaxing. This also ties to the newest post you wrote (I just found you and am going back… love your stuff!) because the two girls I lived with I had these types of intense tv-esque relationships and they didn’t last. So maybe lower key friendships are the way for me. Less drama, and more to talk about when you see them!

    By the way, we could totally be tv watching besties. You’ve listed all my favorites!

  19. dorkista

    This is the story of my life! I watch too much TV and always think….
    Why can’t I have a group of friends like on Friends, Happy Endings, or New Girl?
    Where is the Ann Perkins to my Leslie Knope? The Shawn to my Gus? The Jack to my Liz Lemon?
    Same goes for SO…The Jim to my Pam? The Ben to my Leslie?

    I could go on forever!

  20. Absolutely!! My girlfriends and I watched Sex and the City ALL the time in college, and now 5 years out we all yearn for that friendship ideal of sipping cosmos, shopping and going to brunch almost every day. Truth of the matter is that it’s incredibly difficult to do that when you don’t leave within a three block radius anymore. It is difficult managing expectations with reality, especially when the reality almost makes you feel like some sort of failure compared to these glamorous friendships on TV.

  21. Yes, Christina and Meredith are two of my favorites. I think I enjoy that show more now because my bff and I moved to different parts of the country recently and we did have that “my person” type friendship. Unfortunately, Christina and Meredith seem to fair better with distances than my friend and I do. My expectations are definitely a bit unrealistic by watching Grey’s.

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