It may be a beautiful song, but U2’s "With or Without You" may not be the song that you’d want as “your song” with your significant other. Released in 1987, it was off of the album The Joshua Tree, and Rolling Stone has even ranked it number 132 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Eight years after it was a number one hit, it was featured on the much-loved TV show Friends , and became the "love song" for the relationship of Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) and Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston). But it probably shouldn't have been.
Ross and Rachel were technically only together for one season of Friends — half of Season 2 and half of Season 3. All of the other times, they were either dysfunctionally hooking up, getting drunkenly married, or having a child together. But, we all knew that Ross and Rachel were meant to be together — he's her lobster after all.
It's a shame that "With or Without You" didn't play when Rachel and Ross shared their rainy and steamy real first kiss (the laundromat doesn't count) in the doors of Central Perk. The moment was perfect — except for the teensy, tiny fact that Ross was dating Julie. In the next episode, "The One with the List," Ross was conflicted about choosing Rachel or Julie, so Chandler encouraged Ross to make a pros and cons list about each woman.
All of this was kind of sweet, but not so cute once a printer malfunction and curiosity led to Rachel reading the list. Ross's cons of Rachel (as interpreted by Chandler) were: "kind of ditzy," "too into her looks," "spoiled," and "just a waitress." (Not to mention her chubby ankles.) The fact that he broke up with Julie and wanted to be with Rachel despite all of her "flaws," didn't fly with Rachel.
Even after Ross read her pro list to her, Rachel eloquently stated why she was so hurt and why she couldn't be with Ross:
Imagine the worst things you think about yourself. Now how would you feel if the one person that you trusted the most in the world not only thinks them too, but actually uses them as reasons not to be with you?
Not sounding too ditzy now, eh? In an attempt to make it better with her, Ross then dedicated "With or Without You" to Rachel on the radio.
But Rachel stayed true to her word and didn't date Ross (even if she did date Russ) until she watched the prom video, six episodes later.
The next time we hear "With or Without You" is a year later in the episode "The One Where Ross And Rachel Take A Break."
Ugh. The whole break situation was so frustrating. Neither Ross or Rachel handled the situation the right way, but Ross really ruined things by sleeping with the copy-girl Chloe. (Can we give Angela Featherstone a shout out for specializing in not-so-classy ladies like she did in The Wedding Singer? And also a shout out to the fact that the copy place is such a big thing. Gotta love the '90s).
Those are the only two times that "With or Without You" played on the show — once after Ross made a mistake, and once when Ross was about to make a huge mistake. That doesn't really scream "our song." I'm just really hoping that Ross and Rachel didn't dance to it at their wedding.
But besides the strange timing of when the song was used on Friends, "With or Without You" isn't even about a romance. Niall Stokes quoted lead singer Bono in the book U2: Into the Heart: The Stories Behind Every Song, where Bono explained what the lines "And you give yourself away" are about: "It's about how I feel in U2 at times — exposed. I know that the group think I'm exposed, and that the group feel that I give myself away."
Now if we don't think about it the way Bono wrote it, it does give the vibe of a tumultuous relationship. Let's take a look at the lyrics. Besides the troubling chorus of, "I can't live — with or without you" (maybe that could be interpreted like the phrase "Women — can't live with them, can't live without them," which some may find endearing, but it's really more sexist), we have these beginning lyrics:
See the stone set in your eyesSee the thorn twist in your side.I wait for you.Sleight of hand and twist of fateOn a bed of nails she makes me waitAnd I wait — without you ...
And since Ross had always pined for Rachel, the idea of him waiting for her kind of makes sense. So even though it’s not the most romantic song, maybe it does fit Ross and Rachel in their later years in a bizarre way. They really couldn't make it work together or apart throughout the show.
I like to imagine that after she got off the plane (thank goodness she got off that damned plane!), they grew up a little and treated each other a bit better.
And maybe they even got a new song. How about Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" (if they can laugh at the lyrics about people breaking up and making up)?
Image: Sunday Storms/Tumblr