Love The Plot More Than The Dénouement: Why We Have To Stop Demanding Happy Endings

I always root for happy endings. I love them so much that when they are not provided I feel like I have been cheated. This is why I hated The Hunger Games, and why I originally hated How I Met Your Mother’s ending. I, for one, wanted the happy ending, with Robin making it work with Barney, and Ted finally having his perfect relationship with “The One.” But despite that initial anger, frustration, and disbelief, I’m starting to think that HIMYM’s finale was the much needed wake up call that we had not asked for, but required.

And yet, there’s nothing more bittersweet (or inappropriate, actually) than a forced happy ending. Like Carrie and Big from Sex and the City ending up together. Everything was wrong on so many levels with that relationship. The author, Candace Bushnell, has even admitted that she gave us this ending just to please us. Or like Harry Potter actually surviving the tearing up of his soul in that last fight with Voldemort. Harry should have died and not married Ginny (or Hermione, for that matter, which is apparently what JK Rowling now seems to wish had happened).

It is time we stop believing that happy endings are a finishing line where it all works out. I know, you’re going to say that the Disney movies you’ve been watching since you were a toddler have taught you otherwise. I know, you log on to Facebook and Instagram every day and are bombarded with picture perfects moments from all the people you know.

We all wanted for Robin and Barney to end up together. Barney is HIMYM’s best character, and the reason a lot of us continued to watch the show, season after season. Robin — being strong-willed and outspoken, with a working girl vibe — was the character I identified myself with. I desperately wanted her to have a happy ending; for her to have what Marshall and Lily, our favorite couple, have.

In my case, Robin and Barney’s divorce and, particularly, Barney’s relapse, were the most difficult things to watch. It was even harder than learning the mother was going to die. But I would have to kid myself to actually believe that Robin’s relationship with Barney could have worked, and that Barney could actually change. Adults don’t change. They improve, they worsen, but they do not change. And we’ve known for a long time that it wasn’t raining, it was pouring on Barney’s and Robin’s wedding day, and if you’ve read A Storm of Swords (i.e., the third installment of A Song of Ice and Fire) or, if you’re a TV viewer, watched the last season of Game of Thrones, you know that rainstorms on weddings, at least in fiction, are deadly premonitions. (You can hum “The Rains of Castamere” now.)

Enter Ted (God, I’ve always hated Ted). He is the most pathetic character in the history of sitcoms. He was a pest, he was childish, he was whiny, he was needy. He drove us all nuts with his constant searching of “The One”. Yet in our hearts of hearts we wanted him to meet the mother. And, yes, the mother was a spectacular woman and I adored their perfect first conversation at the Farhampton Train Station platform.

We already knew the mother was going to die; the show had dropped sufficient hints before the finale. Yes, it was cynical, because we had not watched eight seasons to be forced to cope with death in the finale of a comedy, for heaven’s sake. Yes, it was wrong that they killed her off in seconds and, yes, the show makers could have handled the whole situation differently. But, hey, maybe that’s how life is, just full of good and bad surprises.

Because even if you are fortunate enough to find “The One”, throw a spectacular wedding after a wonderful courtship and engagement, have two wonderful kids, someday, I grant you, your marriage is going to end. Maybe with an annulment, a divorce… or with death. Because unless you are Allie and Noah (in the Hollywood version of The Notebook, not the book’s), you are not going to die together, at the same time. And it’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be cruel. You will cry, you will suffer, and you will even feel like they have ripped your heart out from your body.

I know you want to see life through rose colored glasses. But please, take a moment and look back on you own life. It has not always been a joyride, where everything is fun and pretty. Life has thrown you down, but you have already picked yourself up thousands of times, probably with the support of your loved ones. Life is hard. But it is worth it, and you know it. And what makes it worthy is not the destination, like you’ve heard a million times. It’s the journey. So focus on being happy every step of the way, instead of on the “happy ending”.

But at the end, maybe we should love the plot more than the dénouement. After all, it’s the story we love — the ending is just one piece of that puzzle. TC mark

featured image – How I Met Your Mother

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