The closest thing to Rachel’s soulmate is Joshua… but truthfully, this is the hardest one to write because they don’t spend a great deal of screen time dating. We see Rachel in pursuit — which is vital — but we don’t see Rachel and Joshua.
After going through Rachel’s other long-term relationships (seeing how they start and why they end), it’s clear that Joshua is the outlier… but just because a character is an outlier, doesn’t make them a soulmate. However, so many of Rachel’s long-term relationships are carnal, so the only alternative to Joshua would be to say that Rachel doesn’t have a soulmate. It’s a little tragic, but wholly fitting for her character by the end of the series.
This analysis is best read after Ross Geller’s because of the Ross/Rachel dynamic, but to briefly sum up, at the core of Ross’ analysis, Julie was Rachel, but better. The reason Ross pursues Rachel is due to nostalgia, entitlement, and the fact that Rachel was the foundation for which he measured all women. For Rachel it’s similar, albeit converse: Joshua is Ross, but better.
It’s fair to say Rachel Green is the favorite friend of Friends. During the show’s ten-year run, she had the most screen time (by a percentage), was generally considered the most beautiful (though Courteney Cox might be winning that war), and has the best character arc among the cast – one of the best on TV in my opinion. I mean, over ten years, she gradually changes from a spoiled princess to a self-made, career-driven, single mom.
I mention in my Character Equilibrium analysis that Rachel starts as the fish-out-of-water character to help us (the audience) learn facts about the friends that they (as characters) already know about each other. From that “fish-out-of-water” though, she grows legs and evolves into the protagonist.
Rachel Karen Green is the middle child of Sandra (Marlo Thomas) and Dr. Leonard Green (Ron Leibman). Fittingly, her parents act as markers for Rachel’s personality as she swings to the left (her mother) during the first 3 seasons and then through the middle and to the right (her father) in seasons 4-9. But then, when Rachel becomes a mother, she swings back to her own mother for Season 10 and it’s why she doesn’t get on the plane.
In the first three seasons, Rachel is materialistic, is coming into the group having never worked a day in her life, and is blessed with good looks. Her mother openly draws these parallels in The One with the Lesbian Wedding, noting the one dissimilarity in, “You didn’t marry your Barry, but I married mine.”
Meanwhile, several seasons later in The One with Phoebe’s Cookies, Rachel reevaluates herself on the boat with Joey, “I’ve become my father. I’ve been trying so hard not to become my mother, I didn’t see this coming.”
Although this may have been intended as a joke, it’s true. Rachel is conscientious about money, focuses on her career, and wants to do things on her own. A perfect example of this is how she rejects Ross when he finds out Rachel’s pregnant. Ross says that they should get married, but Rachel refuses. She chooses — moreover WANTS — to handle it on her own.
When we look at the roster of men Rachel dates, we can see how her maternal side faired against her paternal side.
2. Rachel Green’s Type
When dividing the men Rachel dates, there’s only one distinction that matters — and it mirrors her character arc.
The Pursuers and the Pursued
When we assess Rachel’s list, we can see two types:
- Chip Matthews (Pursuer)
- Barry Finkle/Farber (Pursuer)
- Paolo (Pursuer)
- Ross Geller (Pursuer/Pursued)
- Joshua Burgin (Pursued)
- Danny (Pursued)
- Paul Stevens (Pursued)
- Tag Jones (Pursued)
- Gavin (Pursuer)
- Joey Tribbiani (Pursuer/Pursued)
Look at the first four men on her list. They all pursue Rachel. And how do they all end? With cheating/affairs.
This is because Rachel is still in her mother-phase. She has never had to work for what she wants. Things come to her. And that introduces another interesting parallel because Jack hints that Sandra (Rachel’s mother) was also cheated on,
“I can’t say any of us were surprised. Your parents have been unhappy since we’ve known them, especially after that incident in Hawaii.”
-The One with the Prom Video
Meanwhile, the latter men are mostly relationships that Rachel pursues and end when Rachel calls it — except Joshua and Gavin. To briefly demonstrate this:
- Rachel dates Mark out of spite and sends him packing before emotions are involved.
- Rachel pursues Danny (the Yeti) and dumps him when he gets weird with his sister.
- Rachel chooses Paul, but dumps him when he becomes a crybaby.
- Rachel pursues Tag and ends things when she doesn’t see a future.
- Rachel dates Joey, but only after she becomes attracted to Dr. Drake Ramoray (more on that later).
Joshua is the only guy that dumps Rachel and that blow to her psyche is partly why she goes back to Ross.
The first guy Rachel pursues is Ross, but she’s cheating a little because she knew he’d accept her. The first guy Rachel ever actively pursues, with no knowledge of how it will turn out, is Joshua (the converse of Ross). Fittingly, the Joshua arc happens once Rachel has become a self-made woman with a career she earned.
In short, when Rachel acts like her mother, she is pursued, but when she transitions to her father, she pursues them.
This is why Gavin is a bit of an outlier as well, but noticeably, he pursues Rachel once she has become a mother and it makes her act like her mother.
To quote Rachel from the pilot,
“[A]ll of my life, everyone has always told me, ‘You’re a shoe! You’re a shoe, you’re a shoe, you’re a shoe!’ And today I just stopped and I said, ‘What if I don’t wanna be a shoe? What if I wanna be a- a purse, y’know? Or a- or a hat!”
This is why Rachel is consistently screwed over by her pursuers. These guys are developing an “image” for what Rachel should be in their heads, but the actual Rachel is not the “Rachel” they imagined. They make her out to be a shoe, but she’s more than that. She ends up being cheated on because the idea is better than the reality .
Now initially, that may make Gavin appear to be the exception, but notice that Gavin does Rachel’s job… but better. If she chose a life with Gavin then she’d be falling back into the trap her mother was in. Gavin would do Rachel’s job, leaving Rachel to be a stay-at-home mom, and Rachel is stronger than that.
The problem with Gavin — as with most of Rachel’s men — is timing. He meets her when she’s a new mother and we see how torn she is between being a businesswoman and a mother. She cuts her maternity leave short so she’s not undercut from her job. Rachel may have become a mother but she doesn’t want to be her mother again — as that has never worked out in her past.
This is why Rachel is so likable and why we gravitate to her despite being a spoiled princess (initially). She was blessed with everything and yet constantly falls prey to misfortune and heartache.
Ross as the Pursuer
For Rachel, Ross seemed like a safe bet.
If you look at Chip, Barry, and Paolo, all of them had confidence because they all had something going for them: attitude, money, or a body. Ross, the nerd, doesn’t have that self-assurance. He doesn’t have the confidence and therefore comes across as a safe bet.
So when Ross makes a list of reasons not to be with Rachel in The One with the List. Before they even start dating, Rachel can see their future; what will become of their relationship. Ross is another guy who recognizes that Rachel is not “Rachel” (the imaginary one).
For Rachel, it’s more than a list of degrading reasons not to be with somebody, it’s the last archetype; it’s the final guy to undervalue her. When she gives up on Ross, it’s tragic because she’s giving up on love.
Of course eventually, they do get together… but it’s on Rachel’s terms; she pursues Ross. In The One with the Prom Video, Rachel goes to Ross – not vice versa. Rachel takes the initiative; Rachel works for what she wants. That’s a distinction that carries her through the rest of the series.
Noticeably, once Rachel becomes the pursuer of Ross, she goes off and finds a career she can be proud of. She’s no longer handfed a future, she paves the way for one.
Ross and Rachel On a “Break” Up
Let’s be clear: Ross did NOT cheat on Rachel, but he LIED about being with someone else.
That’s Ross’ problem, he focused on “Break/Not-on-a-Break,” but that doesn’t matter. The problem is that he took Rachel back without telling her he slept with someone else… that and earlier in the season he mentally cheated on her when the guys mention the girl from the Xerox place – so it was always an idea for Ross.
From the Ross/Rachel breakup onwards (and minus Gavin), every guy Rachel dates is someone she pursues: Mark, Joshua, Tag Jones, Bruce Willis, Joey, etc.
Interestingly enough however, Rachel has segued into her father at this point, which means she treats the men she dates like Trophy Wives. All of the other guys have a very shallow relationship with Rachel, i.e. it’s physical. Tag Jones is the most obvious of these, being a model and a simpleton. Mr. Stephens is the most telling, since she dates him, but then realizes they don’t talk, and when he finally does, it all falls to pieces.
Joey as the Pursued
Rachel lusts after Joey, she’s not in love with him… she just wants to sleep with him. And it’s evidenced in dream sequences, when Rachel visits Joey on set, and even in the “What if…” episode. She’s in love with Dr. Drake Ramoray, the fame, the stardom… not Joey.
It’s a fitting arc for Rachel since she creates an imaginary “Joey” instead of seeing who he really is – in the same way that men made a “Rachel” of Rachel.
Of course, Joey is in love with Rachel – the real Rachel – and she doesn’t want to be that girl; the one that takes advantage of someone’s feelings. She’s been where he is and it didn’t feel good. So even if it’s showed as a mutual breakup, all the subtext implies that that’s why their relationship fails.
By the time Mark and Rachel date, Rachel is remaking herself, so anyone from her past is automatically blacklisted. She doesn’t want people to see her as she was (her mother), but as she is now (her father).
And Mark suffers the same problem as Gavin: timing.
Both keep a safe distance until Rachel lets them in, but both can do Rachel’s job better. And, as I’ve already explained why Gavin and Rachel didn’t work out, the same can be said for Mark. Which brings us to…
3. Rachel Green’s Soulmate is Joshua Burgin
And largely because Joshua is Ross but without all the history.
He’s nerdy, been through a divorce, doesn’t know how to flirt, has money and is successful. She pursues Joshua without knowing if he’ll take her. This relationship builds the fundamentals of Rachel. Rachel, as the pursuer. She is discovering what she’s capable of; building her confidence; finding inner strength by working for what she wants.
Her job at the time isn’t great, but it’ s the first one she got on her own (no Mark). And, because Joshua is the first guy she’s really fighting for after Ross, we see that she’s giving love a second chance.
Of course, timing is a factor. The Ross/Emily romance interferes with their relationship and it causes Rachel to act a little crazy and lose Joshua.
Yet, it’s another reason Joshua is so vital to Rachel. The first guy she pursues is also the first guy to dump Rachel. You would think that would break a person, but not Rachel Green.
Joshua represents what we all love about Rachel: the perseverance to not give up. That’s not a bad thing. She’s willing to work for what she wants and this is the first time she finds that inner strength and realizes she can make things happen for herself.
And she does.
Also, Joshua is not the first time Rachel has reached out to a Ross surrogate when Ross turned out to be inadequate. Remember when Ross first screwed over Rachel? She dated Russ.
But there is no man featured on Friends who Rachel works harder for than Joshua Burgin (Tate Donovan).
So why do they fail?
For starters, Rachel is in her development stage. She’s remaking herself and doesn’t know how to pursue. When her pursuit works and she gets Joshua, she makes the mistake of thinking it’s because she turned him into a pursuer.
Rachel wears a cheer uniform to try and get Joshua to like her, but what she’s really trying to do is turn Josh into the pursuer.
Meanwhile, as she’s navigating her feelings for Joshua, she doesn’t realize that he’s a Ross surrogate; just like she didn’t realize Russ was a Ross surrogate. And… unfortunately, Rachel has a history of taking back her exes. She relapses into Chip after he dumps her for (“that slut”) Nancy Branson; Barry, when he’s engaged to Mindy; and relapses into Paolo when Ross is with Julie.
Joshua and Rachel breakup because:
A) She’s developing herself and doesn’t realize she’s the pursuer.
B) She doesn’t recognize her feelings are for Joshua and not Ross.
C) She has a history of relapses.
Conclusion and How Ross and Rachel Work
It’d be bold to call Ross and Rachel’s relationship the heart of the show in a series that succeeds in an ensemble, but it’s definitely the aorta.
By the end of the series, Rachel opts out of a career to be with Ross, seemingly backtracking all that progress. And yet even I was for Ross and Rachel in the series finale. But why? It didn’t feel manipulative, it felt earned.
Before Emily, Ross is selfish and you can see this constantly as characters offer him an inch and he takes the mile, what’s worse is it’s often after some faux humility.
Ross: When do you think you’re going to get off tonight?
Rachel: Oh I don’t know honey. It’s gonna be really late.
Ross: Oh come on, not again.
Rachel: I know. I’m sorry. Look, I’ll make a deal with you all right? …
For every night that you’re asleep …
I will wake you up in a way that’s proved very popular in the past.
Ross: Now, if you need to stay late, I want to be supportive of that.
(The One Where Monica and Richard and Just Friends)
Ross: I won’t play anymore.
Phoebe: Oh no. No-no-no, don’t do that! How could I live with myself if I knew I was depriving the world of your music.
Ross: Yeah, okay.
(The One Where Chandler Crosses the Line)
Monica: We can watch your dinosaur show if you really want to.
Ross: Aww, okay.
(The One Where Eddie Moves In)
But with (and after) Emily, Ross is a changed man. He becomes self-sacrificing. He’s willing to give up everything for Emily, not just Rachel, but his friends (moving away).
It carries over into his other relationships and specifically with Rachel in The One with the Cooking Class, when Ross promises Rachel that he won’t date, and Rachel admits, “Really? But I’m being so irrational.”
By the end of the series, we know with 100% certainty that Ross and Rachel work in the end.
When Charlie Wheeler (a Ross parallel) screws over Ross, he has finally come full circle and feels the blow he’s been dealing to women — since a lack of trust is the breaking point of each relationship. But after Charlie, it’s humbling.
Rachel just finished dating Joey, which was a representation of her past self when she was treated as a “Rachel.”
So now, Rachel and Ross have literally been in each other’s shoes, it should work.
When Ross and Rachel break up in Season 3, the reason is because Ross wants to spend more time with Rachel and with that comes the jealousy. The fact that she spends more time with her work (and subsequently Mark) means she’d rather spend her time with others.
However, Rachel sees opportunity as she’s tired of being dependent on a man. When she sees that she could get what she wants when she works for it, the world becomes her oyster.
By the end of the series, we see this breakup play out once more. Rachel is choosing her career that Mark picked for her and Ross doesn’t want her to go… But what’s different?
For starters, Ross wants Rachel to have a career and he demonstrates this by being more self-sacrificing than he’s ever been. He goes to Rachel’s old boss (Zellner) and bribes him with dinosaur artifacts (easily Ross’ most prized possessions) to get Rachel her job back. What’s more? He does it under an alias; he doesn’t even take credit for it.
Rachel returns because A) She can continue a career while being with Ross (as opposed to Gavin or Mark) and B) Ross is a better man now.
The writers initially had a few episodes penned out where Ross and Rachel go to Paris to rekindle their love, but they never had a shortage of embers. Instead they wrap up their storyline by presenting their initial dilemma and conquering it (organically at that).
None of that would’ve happened without Joshua (the better Ross)… and since Ross is a better Ross by the end of the series, that kind of makes him a Joshua too.