John Mulaney, a great stand up comedian, says in a routine he does about getting a Xanax prescription, “Part of me was like…whatever…you know, you know those days when you’re like…well, this might as well happen…adult life is already so goddamn weird.” I have many days where I go to bed just contemplating how anything that happened today actually happened. The joys and the sorrows that follow you through a day that sometimes just seems weird. I remember just thinking there was a camera that followed me around because nothing that happened made any sense at all and someone must be watching and enjoying this because I am not.
<Spoilers if you haven’t watched How I Met Your Mother’s finale>
I remember when I first saw promos for How I Met Your Mother nine years ago. I remember being so excited and watching that pilot and having the same starstruck feeling that Ted portrayed. Many of my friends were getting married or at least were in relationships. The closest thing I had to a relationship was my addiction to All My Children and now figuring out how to tape How I Met Your Mother using a VCR and digital cable. The answer was buying an antenna as well. Oh 2004, you were a different time.
Tonight, How I Met Your Mother ended and I am still a bit stunned by it. I was pretty sure I knew what was happening with the mother based on a few lines in previous episodes. Nevertheless, that wasn’t the theme as time moved quickly for the entire hour. The entire episode is about aging and changing expectations. The whole show seems to be about aging. I’m a couple of years younger than the characters in the show but there is no time like your late twenties and early thirties where you are just utterly confused by life. You think you have things figured out and you pretend you do. You go out of your way to make sure everyone else knows that you seem to have things put together. I think this is why so many people get married and have kids. It allows you to move past the concerns you have about the direction of your life because you have just added someone else into the equation. How I Met Your Mother looked at this problem of aging and drifting from many angles.
You had Barney. He’s the life of the party and just is going to enjoy himself. Psychologically, I’m sure you would refer to him as the id. He’s always chasing a woman or two. He does what he likes to do and does it well. Over the course of the show, it seemed like the writers enjoyed writing his character but felt he needed a character path that deviated from his core. The finale touched on this problem right off the bat. You could tell his marriage to Robin didn’t make sense. They said it often. But it seemed like the only direction to go with them as they were so similar, but we will get there in a second.
Next, you have the happy couple. My parents met in college (not on their first day mind you). And they never really understood what it is like to be single and not in a closed campus of other hormonal people who just want to meet their soul mate. Lily and Marshall were that couple. They lucked out. They knew it but it is hard to be on the outside of that. They have some sort of magnetism that holds them together. When Lily left after season one in a very Robin-like way, she was miserable and had to return to Marshall. She was not a rolling stone. She had her moss-mallow (see what I did there, cause she called him her Marsh-mallow and a rolling stone has no moss). Marshall was a little more selfish in his wants and dreams throughout most of the show. His career took many paths but he gave Lily what she wanted and tried to consider her feelings until the last season. For example, they moved to the suburbs and hated it, but he did take the judgeship without asking. It all worked out as it always did for that couple. They were born under the right sign. But in the end, they had to figure out how to live together and be happy. Yet, they never imagined it without the other. In the finale, there isn’t a crack in their armor as time passes. All of the other characters have crises that hurt their relationships – but not Lily and Marshall. They are upset by the distance that is being created between their friends. Lily cannot seem to comprehend not having that closeness that they once had. I have that feeling often. I don’t have a large circle of friends but I miss having that closeness and wish it could be like it was. But that is probably the hardest part of your twenties and thirties – it will never be like it was and nor should it. As you get older, your life changes. Your friends change but it doesn’t change what you had with people before. People move and grow apart. People just find other things to fill their time with and you don’t share an apartment or live in the same hallway anymore. You can’t go to the same restaurant or bar or wherever because it is too far away. And as you grow older, you dream of those simpler times when things made more sense.
Overall, I relate to Ted. I wanted to find my soul mate. I wanted to get married. I just never had that group of friends to push me out of my shell. I didn’t have a group of five people to hang out with at a bar. I barely had people who asked me if I was having a good day. A lot of that was my own fault because I just don’t know how to do it. But I wanted to be Ted so badly.
Ted is that person you know who seems to have things together but is an absolute mess. He is a dreamer who can’t land on the ground. But he is a charming cloud jumper. You root for him because he is friendly and kind and really does seem to want to find love.
In the pilot, you watch him lose it when he sees the woman who may be the woman of his dreams. You find out right away that she isn’t. But she is central to the story. Robin is the lynch pin. She is the one that has to realize what it means to be loved and to love. She has a rough through line. You find out about a pretty rough relationship with her dad. You find out that she has self-esteem issues that make she not trust herself. You find out she is a rolling stone because she really doesn’t know anything else. Eventually, she dates Ted and breaks up with Ted, she dates Barney and breaks up with Barney, and dates a whole bunch of other guys along the way. You find out she can’t have children. And you think that she may be the one that can settle Barney down and that he may settle her down. There are two entire seasons dedicated to a long con to get her to marry him because she is his world and then an entire season of just their wedding. But the long con is actually not if she can settle Barney down but if Barney can settle her down and the answer is no. She doesn’t want that. She seems to treat Barney really terribly as she travels the world. She then treats her friends terribly because she just doesn’t feel connected anymore. But she has this halo around her that was there in the pilot when the camera had a soap opera haze to it. The minute she returns, it’s as if she never left. Marshall’s joke about the yeti is over.
Robin was the career woman who wanted to achieve. She wanted success and wanted to travel the world doing what she loved – journalism. It is what broke up Robin and Ted after season two and it was always at the edge of her mind. She wasn’t happy with her job and wanted to move on. She is the rolling stone. And again, the writers felt they needed a character path that settled her down. Because that is what we are all told we are supposed to do. But there is no sign that she does until the last scene.
The show had to end this way. And you know the writers planned it this way because they filmed that piece with Ted’s kids a long time ago as they are nine years older now. It makes sense but it isn’t satisfying. It turned out to be a story about two women: the mother and Robin. And I guess the most unsatisfying part is that the actual changes in both of these two women are done off screen. Robin obviously wasn’t ready to marry and still had too much to do, but why did she return to New York City and get a bunch of dogs. Why did Ted and the Mother not get married for so long after everything Ted says about marriage the entire time? It seems out of character for all of the talk of fate and magic of love for him to wait seven years to actually marry her and for then Robyn to show up again. It is almost like the line that Stella says way back when: you never want an ex at your wedding. Why did Lily say this time was different if the whole story is about Robin? I suppose it doesn’t matter.
The hardest part of being a young adult is the uncertainty. You are trying to create a career and a family and have a social network that doesn’t exist only online. The days of your youth are slowly drifting away. You have to pay bills and start saving for houses, cars, kids, colleges, and just about everything else. And you change at a rapid pace. You shift from someone who has no cares in the world to having to take care of the world. And like Ted, I wanted to find someone to share that with.
I think this last year has been my awakening, which is why some of the plotting and out-of-character actions in the finale don’t bother me. I lived through a lot of things that didn’t really fit into the plot I had written or the actions I thought would happen. A relationship that couldn’t go any further didn’t. But it opened my eyes to what I want out of life. Everything was building up to something. It makes things a little brighter and better because I was able to survive all of the hard things as I aged. All of the dilemmas and heartbreaks that were with joys of being with close friends and acquaintances all began to make sense almost a year ago today. I cherish what I have now because of what my life has been.
I suppose that is why I love How I Met Your Mother and why the finale has made me sit down and write all of this. We have a path in our life and it is a jagged messy one. We don’t have a through-line that always makes sense. Sometimes, we are shifted to fit a role that we think is better at the time, like Barney and Robin. Sometimes the rolling stone rests before starting out on another path. Sometimes the playboy finds that thing that makes him really understand what love is. Sometimes that happy couple looks around and wonders why no one else has what they have. And sometimes, it all works out. But sometimes, it doesn’t.
Love is a really powerful emotion. It generally hurts. There is nothing worse than hearing from someone you love bad news. There is nothing better than hearing good news. Yet both produce tears.