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Friends’ Monica and Chandler - Romance Through Ridicule

Friends’ Monica Geller (Courtney Cox) and Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry) became each other’s life partners not because they were soulmates, but because they were really good friends. And throughout their friendship, courtship, and eventual marriage, Monica and Chandler make merciless fun of each other. But throughout all their pranks and zingers, there’s always an undercurrent of genuine affection and positive regard to their relationship that just makes it work. Here’s our Take on what makes Monica and Chandler different from the usual bickering sitcom couple—and how their mocking each other connects to loving each other.

TRANSCRIPT

Chandler: “All right, there’s a nuclear holocaust, I’m the last man on Earth. Would you go out with me?”

Monica: “Eh.” - Friends 4x01

Monica & Chandler: Live, Mock, Love

At first glance, Monica and Chandler are extremely unlikely candidates for true love. They start the show in very different places, romantically. Chandler is afraid of commitment, while Monica yearns for marriage and children. Their earliest meetings couldn’t have gone worse: Chandler called Monica fat, and Monica was indirectly responsible for Chandler losing part of a toe. After this disastrous start, the two remained just friends for almost a decade. But after years of knowing each other, Monica and Chandler hook up at a moment of mutual insecurity. They discover that their sexual chemistry is insane—and even crazier, that having sex doesn’t change how they feel about each other as people. Ultimately, Monica and Chandler became each other’s life partners not because they were soulmates, but because they were just really good friends. Throughout their friendship, courtship, and eventual marriage, Monica and Chandler also make fun of each other. Bickering sitcom couples are nothing new, but their humor often suggests a barely masked hostility. We’re often left wondering “Why do these two even stay together if they hate each other?”

But that’s not the case with Monica and Chandler. Through all the pranks and the zingers, there’s always an undercurrent of genuine affection and positive regard to their relationship that just makes it work. So here’s our Take on what makes Monica and Chandler different from all those other sparring sitcom couples—and how their mocking each other connects to loving each other.

Rachel: “I mean two best friends falling in love, how often does that happen?”

Phoebe: “Not that often.” - Friends 6x25

The Anti-Romance of Monica and Chandler

Monica and Chandler’s relationship doesn’t look like the kind of will-they-or-won’t-they romance that TV loves. And this was by design. Friends writer Scott Silveri told Vulture that Chandler and Monica were always intended to be the exact opposite of Ross and Rachel. “If someone’s too high drama, you look for someone stable,” Silveri said. “And so with Monica and Chandler, we decided to roll out in a way that was a reaction to the last big relationship.”

That began with keeping it casual. As Silveri notes, the writers didn’t necessarily think Monica and Chandler would be in it for the long haul. But the audience response to their hooking up was so huge, the show couldn’t ignore it. Still, even after the show decided to keep them together, Monica and Chandler’s romance remained low-key—certainly never as dramatic as Ross and Rachel, whose relationship was an endless cycle of break-ups and reconciliations, weddings and divorces, and so many dramatic scenes at the airport.

Ross and Rachel were always linked by destiny, even in their friends’ minds, and so their relationship was often at the center of the show—and the group. But Monica and Chandler initially keep their relationship a secret, specifically to avoid that kind of display and scrutiny. And not wanting to disrupt the natural order of things extends to how they behave with each other. Even after Monica and Chandler start dating officially, their dynamic barely changes. This is most evident in the way they continue making fun of each other.

From the very beginning, Chandler openly mocks Monica’s neat-freak tendencies, her controlling nature, and her competitive streak. Monica jokes about Chandler’s lack of emotional maturity, his physical weakness, and his failures with other women.

We’ve long heard that boys will make fun of or tease a girl they really like, using humor as a way to mask their true feelings. It’s a common playground practice that can actually be harmful. It teaches women to settle for men who don’t really like them as people. And pickup artists have since weaponized this into negging, subtly insulting a woman you’re interested in to make her feel vulnerable and bring her down to your level.

But Chandler isn’t negging Monica, or vice versa. Mocking is just how these friends communicate—they are, after all, on a sitcom. Almost nothing is off-limits. Researchers have found that some playful mocking actually strengthens bonds, while many studies have found that a little light roasting is even good for building camaraderie in the workplace. When it comes to romance, a 2018 study at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg found that people who are scared of being laughed at often report more dissatisfaction with their relationships, and are more likely to mistrust their partners. Because Monica and Chandler are friends who laugh with—and even at each other—their relationship story is already off to a strong start.

Could It BE Any More Normal?

Behavioral scientist Peter McGraw theorizes that all humor, from tickling to TikToks, stems from a benign violation. “A violation occurs when a situation threatens the way that you believe the world ‘ought’ to be,” he says. “Simply put, something seems wrong.” When Chandler mocks Monica for being controlling or demanding, he’s pointing out her violation of norms: This not how a person ought to be.

But Chandler’s joking also says that her violation of norms is benign. It’s okay that she’s this way. There is a sense of safety that comes from a place of familiarity, based on their years of friendship. When Al and Peg Bundy trade insults, there is an undercurrent of resentment: They feel as though they are stuck with a person they don’t even really like.

Chandler: “They can say that you’re high maintenance, but it’s okay because I like maintaining you.” - Friends 6x12

But Chandler accepted Monica long ago—and this acceptance differs from all his other relationships. Chandler is often shown to be extraordinarily picky when it comes to dating. Before Monica, he would harp on one tiny character flaw until the whole relationship unraveled. Notably, Chandler would always joke about these flaws to his friends. But he wouldn’t joke about these things with the woman. Instead, he would just break up with her, or force her to break up with him. He would travel halfway around the world, just to avoid confronting her directly.

The fact that, once Chandler is in a relationship with Monica, he can still joke about her flaws—and do it directly to her face—is proof that Chandler is exceptionally comfortable with her. What’s more, Monica can dish it as good as she can take it, creating a safe space for these benign violations to occur.

Monica and Chandler are also shown to be huge fans of pranks. Many of their biggest relationship milestones revolve around them: They declare their love for each other at the end of a prank war with Phoebe and Rachel. Chandler’s marriage proposal begins as a prank, with Chandler trying to throw Monica off in order to catch her by surprise. It ends with Monica turning the tables back on him. Even their decision to have children starts as Monica just messing with Chandler, only for Chandler to call her bluff.

There is a continuous sense of playfulness throughout, even around the most momentous decisions of their lives. It’s one that we’ve come to recognize in other classic sitcom couples who laugh together—and even at each other—but always with a safety net. This is key to the longevity of a relationship because it establishes security. Jokes create space for expressing feelings that seem scary to say out loud. And we see that almost every one of Monica and Chandler’s biggest emotional breakthroughs have a little mocking edge to them. It’s just the way that Monica and Chandler tell each other that, no matter what, everything will be okay.

Chandler: “You freaked out big time! Okay? And I fixed it! We have switched places! I am the relationship and king and you are the crazy, irrational screw up!” - Friends 5x17

Monica and Chandler’s love story demonstrates what psychologist Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.” If a person feels supported, without judgment, Rogers theorized, anyone has the power to overcome their feelings of inadequacy. In a relationship guided by unconditional positive regard, one person becomes a floor that the other can’t fall below. And that firm footing gives them the ability to grow and change.

Chandler: “Any surprises that come our way it’s okay, because I will always love you.” - Friends 7x24

I’ll Be There For You

As we see from the beginning, Monica and Chandler are both deeply insecure people. Chandler hides behind humor as a defense mechanism, and he acts like someone who thinks love will always decay into something toxic. Monica maintains a neurotic control over her life and acts like someone who doesn’t believe anyone could ever truly love her. They’re damaged—and like most damaged people, it all stems from their parents.

Monica was never the favorite in her family. Her parents’ obvious preference for Ross, combined with how she was treated for being overweight, created a person who’s obsessively competitive and desperate to please. When a bet with Joey and Chandler forces her to trade apartments, Monica has a meltdown over her loss of domain. And this fear stems from her deeply ingrained insecurity: If Monica’s not hosting, some part of her thinks she won’t be invited.

These feelings are stirred up for her again at Ross’s wedding, where Monica is left demoralized by her mother. And significantly, it’s at this moment that she first decides to sleep with Chandler.

Insecurity is also behind Monica’s other most significant relationship, with the much older Richard Burke. Well, that and other things. As one of her parents’ friends, Richard gives her the unconditional positive regard they never did. Still, their relationship is steeped in constant uncertainty. Their age gap never stops being an issue. And then there’s the fact that Richard and Monica aren’t on the same page when it comes to having children.

When Richard reappears several years later to tell Monica he wants her back, she seems to consider it—but again, it’s in terms of her own insecurity. Significantly, she chooses Chandler, letting go of her ideas about what love should be, in favor of their messier, but ultimately more fulfilling connection.

Chandler’s self-esteem and feelings about love were also cemented at an early age. His romance novelist mother made love and sex seem dangerous. His dad coming out and leaving the family created fears of abandonment and only deepened his mistrust. So whenever someone expresses love for Chandler, he’s always looking for the other shoe to drop. And these fears and trust issues are the root of Chandler’s sarcasm.

When Chandler first gets together with Monica, he’s feeling demoralized, too. His wedding toast bombs. His humor is the one thing that got him attention and appreciation—and it fails him. And it’s Monica who gives him the positive regard he so desperately needs. In fact, Monica and Chandler go to great lengths to not judge each other—like when Monica indulges what she mistakenly thinks is Chandler’s fetish for shark porn. Or when Chandler finds Monica’s secret closet and this revelation of her foibles is something he enjoys about her.

Chandler: “He-he-he-he-he. You’re messy.”

Monica: “No, you weren’t supposed to see this!”

Chandler: “I married Fred Sanford!” - Friends 8x14

Contrast this with Ross and Rachel, whose entire relationship is steeped in judgment: who wronged each other first, who hurt each other more—a perpetual tallying of grievances that leaves their relationship forever unbalanced. But Monica and Chandler have a perfect equanimity, no matter what. They meet each other where they are, accepting each other as flawed messes—which allows them to grow into better, stronger people together.

Chandler starts out as a sad clown who seems destined to drive everyone else away. And he grows into a loving husband, father, and son—even reconciling with his trans dad. He quits his soul-crushing job and finds fulfillment in a more creative field, all with the support of his wife.

Monica begins as a controlling, neurotic Type A with a very specific plan for her career, marriage, and motherhood. While she’s with Chandler, she finally gets that dream job. But more importantly, she grows into someone who’s able to weather uncertainty—a long-distance marriage and her own infertility, eventually even choosing to leave the city for a quieter life in the suburbs. Over the course of the show, she and Chandler grow into two stable adults, who are ready to take on anything, together.

A close friendship doesn’t always lead to lasting romance—just look at Rachel and Joey. Despite having mutual respect, a long shared history, and the ability to laugh and play with each other, they can never quite seem to transcend their roles as just friends. Clearly, there’s something unique to Monica and Chandler’s dynamic—a friction that was expressed through mockery and teasing. And this continues to be their spark.

Chandler: “Well, I think it’s safe to say that our friendship is effectively ruined.”

Monica: “Eh, we weren’t that close anyway.” - Friends 7x16

From Monica and Chandler, we can learn that it’s important to meet people where they actually are in a relationship, not where you want them to be. We also see that laughter is often what holds a relationship together. Finding someone you feel comfortable joking with—and being comfortable with joking about each other—can make you both feel more secure. But there’s a difference between teasing and cruelty, and someone who really loves you will drop the jokes when you need genuine support. Most importantly, we see that we can’t change our partners. We can only make space for them to grow and offer our unconditional positive regard while they do. And we can remind them that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves.

Chandler: “So you can balloon up, or you can shrink down, and I will still love you.” - Friends 7x06