HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Who We Are and How Does That Matter?

How I Met Your Mother has been running for 9 years. That’s amazing, really. The pilot remains one of the strongest concepts for a TV show that I can think of. That’s not to say it’s one of the best pilots ever, although it is very good, but the concept — a framing device of a guy telling his kids the story of how he met their mother — is amazingly refreshing. These days it seems so common, now that it’s been ingrained in our pop culture knowledge. Everyone knows the story of How I Met Your Mother, even if they haven’t ever actually seen the show. We’ve been looking forward to meeting the Mother for 8 years, and now that we finally have, most of us are in this to the end, sticking around for that moment when Ted Mosby meets the love of his life. There are too many fan theories to count. Some of them are clever, some of them unique, some of them not. Some are even rather depressing. One thing is clear though, we all want to find out.

As the blanks have been filled in and we’ve come closer and closer to the final conclusion, we must ask ourselves, what happens next? There’s only 3 episodes left, including the 2-part finale. Where do we go after we say goodbye to these endearing characters that have been part of our lives for almost a decade?

Perhaps the show has been answering this question for us since it started. The pilot began by hooking our hopes with Robin, the first potential mother, but ended with a surprise twist: Robin is not the Mother. Instead, the pilot turns out to be the mini story of how Ted met “your Aunt Robin,” as he relates to his bored kids, who sigh and roll their eyes, knowing what we don’t yet: Ted’s stories are really, really long. That’s the key to the series, and the answer to the question. Ted’s stories are not about the who’s, the what’s, or the why’s. They are about, as the title suggests, the how. The reality is, Ted could have married any of the many girls he dates throughout the show. Any one of them could have been a mother, but none of them are the Mother. This backs up Ted’s belief in one-true love. If Ted had met the Mother earlier, would he have fallen for her?

That’s a good question, since we know they are a pretty good match early on. Consider the episode where Ted ends up at Cindy’s (Rachel Bilson) apartment and points random things that he likes about her… which turn out to be the Mother’s things. Clearly Ted is “ready” to meet her, isn’t he? Or would it not have worked at that time? This is certainly a question most of us have asked ourselves; it’s a question I’ve asked myself. What if I had met someone at a different time? Would we be friends? Would we not be friends? Some answers are hopeful, some aren’t.

Still, we know that when Ted does meet her, it will be amazing. It has to, right? After all, it’s been 9 years. We’ve seen Ted go through the fire over and over again. Fate has been preparing him even though he doesn’t know it, and as of now, still can’t see it. Although Future Ted has the benefit of hindsight to realize how perfect that moment was, Past Ted still has no idea what is about to happen. Look at all the random things that had to line up. Yes, those events are constructed by the writers and show runners, but they still reflect the messy reality of the unpredictability of life. A million random events line up with a million other random events that bring these two people, who have never met, have nothing to do with each other, together in one brief moment in time; a moment that couldn’t have happened a minute too soon or a minute too late. That’s a miracle. It’s the scariest and most amazing part of life. Any moment could be that moment, the moment that changes your life forever. It’s frightening to think you could be missing it. I spend a lot of time alone, what if I’m supposed to be somewhere else? Well, there’s an episode for that. The thing is, there’s nothing really that you can do about those moments, and that’s what makes them so magical. Those moments will happen. I mean you can hide underground all your life and that will probably prevent you from a lot of potential moments, but that isn’t living. To live is to subject yourself to the whims of the universe.

And here’s the real thing: every moment is a potential moment. Each potential moment could be a big moment in hindsight. For all the things humans have discovered, for all the knowledge we have, we’re still not very good at recognizing the present. Maybe we never will be, maybe that’s kind of the point. The present is a whisper in the echoes of time after all. It only lasts for the briefest second and then is gone, but at the same time, it continues forever.

So all these people Ted has met, everyone he’s fallen in love with, every time he’s tried to avoid another heartbreak, each promise he’s made to never be hurt again, each time he’s broken that promise, they all add up to him meeting the one person who would change his life. The thing is, all of those people changed his life, refining him a little bit, making him stronger, wiser, better, more suited to meeting the Mother. Who’s to say he couldn’t have had a happy life with any of them? Ted believes in one-true love, is he right in doing so? Is one-true love ordained by the universe or determined by our actions? Can you make a relationship work with someone you’re not meant to be with? It seems easier to say you weren’t meant to be with someone and call it off than to admit you don’t want to put in the work to make the relationship work. At least the older generation would tell us so. Are they right? Or are we, the younger generation on to something that they weren’t? More and more marriages end in divorce these days. What’s happening? Are we having a harder time finding the ones we’re meant to be with, or are we refusing to do the hard work? Or are we falling for something else? Have we stopped listening to the universe’s signs and settling for someone who we thought was right for us but really wasn’t? What about Stella? Ted came so close, and they certainly loved each other. No doubt they could have had a happy ending, but it wouldn’t have been right, would it? Really, would it?

I don’t know, but the show isn’t afraid to ask these questions. For all the jokes, the show’s greatest strength has been its ability to navigate into drama successfully. I’ve cried many times, feeling all the pain and heartbreak, the loss, the confusion, but also the happiness, the overwhelming joy, the love. It’s a remarkable balance that the show gets right so many times, even when it fails in other areas.

Above all else though, is how the show always, always reminds us that life is about the journey, not the destination. For all the possible mothers out there, in the end it doesn’t matter that they weren’t, or even that they could have been the Mother. What matters is that they were who they were along the way.

Now what about Robin? The show still hasn’t completely dropped the Ted/Robin relationship. It still seems like there’s hope for them after all, like the whole show has been one really long red herring to distract us from the fact that Robin is indeed the Mother. Some of us I’m sure still want to believe that is true. That we’ve been conned somehow. It would make it easier, wouldn’t it? To believe we’ve been fooled, rather than face the difficulty of saying goodbye to their relationship, once they part ways after the wedding in the finale. Robin and Ted have always been close. Not all of us have the absolute blessing of having that kind of friend in our lives. A person we can trust wholeheartedly, who supports us, loves us, whom we support and love in return, but expect nothing of beyond just that. Relationship advice columns always talk about how sex can “complicate” a friendship, or how a relationship can ruin what was just supposed to be sex between two people, but they’re missing something, failing to capture the complex wonder that is this kind of relationship. There’s no need to even talk about the idea of sex “getting in the way” of anything. It’s just simply not neccessary. Those of us who have experienced it will know, you never get over the other person. Just like Ted has never gotten over Robin. He loves her, he always will. Ted will never be able to not love Robin. She could break his heart a million times in a million ways and he will still love her. I don’t think she realizes yet whether or not she feels the same way back. I still think Robin is trying to conceptualize her relationship with Ted, still trying to decide if it’s a friendship with a past history of sex, or a romance that never really ended, or something different. I don’t think either of them yet has been able to fully embrace what their relationship is. It’s timeless. Untouchable. It doesn’t need any descriptions because it exists between them alone. As long as they keep trying to lock it down and figure it out, there will always be unresolved tension between them.

In reality? That’s how it works. These kind of relationships exist much like the present, they end in a whisper in time, yet they carry on. They aren’t about any particular moment. It doesn’t matter how or when Ted and Robin met, what matters who they are along the way.

So now we’ve met the Mother, and we know we’re only a few weeks away from seeing how she and Ted meet. I’m sure the show will answer a lot of questions, although I’m also sure there are some that can’t quite be wrapped up. Someone on the internet will be unsatisfied, I can promise you that. Maybe they just met the show at the wrong time. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve changed a lot since I started watching 6 years ago. More than I can even really remember. I stopped watching several times. Sometimes I forgot about it, sometimes I was sick of it, sometimes I thought I had moved on, but eventually, every time, my curiosity got the best of me. I just had to know. What if? What if this week we’ll find out? Yeah, I knew I wasn’t going to meet the Mother this week, but you know what I mean. It’s kept me going sometimes, helped me through hard times, been there when I gave up on life and needed someone, anyone, even if it was just a character on a TV show who had also given up but who believed in the same things, who held on when it seemed foolish, to be there. However Ted meets the Mother, it will happen the same way it happens in real life. In the blink of an eye. In one moment, everything will change forever. The questions won’t matter anymore. All that will matter is who they, and we, will be when we get there.

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