I remember when How I Met Your Mother first came out. To say I wasn’t an instant fan is an understatement. In fact, I spent half of the first season avoiding it because I saw the synopses for the first handful of episodes (“Man realizes he needs to get serious about dating”/”Best friend proposes to his fiancée”/“Fiancée has doubts about her life”) and all I could think was, “Man, yet another show that falls into the clichéd trope of ‘man falls for his best friend’s fiancée’.”
Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
One of the things I loved about How I Met Your Mother (at least, at first) was the fact that it portrayed the adult world without super-glamorizing it. It held no punches as relationships floundered, as career aspirations floundered, as each character dealt with disappointment (because, let’s face it, “disappointment” and “the real world” go hand-in-hand sometimes). My heart broke when Marshall came to terms with the fact that he didn’t meet the goals he set for himself as a freshman in college. I felt for Robin when she struggled to make it as a journalist, only to get assigned mediocre tasks that got her no where. I wanted to cry when Lily admitted that sometimes she didn’t want to be a mom, that sometimes it was too much to be a teacher and come home to take care of yet more children. You understood just a little too well when Ted and Robin broke up because it became clear that their relationship had an expiration date.
Now, do not get me wrong: this show got silly in its last few seasons. All shows do. I’m hard-pressed to think of any show over 7 seasons that didn’t jump the shark in some way. But the finale, while garnering mixed reviews, reminded us that this show can provide that mirror to the way the world works. Maybe it’s because the ending was written in Season One (with Ted very obviously acting against very old footage), but there was a lot to this episode that resonates true to real life:
1. People get divorced.
Barney and Robin were not meant to be together. We knew this from the first time they tried to be in a relationship. They have the chemistry, but not that extra little something to make it work. And, even though an entire farking season was devoted to their wedding, three years later, they realize that it’s no longer working. And they get divorced.
There’s no plate-throwing or name-calling. Just a mutual realization that they’re dragging each other down and an understanding that, while they love each other, they’re at the end of the road. Because divorce happens. It takes a very specific type of relationship dynamic to make it work over a lifetime. The world is filled with more “Barney/Robin”s than they are of “Marshall/Lily”s.
2. Tight-knit groups drift apart.
It’s a hard truth about adulthood. The real world has a funny way of isolating you from even the closest groups of friends. You can declare as loud as you want that you’ll “totally be friends forever!” At the end of the day, life happens. People move away. People raise kids. Suddenly, that group of friends you had — the ones you met with nearly every day for a drink — becomes the smattering of people you “catch up with” from time to time. It’s heartbreaking and unfortunate, but it’s the truth.
3. Life isn’t always super-orthodox.
Ted meets the Mother, Ted proposes to the Mother, Ted plans this incredible wedding in a 17th century castle. The wedding is then canceled. Why? Because the Mother finds out she is pregnant. Seven years and two kids later, they finally tie the knot: a wedding that was perpetually put off because of work, kids, and — oh hey — life.
We’re so used to the main character doing everything in the “correct” order when he or she finally finds the Love of Their Life: marriage, house, kids, and so on, and so forth. But sometimes you don’t go down that orthodox path. And that’s okay. It’s no longer 1954; we recognize that there are other ways to live your life outside of the Cleaver Lifestyle.
4. People get sick.
Now, do not get me wrong: how this storyline was handled was incredibly problematic. From the fact that we just find out “she’s sick” and nothing else, to the fact that we have this bit of information thrown on us just minutes before another bombshell… I mean, for crying out loud, we spent an entire farking season on the week before a wedding, with more time-wasters than you could shake a stick at, and they give us thirty seconds to digest this bit of information? Nah, kid. Nah. That ain’t fahkin’ okay.
But it’s the sad truth: being someone’s The One — being the entire reason a certain show is on in the first place — is not enough to stop things like cancer. It’s not enough to avoid being diagnosed with a degenerative disease. Lymphoma doesn’t care if you’re a mother of two. Breast Cancer is indifferent to how much you are loved.
And the really heartbreaking truth is that people don’t always get better. Sometimes people get diagnosed, fight the good fight, and succumb. No amount of prayers or hope or “good energy” will stop it. And it sucks. The hardest realization about life is that it ends. For everyone. And sometimes a loved one’s number is called up a lot sooner than you expected.
5. Life goes on after death.
Again, do not get me wrong: how this storyline was handled was incredibly problematic. We spent nine flippin’ seasons being told why Robin and Ted wouldn’t actually work out. We listen to this incredibly intricate story about Ted’s life, only to find out that he’s only telling it as subconscious way to get his children’s permission to date Robin (and what 14-year-old girl is so flippant about her dad’s sex life? “Yeah, my mom died, but that was, like, totally six years ago. Having that happen when I was eight totally didn’t shape my entire schema about life and parenting. You totes want to bang your friend.”) To say it left a gnarly taste in a lot of fan’s mouths is a bit of an understatement.
But, really, that’s how life is. It goes on. And, yeah, the sad truth is, is that Ted and Robin probably still won’t work out. And that this relationship is basically both party’s second choice. But this dating story is very similar to so many other dating stories of divorcés/widows/widowers in their 50s. This recognition that life is not a fairy tale, and sometimes True Love isn’t Forever Love — at least not while on Earth — with a downright blind stab at companionship again. I’m sure some fangirls want this to be proof that “yes they were truly meant to be together!” But the reality of the situation is that it’s a man just trying to find love again.
This show wasn’t perfect. The finale was far from perfect (and we never found out what happened with that goat!) But there’s a reason why this show had such a loyal following. There are a million shows out there with enough “one true love” storylines to make even Hallmark want to vomit. I contend that what made this show so special was because, at the end of the day, it was just five friends trying to figure it all out, only to realize that you never have it all figured out. Maybe you’ll end up like Lily/Marshall. Maybe you’ll end up like Barney. Maybe you’ll be like Ted/Tracy. I don’t see anyone stealing a blue horn for the third time in real life (and, really, are we seriously supposed to believe that the restaurant stayed in business that long? In this economy?), but the finale reminded us that real life provides us with some of the most dynamic storylines of all.