In Praise Of Janice

The other night, I had Friends on in the background when I was cooking; more specifically, the one where Ross sleeps with Janice when he’s going through a particularly low ebb. It’s a really funny episode, but all I could think, as I chopped tomatoes and drizzled olive oil over slices of aubergine, was how unbelievably horrible all the ‘friends’ are to Janice. And not just in this one episode; the more I thought about it, the more I thought how they’re just horrible to her constantly.

Chandler is obviously the main culprit; he can’t seem to decide, throughout Season One and Two, whether he wants to be with her or not (he breaks up with her on New Year’s Eve, at a party he invited her to last minute out of desperation, because she’s annoying him. I mean…). Then he opts to tell her he’s moving to Yemen rather than – I don’t know, acting like an adult and just telling her he doesn’t want to be with her. But it’s not just Chandler. They all make fun of her, both to her face and behind her back, whenever she pops up in their lives. Joey points out that he finds her so annoying he wants to “rip his own arm off and throw it at her”.

And you know what? Janice is great. Obviously, she’s supposed to be irritating (that laugh and the iconic “Oh. My. God.” speak for themselves) but she’s a warm, caring, kind person who is full of generosity and love. She makes a huge effort to ingratiate herself with Chandler’s friends; when she hears what Joey said about her, she isn’t annoyed or upset. Instead, she maturely comes up with a solution for how the two of them can get along – out of love and respect for Chandler. Much later, when Monica and Chandler are engaged, Monica lies to Janice by saying she can’t come to the wedding because Chandler still has feelings for her. Janice kindly and considerately leaves the apartment straight away and – surprise surprise – doesn’t come to the wedding, even though she thinks of the bride and groom “as family”. Because she’s nice like that. She’s always overjoyed to see any of the ‘friends’, and she always has a smile on her face. Compare that with the eye-rolling side glances and looks of despair that they, in turn, come out with when they see her…who comes out the other side the better person?

I’m aware this is starting to sound like I genuinely believe Janice is a real person. In case anyone’s concerned, I’d like to point out here that I am fully aware that she – and the other ‘friends’ – are fictional. But I’ve been thinking a lot recently about people who are deemed “annoying” – it’s something that’s really starting to bother me.

Sure, the world is full of Janices. I know I can be (and definitely have been) a strong source of annoyance myself. But what I’m starting to realise for myself is that when someone’s annoying me, that often says more about me than it does about them. It’s annoying when someone’s too loud; when they don’t stop talking even when it’s clear you’re trying to concentrate; when someone talks incessantly about themselves; the list goes on. But what I’m trying to work out, personally, is: why is any of that stuff annoying to me at any given time? If a friend’s annoying me by being (e.g.) too loud, chances are I’m just generally feeling low in myself. And I’m really trying now to see [what I may view as] an overly loud person as a source of much-needed energy and joie-de-vivre, rather than as a source of annoyance.

Another one: if someone cannot resist talking about themselves and spinning everything I say back to their own experiences, then there must be a reason for that. And as their friend, it’s up to me to work out why that is, rather than sitting there chewing my tongue and thinking a.) how annoying it is that I haven’t been able to get a word in, and b.) how annoying they are for not showing any interest in me and my life. Because if I handle it like that, then aren’t I basically guilty of the same thing?

Obviously, sometimes people are just annoying. It happens to us all. Janice is Exhibit A: for all her good qualities, she’s still noticeably irritating. But what I’m starting to gradually notice is that people I can find “annoying” often embody most of Janice’s strong points. They tend to be warm, kind, happy people. Yes, maybe a particular person is talking too much (as far as I happen to be concerned) on a particular occasion when I’ve got other stuff going on. But at least they’re enthusiastic, with a zest for life and something to say. I’d rather that, by far, than someone who doesn’t show much interest in the world around them. And Nick Carraway’s father said it right, in The Great Gatsby: “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had”.

So while I was feeling indignant on behalf of Janice the other night, I vowed to try harder, next time someone’s annoying me, to see their good traits; to see the ways in which they enrich my life, rather than the ways they impede on it. Because the Janices of this world are a million miles better than the Janines of this world (if you’re a true Friends fan, you’ll know exactly what I mean by that). And the Janices are pretty amazing humans in their own right.

And if that doesn’t work and someone’s really just pissing me off: at least I can say with certainty that I’ll never lie about moving to Yemen.