SPOILER WARNING. This is all about the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. Which aired a week ago. It’s taken me this long to process it enough to write a coherent blog post. If you haven’t seen the finale and want to see it unspoiled, DO NOT read further. Here’s another nice article I wrote about a popular sitcom. Go read that. Okay, you want the SPOILERS? You can have the SPOILERS. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”
Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.
~ The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In this scene from The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy Buchanan is symbolized by an object, namely the green light on the dock. This is not unlike the objects that symbolize the two loves of Ted Mosby’s life in How I Met Your Mother: the blue French horn for the woman he loved and lost, and the yellow umbrella for the woman who would become his wife and the mother of his two children.
Ted loved Robin. There’s no doubt about that. Neither is there any doubt that Ted loved (SPOILERS!!) Tracy McMillan Mosby. Not once when Ted talks about Tracy do you get the sense that he merely settled for her because he couldn’t have Robin. Ted was head over heels for Tracy from the moment he met her to (SPOILERS!!) the moment she passed away. By the end of the series, I was, too.
But Ted was head over heels for Robin first. That’s what always made How I Met Your Mother so intriguing to me. In any other sitcom, Ted and Robin would be the obvious endgame. Either that or when both of them ended up with their true matches, we’d see that they’d never truly been in love with each other the way they loved the people they ended up with. No, this was a story about a man who fell truly in love, whose relationship with his True Love ended for legitimate reasons, and who not only found True Love again but was able to move on from his first love enough to maintain the friendship that had once been the foundation of their romance.
Except it totally wasn’t. Surprise! Instead of a story about how Ted let go of Robin and outgrew obsessing over something he could never have, How I Met Your Mother turned out to be a story about how Ted never moved beyond Robin and maintained his obsession for twenty-five years. Twenty-five years. That’s enough time to grow a whole new Ted or Robin or Tracy. A person born the day Ted met Robin could be in their last year of med school the day Ted finished explaining to his kids why he deserved to be with her.
And that is ultimately the whole point of Ted’s story. That he deserved to be with Robin. That, in spite of Robin’s (very valid) concerns about the two of them being together (career conflicts, he wanted kids and she didn’t, he dreamed of a white picket fence and she dreamed of a penthouse, she was a gun enthusiast and he didn’t want guns in the house, etc.), Ted was the only man on earth who loved her wholeheartedly and selflessly enough to make her truly happy. That, in spite of Ted’s knowledge that he and he alone was the right man for Robin, he was virtuous enough to let her go when she foolishly chose one of his best friends. Twice.
All of this was a great setup for Ted to grow the hell up, meet someone who was actually a far better match for him, start the life he’d always dreamed of with this woman who’d always dreamed of the same life, and look back on their story from an older, wiser perspective as he passed his experiences on to his children who were on the verge of entering the chaos of adult dating themselves. But, nope. Turns out that wasn’t the story How I Met Your Mother was telling.
How I Met Your Mother was never the story of Ted’s count of enchanted objects diminishing by one. It was a long, convoluted, overblown justification for the fact that, instead, they increased by one. When the Yellow Umbrella exited his life as abruptly and randomly as it had entered, he could go back to chasing the Blue French Horn.