Friends: Did Ross Actually Cheat On Rachel? Let's Settle The Debate

ross and rachel hugging in hallway friends

ross rachel looking at ultrasound

Tons of hilarious moments went down on Friends in its ten seasons at NBC, but part of the sitcom's lasting success lies in a series of never-ending debates about Ross and Rachel: did he cheat on her? Are they meant to be together forever? Is Ross a better choice for Rachel than Joey? And so on. But the biggest source of Friends-related arguments came all the way back in Season 3, and it all boils down to whether or not Ross and Rachel were "on a break."

Fans around the world no doubt have instinctively confident answers when that question comes up, whether they're calling out David Schwimmer's Ross for being a philandering dork, or if they're calling out Jennifer Aniston's Rachel for not being literal enough. But what are the arguments being put forth here on both sides of the aisle? Let's dive in.

What Happened While Ross And Rachel Were On A Break?

Leading up to the Season 3 episode "The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break," Rachel's new job at Bloomingdales sparked some jealousy with Ross due to her hunky boss Mark (Steven Eckholdt). In response to Rachel's workday cutting into their one-year anniversary celebrating, Ross moronically showed up at her office unwelcomed, and then got extremely upset when Rachel was too busy to enjoy herself.

This ordeal led to a vocal argument, which ended when Rachel declared they needed to take a break. Ross, perhaps foreseeing the complicated future they'd have together, requires the clarification that Rachel wants their relationship put on hold for the time being. And so, because Ross wasn't the one whose job was keeping him busy, he was able to go out and get hammered with Joey and Chandler. Unfortunately, that semi-bender also involved Chloe, the "girl from the coffee shop" that Joey and Chandler were infatuated with.

Had Ross kept his clothes on during his time with Chloe, we might not even e having this conversation. However, he was clearly looking for rebound sex, even if he wasn't quite aware at the time that he wasn't actually on the rebound. Ross finally came to the full realization of his potential wrong-doing whenever Rachel showed up at his apartment the next day to talk about sweeping that "on a break" business under the rug.

Ross was oh so happy to agree to that update, despite the fact that Chloe was standing a foot away behind Ross' apartment door. Ross might have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for Chloe's meddling friends, who spread the word down the grapevine, where it reached Phoebe's ears. Soon after, Ross and Rachel spent a long time sorting out their split, with Ross defending himself with the "we were on a break" argument, while Rachel held fast to her belief that their break was not a stand-in for being single.

Friends' first core romance sparked up again in the beach house for the Season 3 finale and Season 4 premiere, in which Ross was dating Christine Taylor's sometimes-bald Bonnie. Rachel attempted to smooth things over with Ross via a long and emotional handwritten letter that which, for all the good it might have done, still held Ross up for blame. After initially agreeing to accept the letter's claims – which he did only because he fell asleep before reading it all – Ross later realized his error and got quite loud about re-defending his stance that they were on a break.

Other than their Emma-conceiving hook-up and a couple of other flirty moments in later years, Ross and Rachel largely remained split up throughout the rest of Friends' run, though they did eventually get together in the end. But fans aren't naive, and we all know that Ross and Rachel are still having their "on a break" arguments wherever they are these days. So let's talk about which one of them is correct here.

ross and rachel hugging in hallway friends

The Argument That Ross Did Cheat On Rachel

From Rachel's perspective, Ross is completely in the wrong here. He's the one that incessantly tried to interrupt her workday(s), and his actions were partially motivated by arguably misplaced jealousy. (Sure, Rachel thought Mark was easy on the eye at that point, but she likely never would have crossed the line with Ross in the picture.) And when Rachel made it clear she wanted to take a break, Ross is the one that got huffy and left without clarifying what "a break from us" actually meant in that situation.

Rachel didn't say she wanted to "break up," which would have allowed Ross the opportunity to hook up with whoever he wanted. She just wanted a break. When someone goes on break at work, that person isn't allowed to go out and find another job during that stretch of time. When a play breaks for intermission, the viewing audience isn't meant to go off and find a new play to watch. Those might sound like petty and trivial arguments, but wording is everything.

Thus, never does being on a break necessitate one's freedom to find a substitute in any situation, and it rarely ever allows it. Ross could have made any number of decisions that would have allowed his relationship with Rachel to continue unencumbered that next day. I mean, Ross would have still been highly possessive and jealous, so there's no guarantees that things wouldn't have gone south in some other way, but the cause and effect might not have been so contestable.

ross and rachel talking friends

The Argument That Ross Didn’t Cheat On Rachel

In Ross' mind, his drunken transgressions with Chloe didn't amount to cheating on Rachel, largely because he thought their relationship had been put on indefinite hiatus. Which does make a certain amount of sense when it's viewed completely from Ross' skewed perspective.

When he showed up at Bloomingdale's, it may have looked like Ross was trying to win Rachel's favor with food and birthday wishes, but he clearly wasn't interested in her desires, or he would have stayed at home from the get-go. To me, the main reason Ross showed up at Rachel's work was to weigh out the situation with Mark, to basically give Rachel an unspoken ultimatum to spend time with either her boyfriend or her boss. So whenever Rachel chose her work relationship (for obviously necessary reasons) and then upped the ante by declaring she wanted a break from him, it was all Ross needed to mentally check out of what should have been his most unbreakable bond.

Now, should Ross have done the mental athletics to understand that Rachel didn't want to completely stop dating? Clearly. It might have also behooved Rachel to go with terminology that more directly states what she wants. "Ross, I don't think we should hang out tonight for my birthday, but I will likely get in touch with you tomorrow after I've sorted out my feelings." That might have been a bit much to come up with on the spot, but I think the extra effort would have been worth it, all things considered.

As such, Ross went out for drinky-drinks with Chandler and Joey with the mindset that he might not have a girlfriend anymore, and everyone knows that alcohol is the best lubricant for pushing a bad idea out into the world. (I dare say either Chandler or Joey could have made a bigger effort to get Ross out of there.) Without any communication from Rachel clearing up what their status was, Ross likely continued to drunkenly misinform himself about the relationship to the point where he probably convinced himself Rachel never ever wanted to talk to him again. And so when another woman showed him attention of any kind, Ross took it to its drunk-logical conclusion without reflecting on how wrong he might have been about everything.

Was It Cheating Or Not?

Like so many arguments in life, the Ross and Rachel debate is one that can seemingly have a completely sensible and cogent "right answer," only to have someone else present a rebuttal that brings the entire house of cards tumbling down. Plus, answers for both sides are perfectly fitting enough when presented in the proper contexts.

What if a crime was involved here, and Ross and Rachel were somehow required to lay their situation out in a court of law, with a jury and judge responsible for finalizing a decision about where their relationship stood whenever Ross had sex with Chloe? I might be wrong, but I do believe that jury would be deliberating for the rest of time, unable to bring everyone on board with the same opinion about how guilty Ross was.

As an example of the viewing public's inability to agree on Friends' Ross and Rachel situation, the dating app Plenty of Fish recently surveyed over 1,800 people to get their opinions on the matter (via People). A pretty surprising 60% of those polled agreed that Ross was not in the wrong when he slept with Chloe. That said, when the numbers are broken down a little more, way more women than men (44% to 36%) believed that Ross cheated. So asking female Friends fans will get more anti-Ross answers than asking a purely male batch of responders.

In fact, those surveyed couldn't agree on what being "on a break" actually meant. 29% sided with Ross on the fact that a break means completely broken up without anything stopping other hook-ups. 33% believe that a "break" doesn't change anything, and that the two parties are still engaged in a monogamous relationship. Meanwhile, 38% think it means the couple is still together overall, but that it's now an open relationship where they hook up with others.

But even though the rest of the fanbase can't come to an agreement on the matter, I'm pretty sure I know what the answer really is: Ross didn't cheat. The same way that a person who unintentionally kills another person (presumably) won't get found guilty of murder, Ross can't be viewed as guilty of cheating if he wasn't aware he was doing that. At least theoretically. He wasn't aware Rachel still wanted a future with him, and thus couldn't conceivably do something that would jeopardize that, because Ross very obviously never fell out of love with Rachel throughout the entirety of Friends' ten seasons.

Remember when Ross and Julie were getting married, how often Friends played up Julie's insecurities about Rachel? Her suspicions were more than solidified whenever he accidentally (or not?) referred to Julie by Rachel's name when delivering his vows at the altar, and when he continued hanging out with Rachel after Julie requested that he stop. Ross whole-heartedly threw his second marriage into the dumpster by not allowing himself to move past Rachel, and I would firmly call that "emotional cheating," since it was done with distinct intent.

That whole thing with Chloe, though? That wasn't cheating. It was incredibly stupid, selfish, and misguided every step of the way, no doubt. But that could really describe around 75% of the things that Ross did on Friends. Need we bring up the leather pants?

Though we likely won't ever get a revival to offer up any definitive answers, let us know in the poll below what you guys think, and don't be afraid to voice your reasons in the comments!

For the time being, fans can still stream all the Friends they want on Netflix, where it will remain until leaving Netflix to shift over to Warner Bros.' upcoming streaming service HBO Max. Just don't stream it at work for hours on end, or people might start to notice.

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Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.