I picked up the remote control with one hand, took a sip of red moscato out of a glass from the other and pressed "Play."
Forty-seven days. It had been 47 days since I had last done this, but it was time. I didn't want to face it again. I didn't want to endure the emotional tug-o-war on my heart again. But I knew I needed to. It would be good for me.
And I began watching the series finale of How I Met Your Mother for the second time.
Yes, all this over some TV sitcom. But let's rewind. Back in 2008, I was channel surfing and paused on a show because I thought, "Those people seem so real." They weren't though. It was HIMYM's "The Yips" episode and it was chock full of faces I knew from my TV-obsessed teen years. (We won't discuss the stack of teen magazines with NPH on the cover under my bed back then!) But there was something about their interactions, their dialogue and -- in this particular episode -- their trip to the gym together that reminded me of the internal dialogue I had with myself on my first gym trip, six years prior to that.
And so the show earned a rare "Record Series" spot on my DVR. Week after week, I got to know my friends Lily, Marshall, Robin and Barney. And it all started as good fun. I laughed with them when they found out about Robin's Canadian pop-star past. (A cup full of Canadian flags and cassettes of 80s and 90s pop music still sit on my childhood bedroom shelf.) I growled and groaned with them when Marshall faced a backstabbing colleague. (Been there, survived that, and not just once.) I salivated with them when they went on a frantic search for the best burger in New York (Not so far-fetched from my personal foodie hunt tours for the best dollar dumpling in Manhattan.)
But then there was Ted Mosby. Ted and I had a different kind of relationship. He was my soulmate. Not the kind of soulmate I lusted after and wanted to be with -- but he was me.
A few years after casually diving into the show, I went through a breakup. The only breakup I'd ever been through, since he was the only guy I'd ever been with. We'd been together on-and-off for more than a decade and survived cross-country moves, college-to-career changes and a long-distance relationship. (No wonder I was always rooting for Victoria. But Ted was right. Long-distance never works.)
I didn't realize it at the time, but the show started speaking me to me in a different way. I had started out thinking that Lily and Marshall were my character doppelgangers, as I joined them to cheer Ted on during his optimistic search for "The One." But as I re-embarked on my own search for "The One," I transformed into Ted. I started recording the reruns and watching them on repeat. By 9:30 p.m. most Monday nights, I had already watched each new episode three times. Ted and I were on the same journey -- and it helped to have company. A lot of it.
The multiple viewings weren't an addiction. They weren't a crutch. They were a comfort. They would play as background noise while I went about my housework. They would be my bedtime stories when I crashed on my couch. They would remind me of home when I caught them on planes and in lonely hotel rooms overseas.
And soon, I started picking up wise mantras from Danny Tanner's voice, errr, the voice of Future Ted Mosby: (Sidebar: I've been on two winning Full House trivia teams, but my HIMYM team came in last.)
"You may think your only choices are to swallow your anger or throw it in someone's face, but there's a third option: You can just let it go, and only when you do that is it really gone and you can move forward."
"You can ask the universe for signs all you want, but ultimately, we only see what we want to see, when we're ready to see it."
"It doesn't take days of deliberation. When it's real, you know pretty quickly - and with absolute certainty."
With those words of wisdom, Ted drove me forward. He pushed me in my career. He pushed me with family and friends. And ultimately, he pushed me to get out there and start dating (a word that I used to shudder talking about, let alone -- gasp! -- blogging about).
Soon, I was having Ted-like adventures of my own: struggling with the "history vs. mystery" allure of online dating, overanalyzing every character of a "texty-text" and figuring out if guys were "rabbits or ducks" or "manatees or mermaids" (well, mermen).
I followed wide-eyed through the final seasons as Ted met his "The One." The more I learned about the mother, the more I understood what made a relationship work -- and why it had taken nine tedious years for us to meet Tracy McConnell. She was worth the search and worth the wait. And Ted got there because of his relentless romantic drive and spirit. He was guiding me, teaching me and showing me to stick to my guns -- and that soon, I would find my T.M. (oh, wait, my R.C.?) too.
As the rest of the HIMYM fanbase fell in love with Ted and Tracy along with me, we prepared for a happily-ever-after ending that had been preconceived and shot by the show's creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas way back in 2006, before I'd even watched a second of the show.
But then on March 31, 2014, it aired and -- shocker! It wasn't the end of Ted Mosby's perfect love story. Critics and (so-called) fans exploded online when they learned that Ted's "The One" died... leading him back to his original love-at-first-sight gal, Robin. While everyone protested, I rejoiced: He got the kids he dreamed of and the girl he dreamed of (who didn't want kids) -- just not in the way anyone expected, or wanted, it to happen.
I started bawling. Not because I wanted Ted and Tracy to go down in TV history with Friends' Ross and Rachel, but because I realized How I Met Your Mother was teaching us a greater life lesson -- and one that I, especially, needed to hear: You can set out on the search for the perfect life journey, but ultimately, life isn't a straight-and-narrow path to the finish. In fact, the finishline you strive for may not even be anywhere near the one you imagined-- and that is a-okay! In fact, that's life.
Being in New York City, I decided to do a crazy thing. After it aired, I wandered over to McGee's, the midtown pub that the creators had based MacLaren's on. I had never been, but that night, the bar was packed with HIMYM fans -- and the creators, Carter and Craig.
As I stepped inside, I thought, how perfect would it be if the show that had been guiding me on my search led me to my "The One" here. There was a kind of cute guy. I struck up a conversation. He didn't engage. Shucks. Instead, I switched to fangirl mode, thanking Mr. Bays for the series and then stood in the short line that had formed to do the same with Mr. Thomas.
I waited and watched as the others in front of me approached him, wondering why they were all chatting with him for so long. All I wanted to do was say a quick thank you and be on my way. But that's not what Craig had in mind.
When I finally got up to him, I thanked him for creating a show that had helped me through so many moments in my life and turned to leave. But instead, he put me on the spot.
"What did you think of the finale?" he asked.
Wait, what? Did he really want to know? What had everyone ahead of me said? Then I stopped thinking. Future Ted Mosby wouldn't have liked my over-analysis.
"Absolutely perfect. It was a lesson I needed to hear," I admitted.
"It wasn't about finding "The One." It was about finding "The Two," or whatever life brings you," Mr. Thomas told me, one-on-one.
"And you have to be OK with it," we said in sync, clearly having a moment.
"But it's not just that," he continued, "You have to be strong enough to keep on hoping."
He proceeded to explain that he had been through it himself. I told him I was still getting there. And as tears welled up in his eyes, I couldn't hold back mine either. Here was the guy who had dreamed up this show -- and based Ted on himself -- and I was getting my very own personalized piece of wisdom from him, as we shared a cry.
I left the bar, not having found "The One," but feeling lighter -- like a huge weight burdening me to live the perfectly paved life had been lifted off of me.
The next day, as the Internet fired up with stories about how this was one of the "worst finales" in television history, I chuckled and shrugged it off. Clearly, those people just didn't get it. This wasn't just a television show. It was a message. A nine-years-in-the-making lesson. And if those critics couldn't accept that life doesn't have perfect endings, well, then that's their burden.
Ted asked for 45 days more with the mother. It took me 47 days to soak in the real Ted Mosby's words to be. But I realized, in the last 47 days, I've already taken great strides that I wouldn't have done before that, taken chances I wouldn't have before. And it's all thanks to the wise words of a not-so-fictional future Ted Mosby:
The great moments of your life won't necessarily be the things you do. They'll also be what happen to you. Now I'm not saying you can't take action to affect the outcome of your life, you have to take action, and you will. But never forget, that on any day, you can step out your door and your whole life can change forever. You see, the universe has a plan and that plan is always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings and it starts to rain. It's a scary thought, but it's also kind of wonderful. All these little parts of the machine constantly working, making sure you end up exactly where you're supposed to be, exactly when you're supposed to be there. The right place at the right time.