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Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Live & Learn | 16 comments

The How I Met Your Mother Finale Forgot the Rules About “The One”

The How I Met Your Mother Finale Forgot the Rules About “The One”

If you are still, now, days later, trying to avoid finding out how the How I Met Your Mother finale went down, don’t read this. You’ve been warned. 


On Monday night How I Met Your Mother ended its nine-year run and the internet promptly freaked the hell out. People cited various causes for the ire but mainly it seems that folks were pissed because the folks at HIMYM forgot to play by the rules of fairytales, rom-coms and, well mostly everything a lot of us are taught growing up: There is a “The One” and if you find them they will be the only one you ever love and things will work perfectly. Seriously, the Washington Post actually posted something devoted to that.

So, I like How I Met Your Mother. Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segel (or, as I like to think of him, “the man who brought back The Muppets“) all in one place, being funny? Fabulous. The one thing that often gave me pause was how the show, in its nearly decade-long build-up to meeting The Mother focused a lot on Ted obsessing over finding “The One” and talking to his kids about how many twists and turns and disappointments and mishaps one has to go through along the path of life, with the implication always seeming to be “but then you find The One- huzzah!” This never sat quite right for me.

Sure, for some folks that happens. Some couples meet, fall in love and live happily (and monogamously) together for the rest of their lives. My grandparents were those people. One of my best is friends and her husband are, I’m pretty sure, those people. I know this exists and the show acknowledged that too- the Lily and Marshall characters pretty much carry the banner for that relationship model and look damn good doing it.  The thing is, for a lot more folks, that’s not what life looks like and it was really amazing to see a network sitcom acknowledge that in a normalized way. A lot of people do not agree with me on this. It seems a lot of folks would have been really happy to fade out on three happy couples, everyone having found their “The One”. Why do I feel differently?

Well, let’s break some stuff down.

Starting with Barney and Robin. There’s been a lot of complaining about how years were spent convincing the audience these two were a good couple (and then a whole season spent on their wedding) only to have it not work out after 3 years, thus rendering their coupling invalid all along. Or something. This immediately brought to mind something I read last winter. Lynn Beisner wrote this fascinating piece about how folks who are divorcing are prone to constructing narratives (ie: “I never loved him”) that explain why their marriage has failed without costing them their faith in marriage in general “a person ending the marriage must be able to tell him or herself a story in which his or her marriage is no longer viable, without calling into doubt the validity or viability of the institution of marriage.”  People on the outside of marriages that are ending do this too. When I moved out 2 1/2 years into my marriage I was asked more than once “Did you suspect all along?” The idea that marriages must be flawed from the start to end in divorce allows people to hold on to the dream that says “when you meet The One it works forever”. But the thing is, stepping away from a marriage because it’s not right anymore is something that happens— often and it can be the best choice for all parties involved. It doesn’t mean that those parties were never happy, never “in love” never “supposed to be together” it sometimes just means that they are capable of acknowledging when ending a relationship is the healthy choice. The situation was best summed up by Barney (Neil Patrick Harris): “It’s not a failed marriage. It’s a successful marriage that only lasted three years”.

Now the big one: Ted and The Mother (and Robin)

I’ve heard a lot of folks say that having the Mother (Tracey, btw) die and Ted end up with Robin made the Mother an “afterthought” and someone Ted “never really loved” because he must have “always been in love with Robin”


I’m worried about some of you…

People, this is your brain on Disney princesses.

I’m going to take this back to basics. Love is not a pie, if I love you some that doesn’t leave me with less capacity to love the person sitting next to you. I know, I know, it doesn’t read as well if Cinderella had this stablehand with whom she had a deeply passionate and loving relationship that they were sure would end in marriage but then they broke up because he was orthodox and she wouldn’t convert but she and the stablehand still stay in touch and value each other deeply and he’s very happy for her and the Prince. That’s not a story we’re taught. We’re taught that everyone gets one person to share fulfilling romantic love with (you can have other attempts on the way but once you find this one you are, according to the rules, supposed to downplay their importance). Okay, and maybe if that first one dies you can have another. But then HIMYM even effed that up by having the woman Ted ended up with after his wife and mother of his children died be a woman he had known and loved for years which (apparently) automatically means he never truly loved his wife. Because, you see, that’s how it works.

Does this sound insane to anyone other than me?

I know, that was a lot of sarcasm but seriously, it is insane. That’s not how it works. That’s not how love works and it’s not how life works. Feelings for one person do not invalidate feelings for another.  And, just in case you don’t want to take the nonmonogamous chick’s word for it, I’ll refer you to the dialogue.



How I Met Your Mother could have very easily ended with three simple happily settled couples but it didn’t do that. Instead it showed a group of friends navigating growing older among divorces, babies, marriages, growing apart and growing up. All that stuff that Bob Saget spent the last 9 years saying that I was worrying would all amount to “stick it out and you’ll find your One and only” instead turned out to be about loving people when you have the chance— because that chance may not last.  HIMYM threw out the rules about “The One” and, as can happen when you do that, opened itself up to so many other awesome possibilities.

And that was pretty legendary.

  • skinny_dip

    I think you totally nailed it! I loved the finale (and bawled like a baby at the end) and give the writers major props for taking a risk & not going for the typical Hollywood ending. My only wish was we could have enjoyed more of Tracy onscreen because her character was really rad, but I guess that’s the point. I did however love what Ted said (something like) “I knew I had to love her as much as I could while we were together.” Life isn’t static, relationships change and it’s important to love the people you love while you have them by your side. Great post! xo

    • The Redhead Bedhead

      Thank you love, looking back over the stuff Ted said about the Mother knowing now that she’s dead changes some of it in a very cool way, I think.

      • skinny_dip

        I agree – Ted’s tearful speech about wanting “those 45 days” with the Mother no longer seems like the words of a love-lorn, (maybe slightly desperate) man fed up with dating, but instead those of man who just wanted a little bit of extra time with someone he really, really loved. Also, thinking back on episodes throughout the series he talks about Tracy lovingly, in the past tense (another clue.) If anything I think the Mother dying gives the series more meaning.

  • Kristoffer Nilsen

    I think a lot of people are okay with Ted and Robin getting back together in the end. Ted had 6 years to grieve, but the audience didn’t. It showed 15 second clip of Tracy getting “sick”, and then 30 seconds later he heads back to Robin. Although for Ted it’s been six years, the audience only has had 30 seconds to grieve the death of a great onscreen character. The whole pacing of the finale was what made it so bad and not the end game/outcome.

    • The Redhead Bedhead

      I have heard some folks complain about that and the timing was rough for the audience, I get that. I was thinking about it and it kind of reminds me of movies and shows where there’s the happy ending and then on the screen there’s the epilogue where it’s like “Six months later Bobby died” and you’re like “What the hell?!!!”

      The subject at hand here is more the chorus of “that means the wife meant NOTHING” that I’ve been hearing. I think the show was brave for going in the direction of allowing Ted more than one great love in his life but not everyone is ready for that idea.

  • Alluring Audio

    > “People, this is your brain on Disney princesses.”

    Beautiful. Thank you for that :-)

    • The Redhead Bedhead

      Saving the world from mediocre sex… and Disney princesses ;-)

  • Kristy Patullo

    Nicely done, thank you! A lot of the fans like to say that Tracy was the consolation prize. Or that Robin was the consolation prize. I think it’s obvious that Ted had two great loves. One doesn’t trump the other. Tracy was absolutely perfect for Ted in every way. Which I thought was a bit unrealistic. But they were adorable together. Robin was the complete opposite of Ted. But they had an incredible chemistry and were very sweet together. (opposites attract) It’s only natural for Ted to fall back in love with the woman who he so deeply loved for so many years. That last scene was magical. I cry every time I watch it.

  • trix23

    I admit to being one of those who hated the finale when it aired…reading your essay, I see where you’re coming from. It’s not so much the end result for me as the way the writers led up to it. With so many placeholder episodes this season (the one done in rhyme, the final slap bet, several episodes with Marshall in the car to Farhampton) that did nothing to advance the story, shoehorning Tracy’s death and Ted’s mourning into the last 3 1/2 minutes was practically criminal on the writers’ part. (The way the kids were so snarky throughout the series wouldn’t lead you to expect that this was their dad’s tender discussion of his love for their late mom.) Plus, I was uncomfortable with the characterizations of both Tracy and Robin in the end. Cristin Milioti did such a wonderful job with what she was given that it was easy to ignore that the writers fell into two traps. They made her Girl Ted (she shared all his crazy interests, ergo, she was perfect for him!), and even worse, made her the perfect, wise, doomed girl who solves everyone else’s problems with sage advice upon meeting them before conveniently bowing out permanently. “How Your Mother Met Me” was the only episode where we had any chance of learning about what made Tracy McConnell tick, and instead it was all about external events that revealed more about everybody else. I hated that they made confident Robin mopey (complete with depressed rom-com heroine bad hair) and self-doubting following her divorce; the way it was done smacked so much of “I should have picked Ted because now I’m alone.” We know he always loved her on some level, but she was more ambivalent about her feelings for him throughout the series (and I respected her for admitting that). We had no time to see what changed, other than her loneliness, Tracy’s death, and the fact that she finally accomplished what she wanted in her career. All I saw in Robin’s eyes when Ted appeared with that French horn was relief. That’s what bothered me.

    Yikes, I didn’t realize I still had such strong feelings about the whole thing. Thanks for letting me vent. I agree that Disney princesses have destroyed our idealizations of love (although, frankly, the bland, lame Disney princes always seemed worse).

    • The Redhead Bedhead

      I hadn’t thought about it but now that I’ve read your comment I agree with you on the characterizations of the women, especially Robin. Good call on all of that.

      As for not realizing you had the strong feelings, that was the exact response I had when I found myself devoting a post to the topic.

  • MarUlberg

    Just as true as Barneys statement that if it didn’t work out with Robin it wouldn’t work with anyone, that statement is true for Robin. If it didn’t work out with Barney it wouldn’t work out with Ted. But what rly piss me off is the fact that they set it up perfectly for the ending I was hoping for and just threw it away.. With Robin out of the group, there were no longer anything to keep Ted and Victoria apart. She is what Ted deserved!

    • The Redhead Bedhead

      This is sarcasm, right?

      • MarUlberg

        Not at all, in S09E17 Robin even said herself that the whole group agreed, “The pastry chef was the best, no question”

        • The Redhead Bedhead

          Hilarious! I read somewhere that when they weren’t sure if they were getting picked up for a second season and thought they might have to end suddenly, they were going to make Victoria the mother.

  • Sincerely Yours, N

    That’s actually not why I hated the finale. I’m perfectly okay with the Mother dying and Ted and Robin getting together long afterwards (and actually called it several seasons back), but the filming of the finale itself bothered me. I wanted to see more of Ted and the Mother’s story in it, you know? More time than three and a half minutes, at least. Sure, there were a lot of loose ends to tie up, but I feel like the biggest loose end – the Mother itself – didn’t have enough time devoted to it.

    I actually like that she dies. I like that the entire, many year long journey led to him “settling” (a word I use carefully) for Robin. He did have two great loves, and he and Robin had to grow into one another; they wouldn’t work without the divorce / death.

    Still, I wanted more time devoted to her. I would have been okay with the ending the way it was if we hadn’t seen so much of her in the last season. I was expecting… more.

  • cammies on the floor

    I love this post, just as I love the show. I like that it was messy, that it showed relationships realistically instead of the fairy tale endings.