How I Met Your Mother premiered 10 years ago today. And although we know many fans were left disappointed by How I Met Your Mother’s ending, Ted and Robin’s full-circle romance made perfect sense.
“And that’s the story of how I met… your aunt Robin.”
This is the line that closed out the very first episode of How I Met Your Mother, which aired 10 years ago on September 19, 2005.
And thus, the stage was set for the quirky, comedy/mystery mashup: We were set up to experience the epic love story of Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) and Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders), knowing full well that it was doomed to end. She was not, after all, the titular Mother.
But the seasons went on and we waited, and waited, and waited for Ted to finally get around to introducing the damn mother… and when he did in the How I Met Your Mother ending, it could not have been more underwhelming.
The series finale left a lot of fans wildly disappointed, as we were left with the knowledge that the central theme of the show — “how I met your mother” — was a giant misdirect. Just as Ted told us in the pilot, the show really was all about “how I met your Aunt Robin.”
If you think that’s dumb, I get it. Over the years, the series took a lot of twists and turns (parading the various loves of Ted’s life across the screen, introducing the arguably superior Robin/Barney pairing) that made the ending hit a weird note.
But in retrospect, however you felt about the finale, there was simply no way around it: Ted had to end up with Robin, or the series as a whole wouldn’t have made any sense.
Of course, savvy viewers were aware of the possibility that “your mother” and Ted’s “happily ever after” wouldn’t be the same person. But despite plenty of evidence that Robin was Ted’s true love (or at least his last love), them ending up together still seemed like a crackpot theory, a far-fetched hope sustaining the delusional Ted/Robin fans hoping for a happy ending. After all, we knew the Mother was coming. We knew he married and had kids with her. How could there possibly be hope for Ted and Robin?
Yet the story kept circling back around. Even after introducing Robin/Barney as a great alternative (and then promptly retconning it, only to spend the entire final season on a wedding that was undone in a sentence), Ted’s story was still all about Robin.
Every single romantic partner introduced as a potential Mother — Victoria, Slutty Pumpkin, Cindy, etc. — was ultimately dismissed, despite being perfectly lovely, because she wasn’t Robin.
And, let’s face it, this constant reprise of the Ted/Robin romance (which we thought we knew was doomed to fail) got kind of old. There came a point when a large segment of the How I Met Your Mother fanbase, myself included, became so frustrated with the show that we actually stopped watching. Because the damn Ted/Robin romance, which we [thought we] knew wasn’t endgame, was supposed to end. At the time, it felt like the writers just couldn’t let it go, and we were seven seasons in, and when were we going to meet the mother already?!
But knowing that Robin and Ted ultimately ended up together, HIMYM as a whole now makes perfect sense. Despite being rushed and underwhelming, the finale justified the entire series.
Because, as the finale proved, Ted’s story had always been about Robin. Ted, the epitome of an unreliable narrator, had kept bringing Robin back as the central figure in his epic love story, had kept veering off track, and had to keep reminding himself that he was supposed to be talking about the mother of his children. Because, like the audience, Ted the Narrator still hadn’t fully comprehended that the woman he married and had kids with wasn’t synonymous with his happily-ever-after.
‘How I Met Your Mother’: A 9-year study in the human psyche
As the series went on, Ted started repeating the same jokes and revisiting the same formative moments, to the point where every other episode contained the same handful of jokes. He started forgetting facts and changing little details. He veered off on ridiculous tangents, jumped in time, and it was always just Robin, Robin, Robin.
At the time, I remember it being frustrating as hell to see the narrative circling around and repeating itself. But looking back on it now, I think it’s actually kind of brilliant. Because isn’t that a pretty accurate portrayal of the human brain, and how we tell stories; remembering, forgetting and altering details based on our current reality?
We know now that Ted started and ended his tale after he’d already loved and lost Tracy. He started and ended his tale (ostensibly) on the day when he was finally going to admit his feelings to Robin. He was consumed by his feelings for Robin, in the process of moving on from his late wife, and the show reflected this mindset. And the showrunners don’t get enough credit for their quiet, understated confidence in the story they were trying to tell.
And, hey, I’ll be the first to admit that the final season was disappointing, the wedding ultimately a 10-hour long MacGuffin leading up to the introduction of a character who’d be dead with only a sappy montage to her name. How I Met Your Mother was not a perfect show.
But knowing that Ted and Robin was the endgame pairing all along, we needed the finale to end the way it did. Knowing that Ted’s entire tale was colored by his very current feelings for Robin, as opposed to a lingering affection for a past girlfriend, gives the entire series new meaning.
The fact that Ted and Robin ended up together justified a lot of what, at the time, felt like lazy storytelling. Because How I Met Your Mother wasn’t a story about the mother, it was about how Ted met her. And ultimately, that story was all about Robin. It was a story about how it took Ted falling in love with, marrying, and losing another woman to finally end up with Robin Scherbatsky. It was a story about love — true, wretched, imperfect, impermanent love, in all its forms.
If Ted and Robin had not ended up together, if Ted had ended the series finally over Robin and ready to live happily ever after with Tracy, the entire series would have felt pointless. And I, for one, much prefer a disappointing finale over an inconsistent overall narrative.
Because of the finale, we now get to re-experience How I Met Your Mother knowing that every time Ted talks about Robin, every time the two characters stumble back to each other despite the narrative trying to force them apart, it was all part of a bigger, circular love story.
And the mess of it all, the scramble and imperfection of love and heartbreak, told from the point of view of a man whose reckoning with the concept of true love is finally upon him, is kind of beautiful.