When David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston revealed on Friends: The Reunion that they had feelings for each other when filming the show’s early seasons, the news made headlines around the world. And when I heard it, I thought: “that’s what I love most about romance”.
I've always struggled with dating apps. Not because I have an issue with them; I think they're brilliant. I've met some great people through apps (even though we never made it past one date), and nearly all the couples I know met through online dating. They couldn't be happier, and I'm thrilled for them.
But I've never quite been able to shake the idea of a “Ross and Rachel” kind of love story playing out in my own life. Ross and Rachel were the first on-screen couple I remember being invested in – I was too young to watch Friends when it first aired, but like most other teenagers, I later watched it from beginning to end. During my formative romantic years, I saw Ross and Rachel’s love story play out over 10 seasons, and I think it really struck a chord with me, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
Ever since I was old enough to think seriously about romance, I always imagined what it would be like to have that one person in my life who meant the world to me, whether we were in a romantic relationship or not; someone I just couldn't shake, no matter who else I met. I have no doubt that that would be a nightmare for others, who prefer to have a clean break and to move swiftly on – often the healthier approach – but it was a thought that always held a lot of romance for me.
In my adult life, I’ve only really been attracted to people where the emotional stakes are high. I struggled for years to move on from one ex-boyfriend, because I always wondered if there could be more to our story – for a long time, we couldn't seem to let each other go (or, at least, I couldn’t. I can’t speak for him). I met another boyfriend at work. We liked each other for months, but were both too nervous to tell the other. When we did finally start going out, we kept it a secret from our colleagues for a long time.
I think that's why I struggle with dating apps because the stakes aren't as high. That’s not to say that there aren’t high stakes for others – but I think we all approach dating differently. I see meeting someone on a dating app as meeting in a romantic scenario from day one. For many, this is the ideal setup – and objectively, I agree.
But, in order to really feel anything romantic, I need the emotional build-up – that slow burn, where the relationship shifts from platonic friendship to that inexplicable “something more” without either of you quite realising when or how – until you’re left with a connection that neither of you can deny. This hasn’t happened to me a lot and it may never happen to me again. But I think that feeling of finally being honest with someone you have feelings for – and discovering they share those feelings, when you had assumed they thought of you completely platonically – is incomparable.
When Schwimmer and Aniston spoke about their past feelings for each other while filming Friends, I realised that the revelation summed up everything I love about romance. For me, romance is that undeniable connection with another person in your life; a connection that might be inconvenient or disruptive, but that is there regardless.
I don’t think romance always necessitates acting on your feelings – especially if that would mean causing hurt to other people in your life. But my personal ideal romance is encapsulated by that slow-burning spark between two people who originally came into each other’s lives purely platonically. Often, I think not acting on those feelings can make that spark burn even brighter. This was presumably the case for Schwimmer and Aniston; the Friends creators have since commented on the “electricity” in the pair’s scenes.
I’m not suggesting that dating apps aren't romantic. They are. They have a wonderful, unique romance all of their own; but there are many kinds of romance, and I also think romance means something different for everyone.
For me, a Ross and Rachel kind of love story will win over dating apps every time.