The first episode of the show begins with Monica, Chandler, Joey, & Phoebe sitting in Central Perk, the show's coffee shop set in NYC. The gang of four are sitting around on the couch, doing what they do best: Having discussions about their personal relationships.
Everyone wants the inside details about the guy who Monica is going to go out with later that night. She claims there is nothing to tell, she just works with him. But Joey and Chandler want details ... after all something has to be wrong with him if he is willingly going on a date with Monica. Chandler asks if he has a hump or a lot of hair. Phoebe gets in on the action by asking if he likes to eat chalk. (This causes the gang to give their friend a strange look, but that is a normal response to most of what Phoebe says.) Phoebe explains that she once dated a guy who ate chalk and his name was Carl. Monica finally tells her friends to chill, it's just a date and no sex will be involved.
Next scene is still at Central Perk, just at a later time. The four of them are still sitting around the couch, this time discussing their dreams. Chandler mentions a recurring dream of going back to high school, being in the middle of the cafeteria totally naked. Everyone chimes in that they had the same dream. But Chandler continues by saying he looked down to his private region to find a telephone there instead of the usual equipment. The gang quickly refutes that they have never had a dream like that in their life. Chandler adds that the phone begins to ring and he answers it, and the person calling is his mother and he says it's weird because she never calls him in real life.
Ross, Monica's older brother, enters Central Perk. He is completely depressed and looks terrible. Monica asks if he is okay and Ross responds by saying he "feels like someone pulled out his small intestine via his throat and then tied it around his neck." Chandler, in his usual joking manner, asks if he would like a cookie.
Monica tells the group that Carol, Ross' ex-wife, moved her stuff out of the apartment today, so that is why Ross feels like this. Carol was Ross' wife and the first woman he slept with. They were married for an unspecified amount of time before she got a divorce on the grounds that she was a lesbian. This only makes Ross feel that much worse. Now he feels his manhood is at stake.
Phoebe noticing Ross' demeanor immediately gets up from her seat and takes her fingers and plucks at the air around Ross, trying to clear his aura. Ross, clearly agitated, tells Phoebe to stop and that he will be fine and that he hopes Carol will finally be happy.
Monica tells Ross that he doesn't want Carol to be happy and Joey wonders why Ross never knew she was a lesbian before. Ross goes into a spasm and tells everyone to stop fixating on her being a lesbian, he didn't know, and she didn't know. Joey offers to help Ross out by taking him to a strip joint but Ross does not want to go, he doesn't want to be single, he wants to be married again.
At this point, the final main character, Rachel, enters the scene at Central Perk. She is in a big wedding dress and is completely soaking. She looks around the coffee shop, trying to locate Monica, whom she hasn't seen for awhile. Monica notices Rachel and calls out to her.
Rachel tells Monica she just went to her apartment but couldn't find her and a guy with a big hammer told her to go to Central Perk. Monica introduces Rachel to the gang, mentioning that she is a graduate of Lincoln High School, apparently the same school as Monica and Ross. She goes to hug Ross, but the umbrella he is holding opens, making it impossible for Rachel to give him a hug without bodily harm. Ross sits back down, his umbrella deflated along with his ego.
No one speaks for a moment as the entire gang looks at Rachel, wet in her wedding dress, expecting her to explain her unusual appearance. She doesn't until Monica asks. Turns out, Rachel got cold feet and could not marry her fiancé, Barry, a dentist. Thirty minutes before her wedding she looked at all her presents and fixated on a gravy boat. She had an epiphany that at that moment she was more turned on by the expensive gravy boat than by Barry. She got freaked out and realized that Barry had an uncanny resemblance to Mr Potato Head, so she left him at the alter. She didn't know where to go and the only person she knew in the city was Monica, so she headed to her place.
At Monica's apartment, all are present and they are in the living room watching a Spanish soap opera, pretending what will happen, making comments about the outfits. Joey tells the character to push the woman down the stairs and then Joey, Chandler, Phoebe and Ross chant "Push her down the stairs" and cheer when it happens.
In the background, Rachel is on the phone, talking to her father. She is letting him know that she can't marry Barry because she doesn't love him. She starts arguing with her Dad that it does matter whether or not she is in love or not and that she is an adult now and can make her own decisions. Her Dad doesn't understand it completely and she informs him that she won't move back home but is going to move in with Monica and be her roommate, which is news to Monica. Her Dad than says if that's her decision, not to get married, than he will cut her off from his money.
The scene cuts to a few minutes later when Rachel is off the phone, having an apparent anxiety attack over the prospect of not being able to use her father's credit cards anymore, which Means she will need to get a job. We see her breathing in a paper bag while Phoebe sings a line of "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music. Her off-key singing causes Rachel to pretend to be better so Phoebe will stop singing. Phoebe is happy, thinking her singing cheered her up.
Monica and Joey try and cheer Rachel up. Monica does the proper best friend technique of inspiration and motivation. Joey, the womanizer, uses a pick-up line. Monica chastises Joey for trying to hit on a girl on her wedding day. Joey doesn't see the big deal.
The door buzzer sounds and Chandler goes towards it. It's Paul. He's come to take Monica for their date. Everyone asks who Paul is, and Monica tells them he is the "Wine Guy" from her work at the restaurant where Monica is a chef.
But she is torn because Rachel is depressed and she doesn't want to go on a date if it will make Rachel feel bad. But Rachel insists. Monica than turns to her brother Ross and asks if he's okay or if he wants her to stay. Ross gets choked up and says that would be nice if she would stay home. Monica is shocked, she wasn't expecting that response. But Ross was playing a joke and he tells her to go.
Paul knocks on the door and Monica introduces Paul to the gang. She tells Paul she will be ready in 'two seconds' and goes toward her room.
Ross goes up to Rachel and asks her about her plans for the evening. She tells Ross that her original plan was to be in Aruba by now, for her honeymoon. Ross tries to make her feel better by saying it's better that she is not in Aruba because of the "big lizards" there at this time of the year. He then tells her that if she feels alone, Joey and Chandler will be over at his place helping put together some furniture. Rachel tells Ross she will just hang out at home. Joey goes to Phoebe and asks if she wants to come over and help. She says she wishes she could but she doesn't want to.
At Ross' apartment, Joey, Chandler and Ross are putting together furniture. Ross reads the instructions for the bookcase, not knowing what the tools used to hold together the shelves are called. Joey and Chandler finish the assembly and Joey notices a bit on the floor. Neither have a clue what it is or where it goes. They wait for Ross to turn his head and Joey throws the bit into a pot plant.
Ross has a beer in his hand and begins to softly cry when he remembers that this beer is Carol's favorite. She liked to drink it straight from the can, a sign that Ross thought should have told him she was lesbian. Joey asks Ross what he got in their divorce settlement since she got all the furniture and material possessions. Ross says "you guys" and Chandler and Joey confirm that Ross got screwed.
Cut to Monica and Paul eating in a restaurant. Paul is telling Monica about his divorce and how he should have suspected something when his wife was going to her dentist for cleanings four to five times a week. Monica tells Paul her brother is going through the same thing as well and Paul recommends that Ross try and break something valuable of hers to ease the pain. Paul broke his ex-wife's watch.
Cut to Monica's Apartment and Rachel is by herself, talking on the phone. She called Barry and is apparently on his answering machine profusely apologizing for standing him up at the altar. The machine cut her off in mid-apology, so she redials and starts over again.
Cut to Ross' apartment where Ross is still going on about his divorce. He is afraid that there might only be one woman for everyone. So now that he has had only one woman, perhaps that's the end for him. Joey, in his macho ways, disagrees with Ross' claim of "one woman" and says women are like ice cream. There are many different flavors and many different toppings, so the choices are nearly endless.
Back at the Restaurant, Paul is still talking about his ex-wife. He told Monica that he has not been able to perform in the bedroom in the two years since his wife left him. Monica spits out her drink at the shock of this revelation. He asks her if she still wants another date, knowing this fact. She jumps for it.
Cut to Rachel at Monica's apartment. She is watching the pilot episode of Joanie Loves Chachi" where Joanie marries Chachi. She scoffs at the show.
Cut to Ross at his apartment. He is scornfully talking to himself, still upset about his divorce and even what Joey told him. He asks himself who is he supposed to ask out and he gazes out his window, which happens to be directly across from Monica and Rachel's window and he sees Rachel staring out her apartment.
The following morning, at Monica and Rachel's apartment, Rachel makes coffee for Joey and Chandler. This is the first time she has ever made coffee. The two men congratulate her. They start to drink, and grimace at the taste and pour the rest of the coffee into a pot plant.
Monica enters the kitchen from her bedroom with a happy expression. Paul follows her shortly after. The two greet the gang. Monica and Paul walk to the front door of the apartment and talk low so no one can hear what they are saying. Despite this fact, the others move the kitchen table towards the front door so they can hear what Monica is saying.
Monica tells Paul she had a great time last night and he agrees. She tells him she will talk to him later, they kiss and he leaves.
Joey wants to know why, the day before, she said her date with Paul wasn't a real date because it will be dinner but no sex. He gets curious as to what her real dates are like. She tells him to shut up and puts her table back where it belongs.
Chandler tells everyone good-bye, he has to get to work inputting numbers into a computer. Rachel wonders if everyone else has a job too. They do. Joey is a regional actor. Monica tells her that everyone has a job, that is how they can afford to live. It is not mentioned here what Phoebe and Ross do.
Joey and Chandler leave Monica's apartment. Rachel notices that Monica can't stop smiling. She tells Rachel she really likes Paul but is going to go to work and try not to think about Paul. Rachel tells Monica to wish her luck because she is going to look for "one of those job things."
At Iridium, Monica's restaurant, a co-worker, Frannie, enters and greets Monica. Monica greets Frannie back and asks how her vacation went. Immediately Frannie tells Monica that must have had sex last night. Monica is amazed at Frannie's ability to detect these things. She tells Frannie the guy was Paul, the wine guy. Frannie tells Monica that she knows Paul, she went out with him before and helped him have sex after a two year dry spell.
Next scene is at Central Perk. All of the gang except Rachel. Monica is on the sofa and is crying about why Paul would deceive her. Joey, perching himself on the edge of the sofa laughs at Monica, telling her it was the most obvious line in the book.
Rachel enters the coffee shop with a bunch of bags from expensive clothing stores. She tells everyone she went to twelve interviews and was laughed out of each one, but she is smiling and happy because she found her favorite pair of boots on sale for half off. Monica asks how she could afford to buy boots if she doesn't have a job or any money. Rachel says she used a credit card her Dad gave her, meaning her Dad paid for the purchase.
Cut to Monica and Rachel's apartment with the entire gang sitting around the kitchen table with Rachel in the middle and Monica at her side. On the table are all of Rachel's credit cards along with a pair of scissors.
Monica urges Rachel to cut the cards because she can't live off her parents her entire life. Phoebe tells Monica to ease up because she remembers when she first came to New York City. She was 14, her mom killed herself and her step-dad was back in prison. She got to the city and didn't know a single person. She ended up living with an albino janitor man who eventually killed himself. So she found aromatherapy, thus she knows "exactly" how Rachel is feeling.
The group pauses, dumb-founded by Phoebe's story. The gang helps Rachel get the courage to cut her credit cards by chanting "cut cut cut" and once she cuts her cards, they cheer.
Cut to later that night. Monica, Ross and Rachel just finished watching a movie. Monica heads off to bed, leaving Ross and Rachel alone in the living room.
Ross and Rachel both reach for the same cookie at the same time, both telling the other one they can have it. Finally they decide to split it. Ross confesses that in high school he had a major crush on her. Rachel knew. Ross uses that moment to ask her if he could ask her out sometime. Rachel says, "Yeah, maybe" and she tells Ross goodnight and heads to her room.
At Central Perk, Joey and Monica are talking and every word they say, Phoebe repeats it by singing it. Monica asks her to stop. Phoebe didn't realize she was "doing it again." Rachel walks up to the group and ask if they want a cup of coffee; she is now an official worker at Central Perk.