Why does it matter?
Why do we need to be concerned with a fictional character? Surely this doesn’t really matter? Well, in some ways it doesn’t. But the public perception, especially of such a successful and widespread TV show, does. This is especially true if that perception is that the behaviours Monica exhibits are what most people consider OCD to actually be. If people are assuming that this is what OCD is, and it isn’t, then we have a problem.
As someone with OCD, and a massive Friends fan, it never personally occurred to me that Monica actually had OCD, and in fairness the term isn’t even mentioned in the show itself. It is undeniable that Monica likes to have things in a strict order, has very high standards of cleanliness and always wants to follow the rules to the letter – but OCD? Many would assume that to be the case.
The approach and defining terms
For the sake of this exercise I am going to briefly assess some examples from the show and based on the evidence available I am going to give my non-professional “verdict” on the likelihood as to whether I think it could be OCD, OCPD or a preference. I am not claiming to be able to diagnose people fictional or otherwise. This is just to get a conversation started and is purely based on my opinion. Afterall, this is a comedy show, not real life. So feel free to disagree with me here.
What is OCPD?
Here is an excellent definition from OCD UK:
The main features of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is a preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism (around anything from cleanliness to order) at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, regardless of the impact on others.
Individuals with OCPD attempt to maintain control with painstaking attention to rules, trivial details, lists and procedures to the extent that the major point of the activity is often lost, often becoming inflexible. They become oblivious to the fact that other people will often become annoyed at the extent they perform tasks and the delays caused, often believing the other person may be wrong for not working to the same perceived standard.
How does OCPD differ or compare to OCD?
I think one of the main misunderstandings about OCD is that people think of it as an adjective or personality type. It isn’t. A lot of people will make comments like “he/she has OCD traits” or “that is so OCD”, but those sentences don’t make sense. It would be like saying someone has anorexic traits or saying that all lumps are cancer. Well, you either have anorexia or you don’t; some lumps are cancerous, most are benign. The point is, you cannot necessarily tell somebody has OCD due to behaviours.
The key marker for OCD isn’t the content of the thoughts or the behaviours (although it can of course give indications), but rather the mechanism behind the obsessions, behaviours or compulsions.
The obsessions in OCD are intrusive, distressing, requiring urgent action and are based on the need to eradicate uncertainty. The main difference between OCD and OCPD is that those with OCD recognise that their disorder is unhelpful and it is often highly disabling. Those with OCPD will often justify their behaviours and think of them as actually being helpful in most cases; their frustration tends to come when people don’t adhere to their particular way of doing things. The external behaviours with OCD (if they exist, as these can be mainly mental) can vary widely between sufferers. Whereas those with OCPD are more likely to have similar observable behaviours such as needing things to be ordered perfectly, or needing to follow rules precisely to the letter.
On the other hand, there are many people (the ones likely to call themselves “soooo OCD”) who have a preference for orderliness, cleanliness, organisation and those who are very “particular” about certain things. This can be the case for lots of people, and this would be neither OCD nor OCPD. These type of people enjoy these behaviours, have control over them and there is no distress behind them.
On to the task
Below are some examples out of many I have picked throughout the show to highlight where people might assume Monica to have OCD. Let’s get started, and remember, this is just a discussion. Monica will kill me if she finds out.
S4 e11 “The One with all the embyros”
In this episode we learn that Monica has 11 categories of towels for different types of people, for example “guest” and “fancy guest”. Seems excessive, but knowing Monica this is something she would take pride in and actually enjoy. Monica loves being a host and giving people are good experience.
Verdict: highly unlikely to be OCD. This is a preferable action.
S9 e8 “The One with Rachel’s other sister”
Joey is given a “special” plate during this thanksgiving dinner because Monica doesn’t trust him to take care with her fancy China set. Monica appears somewhat distressed when Amy (Rachel’s sister) cuts her meat fast and hard causing a sharp noise on her plate. Monica precedes to ask everyone to lift up their food and cut the meat in the air as to not take anger out on the plates, she tells them it is also fun. After the meal Rachel and her sister have a fight and one of the plates smashes – Monica Faints. This is a tough one, there is definitely some distress here followed by avoidance whilst at the table. The fact that she faints when the plate falls over and breaks indicates a serious amount of distress at this point when she is unable to have control of the situation.
Verdict: Possible OCD, but more likely to fit with OCPD in my opinion.
S6 e7 “The One where Phoebe runs”
In this episode Chandler decides to surprise Monica by cleaning the apartment. He is feeling proud of himself until Ross reminds him how particular Monica is about things being in perfect order. Ross and Chandler both appear highly distressed as they know how she will react if she notices something different. For example, the pair cannot remember where the table was placed. Even Joey notices when he comes around and tries to put his feet up but his feet won’t reach the table, he states “Monica is going to kill you”. So panicked by the realisation that he hasn’t re-ordered things correctly when Monica arrives home he makes a ridiculous excuse (Ross is naked as Chandler is checking something on Ross’ body) to keep her outside of the apartment. Eventually they let her come in and then the following dialogue occurs:
Monica: Why is everything different?
Ross: Bye! (Runs out)
Chandler: No, I don’t see anything different other than the fact that the room got so much brighter when you came into it. (Forced laughter)
Monica: Well, the end table is wrong, The couch looks bizarre and don’t even get me started on the refrigerator magnets.
Chandler: Okay look, don’t…don’t be mad okay? But after I unpacked the boxes I wanted to do something nice for you, so, I-I-I cleaned the apartment. So I moved everything around and then I forgot where it, where it went back and I’m sorry, I’m very sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Monica: It’s okay. Chandler, are you afraid of me or something?
Chandler: Do you want me to be afraid of you?
Monica: Of course not. I mean gosh, Chandler what you did, it’s, it’s a wonderful thing and I really appreciate it. I know I have this weird thing where I want everything to be in the perfect place, but I’d never expect you to worry about that.
Monica then reassures Chandler she is not mad and everything is fine. Chandler invites Monica for a hug but before she can she asks where Ross had sat whilst naked. Chandler then points to the places.
For Ross and Chandler to show such serious concern about Monica’s potential reaction here is troubling, they are actually scared of her. For someone to notice refrigerator magnets out of order so quickly upon arriving home shows extreme levels of hyper-vigilance. Monica admits that she has a “weird thing” that makes her want things to be in a particular place.
Verdict: seems like textbook OCPD to me.
S10 e4 “The One with the cake”
(Go to 1:50 and 3:45).
When Ross and Rachael leave the apartment to change the penis shaped cake into something more appropriate for a 1st birthday party for their daughter, Monica and Chandler are left to babysit. Whilst gone Monica organises her soft toys into order of size.
Verdict: preference for order.
S10 e12 “The One with Phoebes wedding”
Monica is in charge of organising Phoebe’s wedding. The episode has her wearing a headset and acting like she is organising a military operation. Phoebe becomes so stressed by her control that she lashes out at the rehearsal dinner because Monica is rushing her speech to stay on time and she even refuses to let Mike (Phoebe’s fiance) go to the bathroom at an unscheduled time. Phoebe subsequently “fires” Monica to only later bring her back when things start to go awry. Monica is in her element here and although she gets stressed at certain times, she loves organising such events and being in charge of decisions.
Verdict: not OCD, highly likely to fit with OCPD.
S6 e5 “The one with Joey’s Porche”
Joey finds the keys for a Porche that doesn’t belong to him and likes the attention he gets from people thinking he owns the car whilst he stands next to it. Joey arrives to Monica’s apartment and states that he thinks he will wash the car so that other’s don’t suspect he doesn’t own it. Monica reveals she already has a box full of car cleaning products even though she doesn’t own a car. She claims that she bought them to clean a really dirty car outside of the apartment block. When Chandler pushes her she admits she cleaned 6 others whilst she was at it.
Needless to say, this is abnormal behaviour. It isn’t clear whether she did this out of enjoyment or not, but I would argue that this type of action could be compulsive. To have such a strong urge to clean a car that doesn’t belong to you, and then 6 others indicates a high amount of distress here, followed by compulsive action to eliminate the discomfort.
Verdict: possible OCD.
S4 e6 “The one with the dirty girl”
Ross dates a woman who lives in a ridiculously filthy apartment with rubbish everywhere and a rat running around in the living room. Needless to say this relationship is short lived. At the end of the episode Monica shows up to the woman’s apartment asking if she can clean it for her because she couldnt sleep whilst thinking about it. The woman is unimpressed and closes the door on her. Monica then proceeds to scrub the door and the episode ends. For me this is very concerning behaviour. To actually lose sleep over another person’s messy place, and then travel there to clean it is again extreme behaviour and could well be indicative of an obsession followed by a compulsion.
Verdict: possible OCD.
The above examples give a pretty good overview of what we are looking at here. There are many more that could be considered including:
- S2 e22 has Monica being a very controlling party host, she insists everyone use coasters for their drinks and puts the lids back on the right pens when playing games; she also makes sure everyone follows the rules precisely.
- S10 e2 Monica makes sure Chandler washes his hands before he touches the adoption book.
- In S3 e19 we learn that Monica numbers her cups to ensure she keeps track of any that go missing.
- S2 e23 Monica remakes her partner Richard’s bed in her own particular way; arranges the flowers to face a particular direction; claims she has to sleep on a certain side of the bed, and; even shows him how to fold toilet paper correctly.
- S5 e20 Monica organises Rachael’s photos for her by categorising and cross referencing by date, venue and theme.
- S4 e15 Monica tries to work out for hours what the light switch does in the boys apartment and gets frustrated when she cannot find the answer.
I would argue non of the above have any reason to think this is OCD. Again, possibly OCPD, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be distress during these episodes – some mild frustration at best.
Personally I would say that it is highly likely Monica has OCPD. Monica ticks all the boxes for this disorder and there are multiple examples throughout the series indicating this. The vast majority of the time Monica enjoys her rituals and there is little evidence of distress. The OCPD seems to be worse some times more than others, but for the majority of the time she strives for perfection and high standards of orderliness in most, if not all, areas of her life. If she cleans and it reaches her standard she is fine. If she controls a situation where something needs organising, she is fine. There are no repetitive acts that I’ve noticed and there are no clear obsessions followed by compulsions.
That said, I think there is an argument to put forward on two occasions that she shows signs of possible OCD – washing strangers cars outside, and offering to clean the “dirty girl’s ” apartment. Monica shows distress on both these occasions and the behaviours to reduce this are excessive. There is a possibility this is compulsive behaviour caused by obsessive thoughts. However, there is not enough information to conclude this to be definitive.
In short, I would say she most probably has OCPD with possible mild OCD flare ups on occasion.
Either way, to assume that the behaviours Monica exhibits are OCD, is in my opinion, a mistake. The vast majority of her “OCD” episodes (as assumed by many) are not OCD. Thus there is a danger here that claiming otherwise could perpetuate stereotypes and misunderstandings about actual OCD.
Let me know your thoughts
Do you agree or disagree? Are there any examples I have missed that you think show her to have OCD? Am I wrong about thinking it might be OCPD?