May 6, 2013

Love is Eternal, Unfortunately: A Preemptive Defense of Tonight’s How I Met Your Mother

By Josh Oakley

Spoilers ahead for tonight’s episode, obviously

Many regular viewers of How I Met Your Mother are going to have a problem with tonight’s episode, specifically its conclusion. Overall this was a very solid outing in the midst of a fairly great half-season for the show (beginning with “The Final Page” the show has been far from perfect, but for an 8th season multi-camera CBS sitcom? Damn.) But that final moment, with the lingering eyes, the touching hands and the clearing rain will cause many a fan to moan. I know this because it has happened before. I know this because this (beautiful) moment can seem like an easy retread. It could appear as if the show were backsliding or retreating to a tired plot. And maybe the motivation is something that lazy. But How I Met Your Mother is, and always has been a show that wears its heart on its sleeve. I think cynicism is the wrong outlook. And speaking from limited personal experience, this return to the Ted-Robin well is aching and true.

Before I delve into autobiography (How I Met Your Mother seems to have that effect on me), I’ll defend the scene from a practical standpoint. One of the brilliant aspects of this show’s form is that we, the audience, know the ending. At this point, we even know the specificity of when Ted will meet the titular mother; we’re only a week away. But, as the fantastic “Time Travelers” episode proved, the characters themselves are ignorant to this future. It’s dramatic irony at its most simplistic and profound. Ted and Robin’s sharing a knowing glance isn’t going to lead to their easy reunion. Ted is about to meet the woman of his dreams. This scene isn’t a plot twist; it’s an emotionally important moment. You can say that “The Final Page”, with Ted letting go of Robin, provided an end to this emotional thread. But that episode ended with Ted looking out at the city longingly. Love is not that simple. Getting over love, if such a thing is even possible, is even more complicated.

As I (probably foolishly) admitted in my last HIMYM write-up, I’ve never had a girlfriend, so my situation falls far from the one captured within the show. But I’ve been in love, ever since I was 14, with the same girl. We don’t talk anymore, because I screwed things up, which even casual readers of my autobiographical work should not find difficult to believe. We never dated or anything of the sort, she had no reciprocated feelings. Our friendship grew throughout high school, and we remained close freshman year of college. Then things fell apart because I’m the kind of person who is too informed by the kind of shows that he watches, like How I Met Your Mother. A warning to young readers: almost every sitcom character in history would qualify as a sociopath. Remember that.

I won’t go into details concerning our falling out, not because I’m afraid to embarrass myself (clearly), but rather to “protect” her (protect in the sense that mutual friends do not need to know about an aspect of her life that she has not shared, even if she probably doesn’t care about or remember it). The important matter lies in the fact that we haven’t communicated in years, and if she were to show up on my doorstep tonight and ask me to run away and marry her, I would do so in a fraction of a heartbeat. This can be partially blamed on the characters on television I absorb too much of, such as Ted Mosby. Part of this is simply who I am in the core of my nature. But a large part of it, as sappy and sentimental as it may sound (if you don’t like sappy, I’m not sure why you watch How I Met Your Mother or how you made it this far into this essay) is that I fell in love with her seven years ago, a third of my life ago, and I have yet to even remotely fall out of that love.

Now, I’m not trying to throw a pity party. I’m clearly crazy, I clearly need to move on, and this is clearly a case of me allowing my neuroses to feed the fiber of my being. I know somebody will come along and amaze me and I’ll fall in love all over again. And that’s kind of my point, connecting to the show (which I’ll get to in a second, I promise). This person was an important figure in my life. I’ve had crushes on others in the past few years, and eventually one of those will surpass every experience I’ve ever had. But I haven’t met the one yet. Hell, I haven’t dated any one yet. But I will (Right? Right. Of course. Right?)

And Ted Mosby is about to meet that one. It will be a glorious, beautiful moment, because it is the moment the entire show (or at least Ted’s portion of the show) has been leading towards. We’ve seen the yellow umbrellas and the bass and The Unicorns’ CD and the ankle and we know the conclusion that awaits us, right around the corner. But Ted does not. Ted has no idea that the person he is a week away from meeting will be with him forever. So of course he remains in love with Robin. That’s the closest he’s ever gotten.

I can’t imagine how much worse off I would be if I still saw the girl I loved almost every day of my life, or if I watched her become engaged to one of my best friends, or if I had actually, you know, dated her. But even as is, with my stakes much lower than Ted’s, I understand and agree with that forlorn glance. Until one experience has been usurped by a greater experience, the original will linger. It will fester and even grow. It will persist until it has no reason to persist. Ted Mosby will have feelings for Robin until he meets someone better. Luckily, that’s a week away.

As for Robin’s position in the matter, that shouldn’t be too difficult to defend. She’s questioning her relationship with Barney, which makes complete and utter sense. If anything, I was more perturbed earlier in the season when it seemed that Robin had no remaining qualms. Barney may have changed, as she said, but he’s still Barney, for better and worse. So she too returns to the greatest love she felt besides Barney.

As we grow older, our life splinters with every decision we make. The fights we have with friends or family, the colleges we choose (or do not choose) to attend, the people whose hearts’ we break, and the people who break our hearts. It can be easy, frightfully so, in times of trouble or loneliness, to travel backwards down the winding and branching path, to yearn for a decision to be unmade, for a different present from the one we occupy. When we recall our best days, and today is not included, we wish for the days that made us whole. We wish for the people who provided us with a sense of urgency and complacency at the same time. Until that next great day comes, until the path again splinters in your favor, you can become lost, retracing your steps. Ted Mosby is doing just that, unaware that the next forward step he takes will change his life forever, in the best possible way. So too should all of us with our backs turned to the future change direction and sprint to the horizon ahead of us, and hope. The past is a dangerous game, but for those displeased with tonight’s How I Met Your Mother, you should remember: it is not an easy one. It can be the most challenging we have ever played.

As proof, I still await her call.

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