Phoebe is a character who lives in the moment. In The One Where Phoebe Runs, she summarizes this perfectly, “[Y]ou don’t care if people are staring, because it’s just for a second cause then you’re gone!”
That’s her life philosophy and it’s why her “memory sucks” (The One with the Chick and a Duck)and why she gives people second chances, because she wants to believe them as they are now; in the present; in the moment. No doubt, if she dwelled on the past’s tragedies, or the bleak future, then she wouldn’t have the sunny disposition she does now. Plus, with the amount of death, discomfort, and abandonment Phoebe has had to endure, it makes sense that the most important thing in her life is the people she connects with.
How many characters enter the show due to a longstanding history with Phoebe? And, just because Phoebe isn’t living on the streets, doesn’t mean she feels superior to them. She still fondly reminisces — and in some cases visits — her homeless pals, Stabby Joe and Fritzy, whose been number 11 for like forever on the Most Wanted list (The One with the Cop).
Then there’s Phoebe’s Navy guy (renamed The One with the Tiger’s Blood), Duncan (The One with Phoebe’s Husband), and Leslie (The One with Phoebe’s Ex-Partner). She loves the people in her life and due to living in the present, she is full of forgiveness and the queen of second-chances.
Think about all the characters Phoebe comes across that she shouldn’t forgive, but does because she wants the closeness, the friends, the family. She forgives and accepts her biological father; she forgives and accepts her biological mother; she forgives and accepts her former band/barge partner, Leslie. What’s more is she mentions how she’d like to patch things up with her sister, Ursula (The One where they all Turn 30) since family is paramount to Phoebe. Even in Phoebe’s vague vows to Mike, she mentions the importance of family and wanting to feel complete.
Phoebe’s biological mother, Phoebe, gave her (the daughter, Phoebe [and identical twin, Ursula]) up to her best friend, Lily, who was married to Phoebe’s (again, the daughter’s) biological dad, Frank, who runs off when Phoebe is a child and/but Lily remarries(?), but he (the stepfather) winds up in prison and Lily kills herself (from carbon monoxide, but she was also a drug dealer) when Phoebe was 13.
So then Phoebe lives on the streets where she picks up French behind a dumpster (the extent of her education), lives with a gremlin (curmudgeon?) and a man named Cindy who talks to his hand. She also befriends numerous homeless ruffians and robs people — especially nerds by the comic book store — and, at some point:
- is stabbed by a cop
- moves to Prague
- contracts Hepatitis from pimp spit
And then she answers an ad and moves in with Monica Geller, but it doesn’t work out, so she moves in with her step-grandmother, Frances. But then she dies and Phoebe carries her around in an urn in her (the grandmother’s) cab where she finds her half-brother (also named Frank), but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The point of all this is to demonstrate her broken background and lack of family because, by the time the series ends, Phoebe has sought out her father, her mother, her brother, and she even births her nieces and nephews. She carries her dead grandmother around in an urn; she carries the spirit of Rose, her deceased massage client.
She wants family (friends included) above all else because it’s how she can repair her sordid past by patching it with the people that stick around to makeup her history. And that, in addition to a few other factors, is why David is Phoebe’s soulmate, not Mike. In with the old, out with the new.
2. Phoebe Buffay’s Type
Phoebe dates a lot and they’re such a mixed-bag; there’s the man who sells erotic novels to children, the happy guy, the psychiatrist guy (Roger), the balls-out jogging guy, the mumbler upstairs, Larry the health inspector guy, the broken-leg hospital guy, and so on. Even though she seems to date these people for longer than a month, we rarely see them for more than an episode. Luckily, there is one episode that aptly summarizes her type…
The One with Ross’s Thing
Phoebe dates two men, playing the field as she (they) say: Vince the firefighter and Jason the kindergarten teacher.
She knows that she needs to dump one to have a more simplistic dating life, but she vacillates back and forth between what’s more important, body or sensitivity? On the surface, she privileges the body and it’s why she hasn’t had many long-term relationships. She sleeps with a lot of guys… but doesn’t get intimately involved with many. She even goes so far as to give the “body” additional points on her fingers when she’s tallying Vince vs. Jason. Plus, she’s already slept with Vince, privileging him further, yet who does she decide to dump first? She goes to Vince.
Despite all her rationale and deep interest in hot bodies and sex, she chooses to stay with Jason and his sensitivity, putting it above a hot body. And this isn’t the only time Phoebe’s preference for sensitivity over masculinity has held true.
Take a look at The One with the Halloween Party (Lisa Kudrow’s favorite episode) — where Phoebe kisses Ursula’s sensitive ex-fiance, but doesn’t sleep with him — and compare that to her massage client in The One with the Ballroom Dancing — where Phoebe is ready to bone the guy on the table for his hot bod. The body vs. sensitivity (or passion vs. intimacy) thing doesn’t end there either.
Duncan (The One with Phoebe’s Husband)
Being one of Phoebe’s few long-term relationships, Duncan sets the stage for what Phoebe’s looking for — after all she married the guy — and he’s the perfect example of intimacy vs passion. Phoebe fell in love with and married Duncan even though he was gay. It was a wholly abstinent relationship that she was willing to do anything for because she truly loved him. Heck, she even got divorced for his happiness, but once again, the main point is that she loved this guy despite a lack of passion and sex.
Gary (The One with the Cop)
First and foremost, a brilliant pairing for Phoebe given her past. Their relationship is wildly sexual (as documented in The One with Rachel’s Inadvertent Kiss where Gary and Phoebe think they’re a hotter couple than Monica and Chandler), but Gary wants to take it to the next level and move in together. Phoebe initially asks her friends to dissuade him. When that fails, Phoebe expresses doubts, but says “Yes” to Gary because he responds with a teary-eyed, “Oh… uh-huh…”
It’s only after seeing Gary’s sensitivity that Phoebe says yes. Then, when Gary interrogates Phoebe about finding a new home together, she admits to the deeper doubts and Gary dispels them with one of the sweetest sentiments in Friends history:
“Phoebe, it’s ok that you feel this way. I mean it is soon. And there’s a lot of things we don’t know about each other, I just figured everything I know about you I really like. And the things I don’t know, I get to learn about it at a place with both our names on the mailbox.“
-Gary (Michael Rapaport, The One with the Ball)
It’s the sensitivity that wins Phoebe over, not the passion. The sensitivity and intimacy leads to a stronger, longer relationship, which will inevitably lead to family which is what Phoebe really wants. Phoebe has had plenty of sex, but not many long-term partners, so it makes sense that intimacy (for Phoebe) is the next level, whereas for many people — and characters in Friends — it’s the other way around. Even having the triplets is further concrete evidence that she was willing to sacrifice sex and passion for intimacy and family.
And if you’re familiar with psychology (or do a basic Google search) that’s commonly what women without fathers yearn for and why they are often more sexually active than those with fathers. A father (a good father) to a daughter stands as the basis for how to have a healthy, sexless relationship with men. Without that, women tend to slip into sex-filled relationships and can often misconstrue it as intimacy.
So Phoebe’s soulmate needs to represent a longstanding history and a fatherly intimacy. Now David perfectly fits that mold, being that he started in Season 1 and continues into Season 9 and he also has that intimacy vs. passion as he waits a date to kiss her and presumably even later to have sex… whereas Phoebe slept with Mike on night one:
“Rachel: So which anniversary? First date? First kiss? First time sleeping together?
-In reference to Mike and Phoebe’s anniversary in The One where Rachel’s Sister Babysits
However, with this analysis, it automatically calls into question the biggest counterargument which is: if Phoebe’s soulmate must meet the above criteria (history and intimacy), then how and why isn’t her soulmate any of the three friends persistent in her life? i.e. Joey, Ross, and Chandler. However, her sexless relationship with this bunch only further evidences my point.
1. Phoebe and Chandler
Phoebe and Chandler have the most innocent relationship, but that’s primarily because Phoebe never found Chandler attractive. In The One where Everybody Finds Out, Monica reveals to Chandler:
“Phoebe just always thought you were, you were charming in a, in a sexless kind of way.“
But this makes sense when you look at Chandler and Phoebe’s relationship since they are more childish together like a brother and sister. They play Hide & Seek in The One with the Metaphorical Tunnel and play Mexican Standoff in a pair of Barcaloungers. In fact, I’d argue Chandler is the reason Phoebe remains friends with these people since he’s desperate to hold on to friends and relationships (but more on that with his soulmationship). But without any real physical attraction, Chandler is like family to Phoebe.
2. Phoebe and Ross
Arguably Ross is the closest thing Phoebe has to a father (yes, even with her biological one). So much of Ross’ relationship with Phoebe is spent teaching her: teaching her about evolution, about science with Science Boy, and how to ride a bike (The One with All the Candy).
However, Phoebe does mistake her relationship with Ross as something physical on two occasions. Obviously in The One with the Flashback, but additionally in The One with the Proposal (Part 2) as its revealed Ross is (one of) Phoebe’s backup(s). On both occasions, she foregoes intimacy for passion. In the former, rather than talk through Ross’ divorce, she makes a move on him; in the latter, she wants to seal the “backup” deal with sex. It’s safe to say that even though Ross has the intimacy and family-mindedness she so adores, her attraction to Ross spoils whatever romance they could’ve had.
3. Phoebe and Joey
Phoebe and Joey have a very intimate relationship, Joey is a family man (caring for his sisters), and he’s even like-minded with Phoebe about sex. Joey was a definite contender for Phoebe’s soulmate, but unfortunately he was ruled out in The One with Two Parts where Joey dates Ursula. Joey, unlike Phoebe, privileges sex and passion above intimacy. Rather than attend Phoebe’s birthday, Joey attends Ursula’s. Phoebe even voices this concern:
Phoebe: Have you two, you know… like… you know… you know… yet? Joey: Well, not that it’s any of your business, but, no, we haven’t, okay?
Once Ursula and Joey have sex, Phoebe knows it would never work with him romantically. Ultimately though, this is why Phoebe cares so deeply about her friends as, for the next ten years, they are sexless — they become her healthy relationship with men; they all become her father. Joey almost gives Phoebe away in place of her dad in her wedding; Chandler then acts as an apt substitute; and Ross, let’s face it, might as well be Phoebe’s dad — that teaching her how to ride a bike thing is too cute.
3. Phoebe Buffay’s Soulmate is David
David (Hank Azaria) fits the bill. He has a long history with Phoebe, has intimacy rather than masculinity and returns to her — and that part is crucial, especially for why Mike and Phoebe get together instead.
So many people have exited Phoebe’s life, that the ones who return are the ones she clings to. Again, going back through the roster of friends and relationships: Leslie, the navy guy, her parents, and even Monica, who Phoebe tried to cut out, claws her way back in and ends up being her Maid of Honor. No doubt, when the people in Phoebe’s life return, after leaving, Phoebe feels a stronger connection to them. And when you look at Duncan, David, and Mike, the one thing they all have in common is that they all leave Phoebe for a period of time.
When Duncan returns, Phoebe gets all dolled up because she believes it’s for her. When it’s for a divorce, Phoebe — in her own way — mourns. When David returns, Phoebe knows this is the love of her life, and even though he leaves again, she expects him to return. However, when David returns the third time, Mike returns for the first time, so she foolhardily accepts Mike, privileging the second-chance over the fourth.
Otherwise, the reason Phoebe ends up with Mike is meta-textual, the creators thought Phoebe deserved something “normal,” which we can chock it up to another example of artists not understanding their own art. Normal is a slight to Phoebe’s character. But I don’t really need to rebuff Mike’s character since he doesn’t have one. And make no mistake, Paul Rudd is great, but Mike Hannigan is not a character.
We know he has been through a divorce; we know he’s wealthy; we know he plays piano — in fact, he’s kinda similar to Ross in that way. Other than that though, all of Mike’s dialogue is comprised of jokes and present situations. Scour the dialogue (or watch the episodes for yourself), there is no history, no self-reflection, no obscure references to things gone by. Even his reasoning for not getting married is generic:
“It’s just my first marriage was…you know… such a disaster. I kind of lost faith in the whole idea… Look it’s not about who I would marry. I was certain the first time I got married it would last forever and I was wrong… Look Phoebe… it’s not about you. I just never wanna get married again.“
-Mike (The One with the Boob Job)
Mike isn’t a character, he’s a placeholder. Plus, given that Mike’s parents never take to Phoebe, she loses that opportunity for an extended family as well.
And David is just the right type of quirky for Phoebe. Phoebe lived on the streets and David lived in Minsk, a place with one of the highest crime rates in Belarus. That’s what makes their reunion so much more rewarding because Phoebe would actually have a confidant that’s empathetic to what she endured as a child. David completes Phoebe.
The worst part is David is led-on for 10 years and has a miserable ending. His research is a failure, he’s penniless, and the one thing that kept him going — that told him to do his research in the first place — leaves him for another man.
At least with Monica and Richard, you’re happy for Chandler’s sake; with Ross’ Julie, she gets sent off with Russ; with Joshua, well, Rachel went a little crazy. But David, after 10 years, is sent packing. Yeesh, that’d be like if Gunther died in the series finale.
Come on, would you rather be called “wonderfully weird” or “while Daryl Hannah is beautiful in a conventional way, you are luminous with a kind of a delicate grace.”