Why How I Met Your Mother Missed the Mark on Love

Tonight, How I Met Your Mother aired its series finale. After nine epic (and occasionally not-so-epic) seasons, I was excited to see how it all would end. I was also nervous. A few weeks ago, the show had a few scenes that seemed to hint that The Mother had been dead the whole time. My Twitter newsfeed was full of outrage and dismay. The Internet cried foul.

I didn't want to believe it. Yes, it's just a TV show, but Ted's journey really was poignant to me. Ted (the central character, played by Josh Radnor) truly wanted to find love and he watched his friends get married and have babies and he felt like his life was passing him by. I remember being in my early twenties and having serious doubts that I would ever find real love. I felt discouraged, and in the back of my mind I doubted I'd ever have a husband or children. But despite those doubts, I had hope. And then, in January 2011, I met my husband. We fell in love quickly and were engaged shortly thereafter; we married a year and a half later. We have a daughter and a life and I know now that it was worth waiting for.

But that's not the lesson in How I Met Your Mother. Every time Ted felt alone, I remembered my own pain. His desire for love, and how difficult it truly is to find the real, sustainable thing, reminds me of my sisters and my friends, and I loved that show for showing how truly painful and sad and scary the process can be. No one really talks about it. Too often the love story is shiny and comic and meet-cutes. The real thing, the real search for love, isn't cute. It makes you doubt yourself. It makes you question yourself. Lily and Marshall (played winsomely by Alyson Hannigan and Jason Segal) met when they were 18 and instantly fell in love. Ted felt alone in his search for love because you can't truly understand that process unless you've lived it.

We are expected to believe that Tracy McConnell (played by Cristin Milioti), Ted's eventual wife, is the object of this show. We are expecting this to be a love story about how he met her, and they fell in love, and they created a wonderful life together. But it turns out that HIMYM pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch. It turns out that The Mother has been dead the whole time. She "got sick" (that's all the information we get) and he never even says that she died. We only learn that detail for sure when his kids mention that she's been gone for six years. Instead, the woman that he spent 10 years creating a life with becomes seemingly just a footnote. It turns out that this entire time the show has been about Ted being in love with Robin (his ex-girlfriend, played by Cobie Smulders).

I guess the show orchestrated that well. The show spent a lot of time on their relationship over the years. Many assumed that that chapter was over since she married Barney, but then they divorced. And the show ends with Ted, in his late forties or perhaps even early fifties, arriving spontaneously at Robin's apartment, with that long-remembered blue French horn.

This ending crushed me as a viewer. Again, yes, I know it is just a show, but I also feel a little betrayed. I believe in love; I know what it's like to have to work hard to find it, to keep it, to cherish it. It's important to celebrate love. And I feel like by treating Ted's relationship with his wife so strangely, the show revealed a coarse understanding of love. It turns out that The Mother, who seemingly loved and always treated Ted well and did not doubt their relationship and committed to him, was just a placeholder until he could unite with Robin again. And if he still loved Robin, after all those years, it is both tragic and cruel. Because that means the love never went anywhere; he was married to The Mother and secretly still fancied Robin. It's like The Mother didn't matter in the long run. In the course of a strong relationship, you do not marry someone while being deeply in love with someone else. What was this whole search for love for? I feel like my feelings as a viewer, of all the times I related to his hopes and disappointments, were invalidated.

Furthermore, it seems sloppy and cruel to discard The Mother in such a fashion. Ted supposedly searched his whole life to find love, and finally finds it in his mid-thirties, but he only got to keep it for 10 years. How excruciating! To have dreamed about creating a life with someone, and when you finally get it, it's wretched away from you. There are so many important consequences that occur from this kind of tragedy. But the show didn't care about what it's like to lose the love of your life. It mentions that The Mother died six years ago, and then announces that all along, Robin was the love of Ted's life.

I watched How I Met Your Mother pretty consistently over the last nine years. I enjoyed it. But now that I've grown up too, it feels irresponsible to treat love in such a cavalier manner. It feels unfair to act like the love of your life could be taken from you but it's okay because there's a backup and good news! It's the person you've loved all along. This love story was never about Ted and Tracey. It was about Ted and Robin.

I believe in love. I feel lucky to have found it. And HIMYM twists the idea of love. The whole story feels sad now, about missed opportunities and loving from afar and death. That's not the love story I was hoping for from HIMYM. Ted deserved better. We all deserve better. Because, at the end of the day, love is the most legen-wait for it-dary legacy we earn and pass on.