There are few tv shows that I am loyal to anymore. With a busy lifestyle, treasures like The Office, 30 Rock, even Modern Family are often after-thoughts, and I’m lucky if I can catch a new episode. But on Monday nights when How I Met Your Mother is on, you can bet that I’ve got it on and that I’ve postponed other responsibilities in order to make time for that half hour.
I started watching HIMYM at a point when my life somewhat resembled the characters on the show. Having graduated from college, I was living in a big city with college roommates / best friends, twenty-something and overwhelmed by the world of adulthood in front of us. Where would we be when we’re 25? Where would we be when we’re 30? Plus, Alyson Hannigan of Buffy was in it so it had to be good. I fell in love with the mystery of the show, the teasing clues, the strange timelines and proclivity for flashbacks and flashforwards. But over the years I’ve also come to appreciate the blunt sincerity and authenticity of the characters, and the experiences that they have gone through – which haven’t all been cheerful and happy. Just like my life has been, all along with them.
More recently, two of the main characters – Marshall and Lily – spent a season or two trying to get pregnant. They worried aloud what many of us in that situation worry in secret: What if I can’t get pregnant? What if there’s something wrong with me? How do we tell our parents that we’re trying? How do we tell our friends without getting their hopes up? They happened to be going through this phase at the same time as I was, and I was moved by their realness. Then, in the middle of their journey, Marshall’s father passes away unexpectedly, and one year later Marshall is still dealing with the emotional turmoil – guilt over his last words, the bittersweet mixing of happiness and sorrow, and confusion over what our path is supposed to be in life. I know how painful that first year is without a parent. Both my husband and I lost a parent unexpectedly in our 20s, and it’s an experience that changes you and that you’re never prepared for.
Like Marshall and Lily, I thought it wouldn’t be long before I would wake up with morning sickness. A year, maybe. But when it didn’t happen quite so easily, I had to pick up the pieces and reorient my direction – seemingly with every doctor visit. And then HIMYM did what it’s done for years and mirror my life again: another main character, Robin, finds out she can never have children. We don’t learn the medical reason why, and despite her admitted dislike of children, we watch her struggle with the aftermath of the diagnosis: not telling anyone out of shame, her fear of what her partner might think, her own insecurities as a woman. One of her thoughts was so devastatingly true: Although she didn’t want kids, she also wanted that option of being able to change her mind. Now it appears that decision has already been made for her.
And although I cried through that episode – as I had for Marshall’s father – I still heard the whisper of denial saying, “That’s not going to happen to me.”