Squad goals. They are an obsession. They are a lifestyle. They are what everyone is tweeting about, and only sometimes in reference to Taylor Swift. Some would blame the cultural phenomenon on celebrities or social media, but those of us who watch copious amounts of Netflix already know the true culprit—the modern sitcom.
These are the stories where friendship trumps all. Whether it be romantic melodrama, a cross-country move, or a career change, TV friends always stick together until the very last episode. But just how realistic are these relationships? Are they even something we should be aspiring to in our own lives?
I’ll Be There For You…
In How I Met Your Mother, Barney is always trying to get Ted to admit they are best friends. The problem is Ted has another best friend, Marshall, who he has known since his freshman year of college. He didn’t meet Barney until years later, after graduating and moving to New York with Marshall and Lily. Therefore, no matter how many adventures Ted and Barney go on together, Ted will forever be hesitant to call Barney his very best friend.
It’s hard to feel bad for Barney because most of the time he’s a womanizer and kind of a jerk. Yet his peripheral position in the circle of already close-knit friends really isn’t uncommon in the world of television sitcoms. In fact, there are quite a lot of TV shows that revolve around people who have known each other their entire lives.
‘Cause You’re There for Me, Too
One of the most iconic sitcoms of all times, Friends, revolves around a group of six people. Four of them have known each other since college. Of those four, three of them went to high school together, and we are constantly reminded of this in flashbacks to Ross’s lifelong crush on Rachel or references to Ross and Monica’s family upbringing.
In New Girl, Jess and CeCe have known each other since they were preteens. Jess even references moving to California to be with her best friend. In That ’70s Show, none of the teens beside Eric ever leave Wisconsin, and they continue to date incestuously and in increasingly random combinations even after high school ends. In Glee, a large portion of the original cast ends up graduating and moving from Ohio to New York together, where they live together, work together, and even attend the same college.
Real life rarely works out like this. Of course, these are all just TV shows and nobody ever claimed that TV was exactly like real life. However, these popular tropes can reinforce a lot of expectations, if you aren’t careful.
When the Season Ends
I’m a very introverted person. Up until about a year ago, I had the exact same two best friends for my entire life. I’ve known them both since early elementary school. We got through high school together, and even though we sort of went our separate ways during college, none of us strayed far enough from our hometown to tear us apart. In fact, even now that we’re all well into our 20s, we are still very close.
However, about a year ago, I became the first of the three to really and permanently move away. Not far—only about two hours from our hometown, still well within driving distance and well within the borders of our home state. Yet it struck me when I moved, perhaps for the very first time, how very much unlike a sitcom real life is.
I knew no one in my new town. I had moved to take a new job, and even though I was excited by my new position and felt the work suited me, I didn’t have many people my own age to bond with at the office. As a result, I spent most of my nights and weekends the first few months after my move binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and wondering how it is that people make friends as adults.
I tried hanging out at my local coffee shop, waiting for someone to swoop in and be my new bestie, but that didn’t work. I lived by myself, so potentially bonding with my roomies was out of the question, and hanging out in bars by yourself as a single woman is an activity that will mostly just get you hit on by gross guys, like Barney Stinson.
Fantasy Vs. Reality
The 21st-century sitcom is to friendship as romantic comedies are to romance. They make the relationships you have in life look so easy. Characters just stumble upon their future besties in grocery stores or shopping malls without any effort at all. Or, they keep the exact same best friends for their entire lives, friends who follow them to college and to new cities despite having separate dreams and different careers.
Somehow these friends are just different enough to keep things interesting, but they also have enough shared experiences to keep them bonded forever. They never argue about politics, or religion, or how their outlooks on life have changed over the years. They never get super wrapped up in work or school and just forget to call each other for several months. Of course they don’t, because without their relationships, there wouldn’t be a show.
Squad Goals for the Future
For a while, I was mad that I didn’t have friendships like these. Friendships that stood the test of time and somehow only grew stronger as life continued to throw curveballs. For some of you, maybe you are living out your real-life #squadgoals with very little effort, but as I embrace my new town and the people I meet here, I begin to realize that having some distance from the people I grew up with has helped me learn new things about myself.
I can’t drag the people I grew up with to new jobs, new cities, or through new life goals. I know they will always be there for me, and I for them, but they need to have their own lives and I need to have mine.
Accepting that my two best friends and I have vastly different future ahead of us is what keeps us together. Past memories aren’t enough to sustain the future of a friendship. You also have to share love and understanding with those friends you choose to keep in your life, even when you don’t always agree on everything.
Maintaining Friendships is a Choice
In the words of another famous sitcom character, Topanga, from Boy Meets World: “You are you and I am I, and if in the end we end up together, it’s beautiful.” Yes, Topanga’s quote is one of the show’s earliest allusions to a lifelong romance between herself and Cory, but I like to think it also applies to platonic friendships.
I have friends from college, from past jobs, and in my new hometown. None of these people will ever replace the friends I grew up with, but I am incredibly lucky to meet new people and share new experiences with the different human beings that I cross paths with. They might not all be lifelong friendships, but these days, if I meet a person who I share a similar interest with or similar life goal, or even just a personality compatibility, I’ve learned to roll with it. You never know where the future might lead.
Making new friends isn’t easy, but it becomes easier if you let go of unrealistic expectations and learn to love life and the person you are right now, with the people who are in your life at this present moment. Maybe you’ll get lucky and some of them will grow and change along with you.
Real life isn’t like a TV show, but it becomes easier if you accept that your future relationships will always depend on who you are as you grow and change as a person. Keeping old friends as you enter a new chapter of your life is a choice, but it’s a choice worth making.