monica and richard dancing at a wedding

No one on Friends marries their soulmate which is interesting because they all date their respective soulmates at one point. Ironically, in the episode, The One where Joey Tells Rachel, Monica tells Chandler:

I don’t think we’re soulmates. I think we’re two people who fell in love and work hard at our relationship… sometimes really hard.

If we boil what Monica said down to the roots, then she’s saying “chemistry” is more important than “destiny.” It’s fair to say that this is more truthful, if not more nihilistic. They don’t believe things happen for a reason, they simply do.

Metatextually, this line of Monica’s is used as the writers’ medium, telling the audience that “Monica and Chandler aren’t perfect together, but they work” as a way to ease them into accepting the episode’s title and that Joey and Rachel might be a “thing” down the line. However, using Monica for this speaks volumes of a greater truth because she missed her chance with her actual soulmate: Richard Burke. Before diving into this review however, here’s a breakdown of how this will go through each character:

  1. Character backstory
  2. People they date; their type
  3. Soulmate on the show

So without further adieu…

Monica Geller

1. Background

Monica grew up fat and neglected by her parents, but she didn’t know this. In every flashback with a fat Monica, she appears to be wholly content with her figure and her family life until Chandler entered the scene. Before Chandler, Monica’s concept of love was aloofness = affection. This is due to the fact that her parents neglected her, but she was none the wiser as a teenager. For Monica, that’s how you displayed love and affection — through negligence.

This was further paralleled in Rachel Green, her best friend. Being popular, Rachel would act aloof and play hard to get for boys; this distance, aloofness, and neglect is what Monica registered as love. This was Monica’s only concept of love and how relationships work. She believes that you should be passive, not active in what you want. However, when she eavesdrop on Chandler (in the past) and learns that he’s not being aloof, but is actually disinterested in her, her world shatters.

Chandler makes Monica feel unloved by her parents and even her friends because Chandler takes the “aloofness” she’d grown to learn as affection and proves that it’s disinterest. This is why Jack and Judy (Monica’s parents) are unaware that they were negligent of Monica — well, more-so Jack, Judy is just kind of a b****. They respond to those accusations in earnest, believing themselves blameless for how she feels — they are right. Monica only feels unloved by her parents because Chandler twisted their nominal neglect into indifference (the opposite of love).

Very likely, although it’s never stated in the series, this is also why Monica and Rachel grew apart, Monica probably assumes Rachel’s friendship (her love for Monica) is superficial as well. The result of all this is that Monica seeks to be active and take control, evidenced by her neurotic behavior (i.e. obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD]) and sudden weight loss.

People tend to lose weight (and develop eating disorders) when they have a lack of control in their lives. Their weight becomes one of the few things they can control, so they regulate it with strict standards. This is not to say that Monica developed an eating disorder, but OCD could certainly be a by-product of her weight loss — which is a good disorder choice as its more in keeping with “comedy” and any eating disorders on the show would lead to “drama.” In addition, eating disorders tend to cause women to have poor self-image. Again, this analysis is not saying Monica has an eating disorder (making for a sadomasochistic chef), however all these things accumulated into Monica having very little self-worth and a need for control.

This didn’t stop later in life as it’s shown with her roommate, Phoebe. Phoebe moves out without telling Monica. When Monica realizes Phoebe has moved out, Monica is crushed because she thought they were “doing so much better.” They were getting along despite the fact that Monica was being aggressively controlling. This time however, Phoebe throws Monica for a loop, because Phoebe was being more friendly with her (not aloof), but was just as dishonest as her parents, since she moved out. In that same scene, Phoebe had told Monica about the cushion she stained and it’s why she calls her out saying:

You’re not sad, you’re thinking about which cushion it is.

Because Monica does not have the love of her friend, she resorts to controlling what she can — in this case, cleanliness — because it is objective. This shows how a lack of love drives Monica to neurotic behaviors and justifies why her soulmate would absolve her of such neurosis.

Her controlling behavior is directly tied with her competitive spirit. Monica needs to win, not because she’s an egotist, but because it is concrete, quantifiable, and objective. Monica wants to win to prove unarguable worth. That way, she cannot mistake something like aloofness for lovelessness, but winning is calling her “right” in a completely objective and upfront way.

(No surprise, she has such strong convictions when it comes to competing with Ross, the older sibling who was actively loved by her parents.)

–And, as an aside, why she dumps that guy who always proclaimed, “I win… I win…” after sex.–

In addition, when she loses her apartment to Chandler and Joey, she fights to regain the title of hostess; to be the best since, if they don’t show up to her apartment, they must be disinterested. Not surprisingly, Monica wants to be the hostess to avoid aloofness — it’s why she is so intent on receiving gratitude. Monica only wants to be the center of attention when she can quantify her worth (usually through cooking, hosting and winning).

This is exactly why Chandler is not her soulmate, not only did he crush her concept of love, but her soulmate should make her feel less compelled to clean and less driven to control.

As the series plays out, Monica only becomes more neurotic married to Chandler. (And, if we learned anything from As Good as it Gets, it’s that a person with OCD will only get better when something better comes along — in both cases, it’s love.) So, through Monica’s dates, she yearns for the active displays of love to know that she is wanted and so that she can become the submissive person she truly is inside.

I know you can’t pick your parents, but if you could (to Ross), I’d pick yours.” – Monica Geller

2. Monica Geller’s Type

Monica’s type then is anyone who is active, secure, confident and dominant; men who are upfront with their thoughts and feelings so she doesn’t need to second-guess their convictions. In short, Monica wants to date someone who can make her revert back to passivity, devoid of control and neurosis — since those were only developed due to a lack of love.

Her want of passivity is evidenced by the fact that she is a chef, despite not eating; when someone loves her for who she is — makes her comfortable in her own skin, then she can eat. Unfortunately, her fears are only reaffirmed with her on-screen love-life. Again, these are men who are confident and active in their affection so that she can be passive and not worry about them being dishonest with their feelings (see below):

A) Paul the Wine Guy

In the first episode, Monica dates a man (Paul) who tells her he hasn’t slept with a woman since his divorce. This enhances Monica’s self-worth because she manages to “get it up” for him. Because he comes across as honest, forward, and sincere, his manhood is directly correlated to her attractiveness as a person and she becomes comfortable. All of this is before Monica’s co-worker tells her she was fed the same story. Her self-worth is shattered. They break up.

B) Ethan “Senior”

Monica's disgust at realizing she just slept with a high school senior.

Monica dates a college senior named Ethan. He’s young enough to be honest and open about his feelings and young enough to not be a sleazy liar (see Paul). She feels comfortable in his arms because she’s getting older, but is still found attractive. While the boy’s feelings are sincere, he reveals he’s a high school senior. Now, here’s where it’s necessary to make this distinction because otherwise, you might think Monica just wants people to be “Honest” but in truth, she just wants a man that can make her comfortable being passive.

The reason she dumps Ethan is not because he lied, but because she would have to take active control in his life. He is open and vulnerable and honest, and would do anything to be with her. But that’s just it, she would have to be the director of his life, tell him what college to attend to continue their relationship and what job to pursue to live comfortably, etc. etc. She dumps him because she wants to be the submissive one.

C) Julio

Julio is a co-worker at the restaurant who exudes confidence. Monica doesn’t even believe he’s hitting on her (due to little self-worth), but then he moves forward and kisses her, absolving her of any doubt. When he writes a poem about her, she feels special, like maybe she found the right guy. Arguably, when her friends say the poem is about her as an “empty vessel,” she’s not discouraged from the relationship as it means he’ll take the active role in filling her — metaphorically, not literally.

I say “arguably,” because it does cause her to confront Julio. But I believe she did this for clarity as even Monica knows there’s something missing from her life, so, if anything, this could be the guy for her because he understands her. It’s only when he reveals that he wrote it about her as a generic woman — making Monica not special or understood — that she falls to pieces again.

D) Alan

Another man Monica dates is Alan in The One with the Thumb.She’s afraid of showing Alan to her friends because they never like the guys she dates. However, she brings this up to them — taking charge (i.e. control) — and sure enough, when she introduces Alan, all her friends appear to be affectatious in their “like” of him. Although it’s never explicitly addressed in the episode, there is a clear “fakeness” to each of her friends’ comments about Alan.

Everyone loves him… but she suspects that they only like him because she (essentially) told them to. Monica ends up dumping Alan because “something doesn’t feel right,” but what really caused the end of the romance was that Monica had taken an active role rather than a passive one; she couldn’t return to submissiveness because she had meddled too much. She felt that her friends were being dishonest because she was upfront about her feelings. This is what makes Monica realize that taking control will only result in failed romance; she needs to be passive but secure.

(As seen from these examples, Monica is trying to repress her OCD. She wants to be passive, not controlling. The most definitive relationship that elucidates this fact is Fun Bobby.)

E) Fun Bobby*

Hey c’mon it’s Flag Day!

Monica dates an old flame, Fun Bobby. This man is dominant, forward, and confident. Monica can relax… until she realizes that he has a drinking problem. Monica’s quandary comes in trying to determine whether his direct affection is honest or if it’s an affectation.

By assuming “control” and making Fun Bobby stop drinking, Monica realizes that he was sincere, and is now hampered by her control. She made him stop drinking and now he needs guidance. She would have to take an active role in their love life, something she’s not prepared to do, which is also why she doesn’t want to be active and dump him, because she MADE him this way out of suspicions. Which brings us to Monica’s soulmate: Richard Burke.

3. Monica Geller’s Soulmate is Richard Burke

Soulmates

Richard (played by the delightful [totally-grounded-in-reality-and-doesn’t-belong-on-a-sitcom] Tom Selleck) embodies everything mentioned above. In fact, the above, parenthetical comment, is what further epitomizes Monica’s soulmate. Selleck plays Richard purposefully grounded in reality, not hyperbolic — as many other sitcom characters are.

Richard is such a rock, that Monica feels compelled to hide her OCD. When Richard finds out Monica has this neurotic and controlling behavior, Monica fears he’ll turn and run — as each relationship prior had ended in disaster from her neurosis. However, Richard “makes up” his own neurotic behavior (about which side of the bed he “needs” to sleep on) and Monica realizes that it’s his dishonesty that reveals a greater truth — he’s actually willing to do anything to be with her; he will accept her and all her controlling ways.

It’s also one of the few times you see Richard’s soft underbelly. It’s his subverted way of showing Monica that she doesn’t need to “hide” her controlling mannerisms or who she is, because she already has control over him, since he puts her on a pedestal.

In effect, Richard is active, upfront, and honest in his feelings and accepts Monica for who she is. By accepting her OCD, Monica is given the opportunity to be comfortable in her own skin again and thereby, be passive.

It shows a give-and-take, symbiotic relationship rather than one or the other — which all her previous lovers had featured. In addition, Richard is already established in a career and has only slept with one other woman. While the love of another would normally causes suspicions, Richard says he would not sleep with Monica unless he was in love. Thereby, any suspicions that Richard is not over his divorced wife are dismissed. (It also doesn’t hurt that Richard is an optometrist, and the eyes are a gateway to the soul.)

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is Richard Burke’s ties to Monica’s parents. Her whole concept of love was dashed when Chandler brought it to her attention that her parents were negligent. This defined what love is to her. However, Richard showed her that she can be submissive, as she was with her parents, but she has no doubt that he ACTUALLY loves her. So, true to parent/child fashion, Monica defies what her parents’ love represented by having a loving relationship with someone akin to them that’s entirely opposite of them.

Is there anything more fitting? You can even read into Monica’s actions in The One Where Joey Moves Out that she secretly can’t wait to tell her parents she’s dating Richard Burke — their friend. But alas, all the evidence is there to explain why these two are meant to be together… so what happened with Chandler Bing?

Conclusion (Bing)

Monica and Richard are supposed to be together and if this were a work of literary fiction, they would be at the end of Season 6, but Friends is a sitcom, people are on contract — probably couldn’t afford Tom Selleck. Plus, let’s face it, the creators went on record to say that Ross and Rachel was supposed to be a short-lived romance… but the audience loved it — as they later would with Monica and Chandler. To keep them apart would hurt ratings and yadda, yadda, yadda… That’s where the technical side, the “this is a television show,” comes into play, and that’s an area I actively choose to ignore.

I’d also like to take this time to address that I don’t dislike Monica and Chandler, but it’s clear they’re not soulmates. After Monica locks Chandler down, her OCD and neurosis grow to hyperbolic levels. However, we can justify this when Richard and Monica break up.

In order to get over Richard, she reassesses “love,” because when you’ve already lost your soulmate, you recreate a list of qualities and “settle” — as we’ll see time and again with the other friends. With Richard gone, Monica looks for the upfront, active, and honest emotions she always sought… but now with a new stipulation: she wants to be able to have total control rather than symbiotic relationship.

She lost Richard because he didn’t want more kids — that was outside of her control — so, for every future romance, she wants to be on the pedestal and be the active driver of the relationship. In many ways, losing Richard makes her stronger albeit more neurotic.

This is exemplified first with Pete Becker who, for all intents and purposes, is Richard but with a great deal of money. She loses Pete when she realizes she can’t control his quest to become the ultimate fighting champion. She tries to let him sow his oats (in the ring), but when he refuses to quit, she realizes it’s another dead-end because there’s something she can’t control.

Then, she dates Chip Matthews which is essentially the high school senior (Ethan) all over again. Whereas now, the Ethan would seem a ripe choice, they redact his candidacy with Chip Matthews as the surrogate — he’s a college kid; a free-spirit; uncontrollable and therefore not worth her time.

So, Chandler Bing works because he clearly puts Monica on a pedestal and is controllable in every way. She doesn’t even have to hide her neurotic behavior as she did with Richard because she dominates the relationship. Plus, Chandler has so many insecurities that he’ll never leave her and that is absolute control. 

Now, you may be thinking that, because she can be more neurotic, it’s more freeing, but this is not the case. While she’s with Chandler, she’s consistently flirting with other men — it’s a jealousy she harnesses to maintain more control; airing on the side of abuse. One example is when she sings karaoke and everyone can see her nips, but she continues to perform for attention.

Another comes when she attends Joey’s Soap Opera party and allows a celebrity to sign her bra. And, as mentioned in your background, it is Chandler that caused her neurosis and does not accept her for it. When Monica brings up her crazy cleaning and controlling behavior, Chandler claims,

I love you in spite of those things.

It is Richard who loved her for them. It’s Richard who would make up her own neurotic “things” just to make her feel more comfortable.

Disregarding the first paragraph of this conclusion, Monica’s choice to leave Richard at the end of Season 6 is more heartbreaking than the series allows us to see. She doesn’t choose Richard because she no longer believes him; she doesn’t feel comfortable around him anymore because he hurt her too badly before. There is no going back, even if they are soulmates.

This is the most honest of the six soulmate pairings and undoubtedly, the most tragic in the series.