If the fact that Rachel did get off the plane still brings a tear to your eye during TBS’ myriad Friends reruns, it’s not because you believe that your lobster is out there, waiting to walk through the tank claw-in-claw with you. In fact, the more invested you are in Ross and Rachel, Sam and Diane, or Zack and Kelly, the less likely you are to buy into the myth that your other half is out there, ready to love you and banter with you in equal measure.
As New York Magazine‘s Science of Us blog reported, according to an upcoming study in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, new research suggests that while participants who watched more romantic comedy films and marriage-focused reality shows (such as The Bachelor) tend to strongly believe in romantic idealism, participants who watched more sitcoms that had romantic subplots, over rom-coms and reality shows, were actually less likely to believe in romance than their rom-com/reality counterparts.
Participants were all asked how regularly they watch sitcoms, rom-coms and romantic reality shows, and then asked how strongly they identified with statements about love, such as “My ‘true love’ will be nearly perfect,” or “When you meet the right person, you know it almost immediately.” While the Katherine Heigl and Chris Harrison fans tended to strongly endorse those vomit-inducing statements, sitcom fans were far less likely to believe in soul mates and true love. The University of Michigan researchers insist that the findings aren’t purely anecdotal, given that the shows being watched still have romantic subplots. Instead, they insist that “even if we aren’t aware of it…we internalize the messages we hear on TV or in films.” So when you watch Ross and Rachel go from on-again to off-again to on-again to off-again to finally on-again, your subconcious takeaway is a lot less “10 years and great writing can bring the unlikeliest pair together,” and a lot more “Love is near impossible, even for fake, beautiful scripted people.” And that’s only multiplied by the sheer magnitude of romantic entanglements that play out over the course of a sitcom’s lifespan.
Despite the research, it’s important to remember that correlation does not imply causation: that is, it’s still seemingly hard to prove that rom-coms are what make your dippy coworker believe that a Patrick Dempsey lookalike is going to deliver her true love’s kiss, so much as the fact that her love of love is what has her picking Hudson over Hoffman at the box office 10 times out of 10. But if you ever find yourself wondering why you have so much time to watch all those Friends reruns on TBS at night — well, you may have just found your answer.