You don’t have to be a Friends fanatic to know about the “we were on a break” feud between Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). Were they or weren't they? This question became a major plot point and spot of contention between the characters throughout the series.
If you need a reminder about what lead to this pivotal quandary, let me break down the salacious details for you: Ross and Rachel have a fight about Rachel working on their anniversary, and Ross’s jealousy of her coworker, Mark. Mid-argument, Rachel says “maybe we should just take a break.” Ross looks at her with a forlorn face and then storms out, with the door slamming behind him. That night, he finds himself drunk, and he sleeps with a woman he knows from his local copy place. The next morning, Rachel comes over to make up, and the “copy girl” is still at his place hiding behind the front door. Rachel later finds out and is enraged, leading to their relationship’s demise.
Ross says it wasn’t “cheating” that he slept with someone else, because technically they were “on a break,” but Rachel says that’s a copout, a "technicality," that it was a fight, and that it wasn't right because they still loved each other. It wasn’t cool that he slept with someone else, and that gives her the right to throw a phone book at him if she wants to. Is your blood running cold just thinking about this drama!? Me too.
The break plot twist always spurs vigorous debate, so we wanted to settle it once and for all. As such, we asked therapists, psychics, sex writers, and TV critics to weigh in.
What therapists think:
“The scene ends with Rachel saying maybe we should take a break and Ross storming out without commenting,” Gabrielle Applebury, licensed marriage and family therapist says. “To me this means that technically they were not on a break. Ross never agreed to take a break and Rachel said ‘maybe’ without being definitive.”
With that said, Applebury notes that both partners have a right to be mad. “Ross, whose love language appears to be time, feels somewhat abandoned by Rachel's busy career priorities,” she says. “Rachel appears to feel unheard and bulldozed by Ross, which can ultimately lead to feeling disrespected.” She notes that taking a break can work sometimes — but without actively working on the relationship, the problems that were there before will still be present even after the break is over. If couples plan on taking a break it's important to discuss their goals, what rules they’ll follow, and when it will end.
Willard Vaughn, a licensed counselor in Virginia and Indiana, notes that he thinks of relationships as “voluntary agreements between two people with no promises or guarantees of loyalty.” With that said, there needs to be more communication than there was between Ross and Rachel about the break.
“I believe that the answer really depends on the individuals in the relationship, the circumstances leading to the 'break', and what each wants to get out of such an event,” he says.
What the polls say:
A YouGov poll that surveyed UK residents found that the majority of people thought they were, in fact, on a break. Sixty-one percent thought they were, 19% thought they were not, and 20% said they weren’t sure.
The YouGov poll followed up by asking the specific question: “Imagine that an unmarried couple decided to take a break from their relationship… Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for either of them to have sex with someone else?” About 40 percent said it would be okay, and more men thought that than women.
What a psychic thinks:
Christiana McMahon, a psychic medium and relationship expert, says that they’re both at fault because of their prior relationship issues. “Their dynamic was great in many ways,” McMahon says. "They were real friends, they really cared for each other… I thought they were really actually well suited for each other, but they suffered from commitment issues. Were they on a break? They were ultimately always on a break, because they were unable to really commit to each other.”
She says that, in general, breaks can be a bad idea because they break the energy between two people.
What fans think:
One user points out that, in the episode, Rachel tells Monica after their big fight that they “broke up.”
“So at least once, Rachel, in no uncertain terms, admitted to at least one other person that she and Ross had in fact broken up. That would mean that ‘we were on a break’ was in fact her breaking up with Ross.”
With that said, most users agree it wasn’t really right of Ross to sleep with someone else so soon.
One fan points out: “The funny thing is that Ross doesn't even think what he did was okay himself. His instant reaction is to be ashamed and try to hide it. If he truly felt that they were on a break, he wouldn't have been that ashamed of himself,” KingOfCopenhagen writes, ultimately deciding that they were both in the wrong.
What Refinery29 staffers think:
Refinery29 sex and relationships writer Erika W. Smith came in hot with this thoughtful and practical take: “I do think that 'a break' usually means a breakup (even if only a temporary one) unless otherwise discussed, so I don't think that Ross technically cheated on Rachel,” she says. “If they had discussed and agreed on what ‘a break’ meant, this could have all been avoided!” She adds that it’s totally understandable that Rachel was hurt when she learned of Ross’s trust-bending tryst. “Ross was pretty defensive when Rachel confronted him, and if he had been more empathetic, he might have been able to avert the breakup (though Rachel was better off without him).”
Refinery29’s TV Critic Ariana Romero agrees they were on a break, technically. “Yes, he was free to sleep with someone else, as he so gravely chose,” she says. “However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be suspicious for the rest of your life about the man who hopped into bed with someone minutes after your break — not break up! — was announced. Welcome to reason 378 you shouldn't trust Ross Geller.”
What I think:
Anyone who knows me at all will tell you that I’m the ultimate Friends fangirl. Although I’ve tried to remain impartial for this article, I do not think they were on a break. Ross didn’t respond when Rachel said “maybe” we should take a break because he was too busy running away from his emotions. He therefore did not technically consent to the break or stick around long enough to fully understand its terms and conditions. Thus, he didn’t have the go ahead to sleep around.
Secondly, Rachel was obviously upset and in the heat of the moment, and sometimes you say things you don’t really mean during trying times. Maybe the "break" was really a prompt for Ross. Perhaps she wanted him to remind her of all the good times they’d had, and why they should try to make it work. This seems to be her sentiment the next day, after all. Ross should have stayed and tried to talk it out. But instead, he fled. If he understood women at all, he would have fought for his lobster.