A few years ago, the theory that the Mother on How I Met Your Mother was dead started floating around the Internet. And then a few weeks ago—as Ted choked up while talking about mothers not being at their kids’ weddings—I started dreading the finale. After waiting nine years for the big reveal of this generally chipper sitcom, I was going to bawl for an hour? Ugh.
As it turned out, I did spend much of last night’s finale weeping, but not for the reason I thought. It wasn’t the revelation of the Mother’s—Tracy’s—death.* Instead, Robin and Barney’s divorce, Lily’s speech about being together for the big things, and—especially—Lily and Robin’s heartbreaking scene in the empty apartment: Those were the gut punches.
As Miriam Krule (and others) wrote, the show was never really about Tracy. It was about Ted and Robin, yes—but for me, it was mostly about the gang. But still I asked myself, “Why do I care about these characters so much?” The show has not been legen—wait for it!—dary for years. Ted has devolved from a hopeless romantic to a pathetic one, and we were subjected to Lily’s bad doppelganger and devil eyes.
And then I was reminded of a debate I had with my husband about Friends vs. HIMYM. You can make an argument that they are practically the same show, devised for different generations. He argued at the time that HIMYM was a better show—heresy, I thought! But now I know Ted and Robin and Marshall and Lily and Barney will stay with me longer than Ross and Rachel and Joey and whatserface and Courteney Cox. That’s not to say that one is a better show than the other—but it is to say that the precise circumstances of my life made HIMYM a show I’ll never forget. And I think for many viewers my age, it was the same way.
Friends started when I was in college, so the characters were just a bit older than me. Watching them struggle and then get good jobs, and then get married and have kids—it was what was coming for me, I believed, and so I loved all the happy endings, however shallow the show really was.
But the HIMYM characters were a different generation, just a few years younger than me, and so I was coming at it from the opposite end. The struggles they faced as the series went on too long and as the finale launched into the future were familiar struggles. I’ve seen friendships wither over kids and divorces. I’ve watched too-young parents get sick and die. Having grown into something that I don’t like to call middle age, I’ve learned that everything is not what I hope and dream. I watched the show regularly, but for friends my age who’d fallen away from the series but tuned in for the finale, the withering of the HIMYM gang echoed their own relationships with the characters—once fervent, now sporadic and wistful.
It’s understandable that so many fans are mad that, after all that, Ted ended up with Robin. The complaint that it was “nine years of character development down the drain” is a common refrain. I disagree. Ted spent this whole last season saying farewell to Robin. And he was successful. But when life dealt him the ultimate blow, it’s not a step backward for him to make the best of it. That’s a mature response to life, and the finale was especially touching to many of us who’ve lived a little ourselves.
*This post originally misspelled Tracy’s first name. Return to the corrected sentence.