What Phoebe Buffay Taught Me During COVID-19
I wrote this post about a year ago with the intention to share it. I was dead set on sharing it immediately! I started using it as a communication tool to let people in on what happened - I didn't have the words when it came to intimate conversations, so I shared this piece of writing instead. And now I share it now as a way to begin the conversation with others who have experienced something similar and can't find the words to talk about it or to continue conversations around stigma and shame.
May 26, 2020
I’m staring at my computer, trying to work and Friends is on in the background. It’s the middle of quarantine and I’ve been working from home for weeks. I like something on in the background, a noise, something I don't have to think about - for me that’s Friends. It’s on again for the millionth time. I know exactly when I’ll laugh or have my heart strings tugged on. I want to be Rachel but admit that I’m Chandler - no one laughs at my jokes but me (could I BE anymore funny). I find Ross annoying and Joey kills me.
On this particular day, the episode when Mike moves in with Phoebe was on. Monica mentioned the word “groomie” and it sends Phoebe and Mike’s relationship into a spiral - she wants to get married and he never wants to get married again. In the middle of moving Mike’s stuff in, they break up! Phoebe stands firm in her belief system, “I think I need to be with someone who wants what I want”. *Cue the water works.*
Phoebe is written as a comedic relief character. She is a whacky, outrageous and quirky woman but ends up being the strongest character in the show. She stands for what she believes in, accepts people for who they are and holds space for loving everyone (including herself) unconditionally. In that moment, when she chooses her needs and wants over someone else it really hit me close to home. We are constantly faced with the choice to choose someone else’s comfort over our own.
I started to recount all the times I had done this. In high school, going with the crowd even though I knew I would be mocked or teased for the sake of trying to be “popular” (which never happened). I wanted to wait to have sex with someone I loved but didn’t; I was afraid my new boyfriend would dump me because my first boyfriend did because I wouldn’t sleep with him. His break-up phrase will always stick with me, "I can see myself marrying you, but you don't want to sleep with me so it's over." *Cue eye roll now*. Never going after a promotion because someone once told me, “you’re not ready to be a manager”. Several boys letting me know that they are choosing not to be with me because of how I look and hating my body for too many years. Hiding that I was sexually assaulted because of the shame and fear that no one would believe me. Getting the abortion because he didn’t want the baby and loosing myself because I gave too much of my personal value on that relationship. A pattern decades in the making, choosing someone else’s comfort staring me in the face as Mike leaves Phoebe’s apartment.
By this time my eyes were stinging from the mascara running down my face. The sum of life choices now laid out on the table for me to face. My throat beginning to burn - reminding me that I have a voice. After wiping tears from my eyes I decided that I was going to be more like Phoebe.
I am going to use my “new” voice to express myself, lead the charge of what I want and join the ranks of humanism. A chance to embody choosing what’s right over what is comfortable. While I can’t go back and change the past, I can change the future with the choices I make now. There’s this idea still out there that we must sit, be pretty, don’t talk and do what is dictated to us as women. While this thought isn't spoken very often, it’s trained and engrained in our culture.
It was nine years after the first time I was sexually assaulted and two years after the therapy session where I accepted this happened. I was at a party and the celebration was wrapping up. A couple, husband and wife, show up last minute, I never catalogued their names because I have only met them handful of times over the years. They walk up to me and to say hello, the husband reaches out and gives me a sideways hug. I recoil. This man has always given me major creeper vibes but “it’s the polite thing to do”. They walk away, I shiver and continue to clean. They stick around for maybe another twenty minutes and come back to say goodbye. The man, this time, goes in for a full hug and as we separate he kisses my cheek. His wife laughs.
I did not ask for this, I did not welcome him with open arms for a hug and most certainly did not welcome a kiss. My throat clams up. My immediate thought was, “don’t say anything Sasha, you’ll ruin the memories of the party”. I pull down a few more pictures, my eyes begin tear. Feeling shame from the unwanted attention from this man and the fact I knew better and should have said something brought me back into the space of the morning after my sexual assault - it struck me deeper than a regular cat call in a bar or the street because my assaulter was someone I knew, just like this man. I quickly excused myself to the washroom and scrubbed my face raw to get rid of the feeling that lingered from his lips connecting to my cheek. I still feel some anger linger to this day from that moment - knowing I should have said something but didn't.
When we disrupt or compromise our own boundaries to comfort someone else, we give in to the feelings of shame, pain and neglect. I had chosen this man, who invaded my personal boundaries, over myself and over my comfort. I chose the comfort of everyone’s memories of that party over my own safety. Phoebe set a boundary with Mike that day. She chose self love, she used her voice to make it known what she wanted. He wasn’t willing to bend on what he wanted, so why should she have to?
I realized a few things that day, watching that episode of Friends: 1) I will never put myself in that space again, letting a stranger or someone I know compromise my personal safety. 2) I’ll always still be Chandler but I am now going to strive to be more like Phoebe.
I choose my boundaries, I choose my comfort, my self-worth.
And just like Phoebe, I choose me.