FRIENDS Analysis: Phoebe Buffay’s Soulmate is David (the Scientist Guy)

phoebes-soulmate-is-david

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!”

The One where Phoebe Runs

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).

Homeless Woman and Phoebe
“Thanks, Weird Girl.”

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 Buffay

phoebe-buffay

1. Background

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.

phoebe-buffay-calm-down-woman

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.

phoebe-cool-person

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.

vince-jason-phoebe

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)

 

phoebe-and-duncan

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)

 

phoebe-and-gary

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.

 

phoebe-and-triplets

And if you’re familiar with psychology (or do a basic Google search) that’s 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?
Phoebe: Yeah.

-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

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.

 

brand-new-information-gif
Shock.

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

 

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
Same positioning each time.

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.

phoebe-ross-bike

 

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.

 

david-the-scientist-guy

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, ladies, 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.”

-Fin.

More to come… For more reviews and detailed Friends’ analysis, visit Doz’s Reviews

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32 Comments on FRIENDS Analysis: Phoebe Buffay’s Soulmate is David (the Scientist Guy)

    • Undoubtedly, especially since he doesn’t get a happy ending at all. I thought, at the very least, have David find Ursula the way Julie found Russ, but nope, just an awful outcome. 🙁

  1. I completely agree. I can’t stand how boring Mike is and even more so I can’t stand them making Phoebe “normal”. She feels it’s her time to have something normal? (when telling Mike why she wants marriage) That’s a terrible argument. They should have made her say that she wants that kind of commitment or closeness, or that she wants a real family. Wanting something just because it’s normal is completely out of her character. Her reasoning had always been based in her beliefs and principles until the last two seasons started.Then suddenly she starts wanting “normal” and giving up on her beliefs left and right (ditching her friends in her dinner, working in the corporate spa, not donating the wedding money)… ugh… She’s my favorite character if I don’t count those last two seasons.
    She should have married David in a small ceremony with a simple yet beautifully decorated dinner somewhere outside that her street friends could attend. Then he’d find some more realistic research job and they’d be all cute and weird together happily ever after. 🙂

    • Yeah! Great points!
      Those last two seasons were so weird.

      Another thing my wife pointed out was she used to be the character who accidentally told the truth or blurted something out she wasn’t supposed to (ex. Where is my Ross skywalker to come rescue me… There he is).

      But in those last two seasons she starts blurting out the truth just to be mean about it. Super strange.

      • Yeah, with those last two seasons it’s like the writers suddenly realized the show is entering the end game and they need to do something about Phoebe. And that something was giving her some “normal” guy and changing a large part of her personality… Like you said, they didn’t really get her.

        Btw the wedding in the snow was pretty great, it just should have been with David.

        • Absolutely agree!

          Also, you mentioning Phoebe’s birthday dinner reminded me of why the last 2 seasons don’t sit right. The episodes seem to disassociate the friends more and more and that episode is a perfect example of it. Another I think is the One with Emma’s First Birthday since it’s the inverse of the One where No One is Ready.

          In the one where no one is ready, they’re all in Monica’s apartment and don’t want to leave… but at Emma’s first birthday, they’re in Joey’s apartment and no one wants to stay. I think that represents the shift really well.

  2. Oh my God, what a great analysis for such a simple sitcom like Friends. The last few comments just blow me away.
    Have you ever considered writing analysis of How i met your mother’s caracters?

  3. I felt like Phoebe by the end of Season 9. Like her, I had moved beyond David and had no problems that she ended up with Mike. She could have settled for either guy. And as Monica had once pointed out, there is no such thing as a soulmate. To me, it’s nothing more than an illusion.

  4. I totally agree. I loved Phoebe’s weirdness and quirkiness and David’s weirdness and dorkiness and wanted them to live happily ever after in both their weird quirky dorkiness. Mike was just boring and made Phoebe too dull for me.

  5. It’s kind of late to reply, but I just thought I should point out that Pheobe lived *in* a Gremlin (a type of car) with a guy named Cindy who talked to his hand. Love all of your theories though!

  6. Finally someone who speak sense. Mike is useless, with no personality; David is the perfect match for Phoebe.
    The problem is not that Phoebe wants a “normal” relationship\man, because that’s a very believable wish for a person that her whole life had such a strongly different view of life compared to the people around her. The problem is how it’s portrayed: as usually happened with the last seasons of FRIENDS, the writing is sloppy,random, and lazy, with no weight or sense of reality. Phoebe wanting “normality” in her life is a great aspect to analyze: being different from the masses makes you special but it takes you away from other people too; and sometimes you feel you maybe never enjoy that simple “normal” life the people around you always have.
    But the writers didn’t care: they gave Phoebe the most boringly normal man ever, showing they don’t know their character at all. Phoebe wants a normal relationship, not a banal one. David would have been perfect instead: he really loves Phoebe uniqueness; he’s awkward and clumsy enough to have fun with Phoebe(Mike can’t, he’s got no personality), but he’s smart, sweet, and understanding too, making him an attentive and careful boyfriend, in a balanced but not bland relationship. Perfect.

    • Absolutely! Plus, they even showed Phoebe pursuing higher education throughout her adult life, David would’ve contributed to that.

      Great points, by the way.

  7. Honestly speaking, neither Mike nor David seemed like a perfect match for Phoebe. While David was brought back very few times (with the result that it affected a genuine connection with the audience and couldn’t really make a successful on-off relationship or an enduring monica-richard type connection), Mike was kind of dry. Still between the two, I would pick mike, not bcos he was the ‘normal’ one, but rather bcos he seemed to be one of those few who valued her and fought to have her (against his own demons regarding marriage, and even his parents, and perhaps in the future, against his snobbish high class fellow men too who would have no doubt looked down on phoebe). In the end he prioritised her. David, though I like him, unfortunately came back to Phoebe as per convenience and when his research failed, pretty much like so many others. Also, it was kinda nice to see Phoebe- the girl from the streets, have a fairytale ending with a Prince Charming, right in the streets where she had lived her life- that he comes down THERE for her, to get married. My problem is with the way they built it up hurriedly. You didn’t really get the feeling that yes, he is the special guy for Phoebe, different from all others she met in the past. I read somewhere that the 9th season was supposed to be the last one initially which is why they probably quickly decided in one line what sort of ending they wanted phoebe to have – ‘a fairytale ending, cos she deserves it’- and then quickly penned down a plot and a few ideas around it. Then later when the 10th season was also planned, they just extended the whole story a little more by making them break up first, unite at season 9 finale and eventually marry in season 10.

    • Thanks — and that makes sense about why Mike/Phoebe felt rushed (read: forced).

      And while you make a totally valid point about David leaving for research as opposed to staying for Phoebe, my counterargument to that would be that David is far less sure of himself. What I mean by that is, David very clearly wants to stay, but because Phoebe doubts whether or not their relationship will last (i.e. she doesn’t know where they’ll be in 6 mos or a year), he goes.

      David is a sensitive and insecure guy who never feels like he’s deserving of Phoebe. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that he leaves because he wants to prove his worth/value so that he is deserving of Phoebe.

      • Idk, from what I remember, phoebe told him to stay. He was very obviously unhappy with that decision, so she told him to go.

  8. I’ve read all of your soulmate posts, and everything I’ve known about friends has been questioned. After I read each one though, I fall a bit more in love with the characters. After I read Joey’s I was touched, and now in my heart I like to believe that one day they’ll meet each other again. And even if it doesn’t end up in a romantic relationship, maybe Joey and Lydia will have some kind of happily ever after.
    But I wonder, what were your second choices for everyone’s soulmate?

    • Thanks for reading!

      I’m glad the Joey one touched you, he really got the short end of the stick. I’ve always been tempted to watch Joey (the series) because of that, but never did.

      Second choices…
      For Chandler, Janice — I actually started writing his with that as my thesis but Kathy flipped it all around.
      For Joey, Kate was my original thesis because he reaches out to all his one night stands and apologizes.
      Phoebe — Gary (I thought they complemented each other well especially with their pasts).
      For Rachel, Tag — she truly became her father’s daughter.
      For Monica… Richard (no runner-up!)
      For Ross, Mona.

      Haha

      • Very good choices. I’m especially interested in Chandler-Janice, cause before she was cheapened for laughs sake, Janice of the firsts seasons was a really nice character, even with all her flaws; you know, she was real. I could clearly see why Chandler liked her(I’m like him), she was so caring, and always showed her feelings; maybe too much, yes, but that’s a thing that Chandler always found difficult to do; that’s why they worked to me.

        • Yeah, ultimately the later seasons were the reason I dropped the argument for her. She seemed less caring and more… wicked. Like, Janice’s sendoff in Season 3 was pretty solid, so to bring her back once per season was unnecessary — except her cameo when she recorded the mixtape — I thought that was a nice touch.

          But yeah, those early episodes seemed perfect since Chandler’s always complaining about how he’s shallow, and yet returns time and again to Janice. That said, I have always appreciated (even in later seasons) how vocal Janice is. She doesn’t get offended by insults and doesn’t try to disguise her past. And I’ve always liked how vocal she is about the elephants in the room.

          Like when Chandler goes to deposit his specimen in a cup and Janice offers to give him a hand. Which, albeit crude, acknowledges that they have a sexual history so it’s not something they can pretend didn’t happen. Meanwhile, almost all other characters kind of “dance” around speaking explicitly about sex, still operating in codenames like “bonus night” or “flower” and whatnot.

  9. Thanks! It is the only thing I do not like about Friends, that they ruined it for David!
    Mike was boring and kind of a vague character. Also he didn’t like any of Phoebes best friends (the one episode where he and Ross hang out and find each other boring or when he doesn’t know who Monica is when she calls him from Barbados.
    For David we do not know so much if he likes Phoebes friends. But we know that he turns to Chandler for advice and that he will get along with Ross since they share their passion for science.
    Furthermore when she starts seeing Mike, David already wins back her heart for just being in town once. And just one episode before she leaves David for Mike she is so excited about seeing David again and getting to know that he’ll stay in NY permanently this time, that she without a second thought, cancels the party where Mike would show up.
    So I really cannot understand why it was Mike they choose and not David, it just doesn’t make any sense.

    That David left for Minsk made him a real and likeable character. Because he went to a rough place he didnt wanted to be at all and left behind the woman he loved for the only thing that was more precious to him than her: His passion for science and research. In my opinion Phoebe told him to go because she realized this. Now it might sound romantic at first when a person puts another person above anything else, but really it is not. It’s unattractive and not the sign of true love but of obsession. Phoebe stands out for having her principles and beliefs above anything else (She leaves Garry for being unempathic and cruel to animals).
    So does David. Even though much less confident and always a little bit clumsy. He first needed to follow his path, because if he would have sacrificed that for Phoebe it would have spoilt their relation.

    • Completely agree! There’s an article out there that states hank azaria (David) was really disappointed with how things ended for David and the writers told him they wanted Phoebe to end up with him in the end…

      But Paul Rudd became available and is very handsome. That’s the behind-the-scenes reason I read.

      Thanks for reading!

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