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”
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.