A boyfriend of mine once told me that I “watch too many movies.” The truth is, I kind of suck at movies—don’t ask me who played so and so in that groundbreaking “oh you know what I’m talking about” cinematic classic, because I will respond with, “you mean Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?” and you will be disappointed, and possibly offended. In other words, his comment was really meant as a snarky slight at my apparent silly, head-in-the-rom-com-clouds girly-ness for attempting to pull off a spontaneous romantic gesture. I know, what was I thinking? I mean, really, it should be illegal for screenwriters and directors to even put that “romance” stuff in our heads! Why are violent video games and pre-pubescent boys stealing all the thunder? Chick flicks and Girlz Nights are the real threat to society, my friends.
After letting the comment sink in, however, I soon realized he unfortunately kind of had a point. Like many fallen sisters before me, I sometimes let visions of Kate and Leo dancing in my head get the best of me (I jump you jump, remember?), thus unleashing a dose of The Crazy. But upon further reflection, I also realized that my fundamental, non-negotiable beliefs about love and romance ran deeper than the likes of Noah and Allie in The Notebook and the 37 couples in Love Actually. And after giving it even more thought (as I lay in bed hungover on a Sunday), I soon came to the conclusion that my true pillars of love rested on a much stronger foundation from a slightly smaller screen. For me, those three simple words we all long to hear had long ago become synonymous with another set of three words:
Jim and Pam.
In other words, everything I know about love I learned from The Office (and my grandparents, and other real life things, but that’s another tale for another time). Watching Jim and Pam’s relationship unfold on the small screen throughout my most formative years made a permanent and powerful impression on my psyche. When I was in my late teens, I remember watching episode after episode in wonderment and awe—I laughed, I cried, and I proclaimed, “Yes. this is love! It’s so clear to me now! Obviously this is what happens when you’re in your twenties and you fall in love!”
Many moons later, in my 25th year of life, this thought has changed slightly—it’s not so obvious anymore that J & P kind of love is par for the course. I don’t see it that often, nor have I ever experienced a lasting version of it myself. What hasn’t changed, however, is my desire for it to happen, and my belief that it can happen. Despite the dark clouds of broken hearts and mid-twenties cynicism brewing overhead, I have resolved to remain true to my Jim and Pam love standard. The Office gave me many things in my youth, an unhealthy obsession with John Krasinski being one of them, but most importantly, it taught me the following truths:
1. Love sees beyond frumpy cardigans and bad hair days.
Jim and Pam taught me that when you really love someone, you dig this person even on a Tuesday morning after they just rolled out of bed, threw on some work clothes, and forgot their morning coffee. Despite the fact that Pam displayed about as much fashion sense as my second grade teacher Sister Mary Helen (at least in the first few seasons), Jim still looked at her like she was the only woman on all of Planet Earth. This Jim and Pam kind of love makes one possess a weird yet awesome ability to see inner and outer beauty simultaneously—like looking at stained glass when the sun is shining through it, only with humans. Jim and Pam taught me that when you love with someone in this way, their very personhood is like a tangible force that continually draws you in, to the point where all you see and all you feel is goodness.
2. Love never tires of witty banter.
Nothing made my weird little 19-year-old heart swoon quite like the awesomeness of Jim and Pam’s banter. Their silly, sarcastic exchanges taught me that love means being with someone who laughs at your jokes when previously only you laughed at your jokes. Love is getting a downright kick out of each other, and fully understanding and appreciating your shared sense of humor. Even more than that, love means wanting to talk to each other. A lot. It means being good at talking to each other, too. A great relationship is grounded in communication—and when that communication includes humor and wit, well then you’ve got yourself a party.
3. Love is rooted in real, actual friendship.
It’s easy for couples to say “I’m totes in love with my best friend” and not actually mean it. Jim and Pam taught me that the best kind of love is between friends who laugh together, confide in one another, enjoy each other’s company outside the realm of physical intimacy, and genuinely want the other person to be happy, even if that means quietly standing by as they date someone else. Which brings me to my next bit of Office wisdom:
4. Love is really, really patient.
The Office taught me that love isn’t always an immediate burst of rainbows and butterflies; sometimes the best kind of love is a quiet, enduring, and steadfast process. When you really love someone, you know they are worth putting in time and effort. Even if you entertain the thought of someone else during the process, i.e. you get yourself a Karen, you know they can’t compare to your person. No amount of time can make that connection fade, so whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, you wait for your stars to align. It might take your company casually hosting a Casino Night, or a heartfelt post it note attached to an Office Olympics “medal,” but eventually your time comes—and when it does, it’s pretty much the best thing ever.
5. Love requires silliness and depth.
I feel like the phrase “it takes real lovers to be silly” has been floating around on social media lately (coupled with a picture of your friend and her boyfriend exhibiting said silliness). While all of that makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit, there’s obviously some truth to it. Jim and Pam clearly nailed this: They showed the world that the best kind of relationships have a strong element of silliness. But anyone who hung on for all nine seasons of the show (hats off to you) also knows that there was more to it than that. Love needs to be able to take love seriously, and in order to do that you need to be able to dig deep and talk about real life, adult things and connect on a real life, emotional level. If that foundation isn’t there, silliness alone won’t get you through marriage, children, and big moves to Austin, Texas to start fictional sports companies. There’s the silliness, and then there’s the depth.
6. Love makes the ordinary feel extraordinary.
Jim and Pam taught me that love has this great way of making things you previously pitied your parents for doing seem like winning the lottery. When you meet your Jim (or Pam), suddenly everything you once deemed lame and unexciting becomes the stuff of dreams. Sit around and do nothing on a Friday night with you? Yes, please. Buy a house in the suburbs of Pennsylvania? Sounds great. Have lots of babies with you? Sign me up. The Office taught me that love is most beautiful in ordinary, everyday life.
7. Love just sort of gets it.
My friends and I do this thing where we judge our compatibility with a guy (or girl) primarily based on whether or not he or she “gets it.” And, of course, with a bar as nebulous as “getting it,” most poor souls never stand a chance. When I forget what they hell we’re referring to, I’m reminded of Jim and Pam. J & P basically invented the concept of “getting it”—they understood each other to the core, they rode each other’s brain waves, and they always picked up what the other was putting down. They could pull off pranks and jokes with nonverbal communication, air-fiving all along the way. In short, they just got it. Jim and Pam taught me that if it’s right, it just fits. And if it fits and you both just get it, magical things happen.
8. Love is effortless, but it still takes effort.
Jim and Pam taught me that while love should feel as seamless as a missing puzzle piece, that doesn’t mean things won’t get hard or that your relationship won’t be tested. It just means you work for it, and you fight for it. Which brings me to my final nugget of Office wisdom:
9. Love does not give up on the goodness.
If in reading this little essay you were reminded of past significant others and now possibly want to hurt me for summoning unwanted nostalgia, let me just say that you are not alone. I too want to hurt me. But when I find myself pining over the seemingly good aspects of my past relationships, the Jim-and-Pam-esque qualities, if you will, I remember the most important thing that The Office taught me: love does not give up. In other words, while you may have dated someone funny, or someone deep, or someone who seemed to get you—the bottom line is, one of you let go. And when it’s really real, when you’ve found a Jim and Pam type of goodness, neither of you will give up on it. When things get rocky, you’ll hold tight to this goodness at the core of your relationship, and you’ll try your best not to lose sight of it. When the going gets tough, you won’t get going, because at the end of the day you’ll know what you have is a forever kind of thing. You’ll know there ain’t no party like a Scranton party, because a Scranton party don’t stop. It’s a metaphor, you guys.
So all in all, do I regret watching romantic comedies that may or may not have disillusioned me with unrealistic expectations of love? Definitely, maybe. Do I regret watching too much Jim and Pam? No, I can’t say that I do.
Big screen romantic portrayals of star-crossed lovers, soul mates, Everything Happens for a Reason, and What’s Meant To Be Will Find A Way bring a little too much cosmic pressure to the twentysomething table. Not even the most stable of quarter life minds can handle that kind of intensity. But the idea that everyone has a Jim to their Pam, or a Pam to their Jim somewhere out there—to me, that’s something worthy of a little extra faith, and, ultimately, something worth waiting for.