If you’ve been reading my Facebook or Twitter feeds lately, I’d like to start with an apology. I’m sorry for all the vague and melancholy posts. In just over a month, everything in my life has changed. I don’t mean that in some overblown, hyperbolic sense; nothing, not one thing, is as it was on October 1. But now I’m ready to really write about what’s happening, and I hope putting it down here will stem the social-media pity party for one.
You see, my wife left me.
(I’m not going to get into the Why of it; in the end, divorce must be mutual, since both people stop fighting to save whatever they had once held so dearly. And while the Why seems very important to me today, it won’t years from now, and it isn’t the point of this post, so I’m not going to spend time on it here.)
I’ve spent seven years believing, without question, that my wife and I were the real-life equivalent of Lily and Marshall. Together forever: the model of a loving, long-term relationship with its ups and downs that would always weather the storm. Then the bottom dropped out, and, looking around, I realized how imperfect we had always been, how we were never even close.
As I always do in my hour of need, I turned to How I Met Your Mother for comfort. While I mourned everything I lost, watching my favorite TV couple move forward and closer together, something else happened.
I was watching Season 4: the season when Ted is left at the altar by Stella. Toward the end (Episode 23), he runs into her, the woman with whom he imagined spending his life, forever. Their interaction rang something in me that it had never rung before.
TED: Okay, I’m gonna say something out loud that I’ve been doing a pretty good job not saying out loud lately. What you and Tony have, what I thought for a second you and I had, what I know that Marshall and Lily have: I want that. I do. I keep waiting for it to happen, and…I guess I’m just…I’m tired of waiting. And that is all I’m going to say on that subject.
STELLA: …You know that once I talked my way out of a speeding ticket?
STELLA: I was heading upstate to my parents’ house and was doing, like, 90 on a country road and got pulled over. So the cop gets out of his car and he kinda swaggers over and he’s all: “Young lady, I have been waiting for you all day.” So I looked up at him and I said: “I’m so sorry, officer. I got here as fast as I could.”
TED: For real?
STELLA: Nah. It’s an old joke. I know that you are tired of waiting, and you may have to wait a little while more, but she’s on her way, Ted. And she’s getting here as fast as she can.
And in that moment, I realized I have always been Ted, never Lily. Whoever “the one” is for me, she’s on her way, and this had to happen to set the course in motion.
Maybe it’s ridiculous to look to TV characters for cues on life and love. Maybe Marshall and Lily made me delusional about my own relationship, because I wanted that kind of love so deeply (and still do). And maybe Ted’s unflinchingly romantic heart and the fact that it all pays off in the end gives me unrealistic expectations about finding a soul-mate and the kind of love I will someday feel for, and from, that person. But these fictional characters sprang forth from humans, didn’t they? Bays and Thomas and the writers craft their words and actions: the heartfelt confessions of love; the sweeping, romantic gestures. Perhaps the moments aren’t realistic, but real people created them. In those moments of love on How I Met Your Mother, I see the incredibly real, incredibly human longing for the same thing.
Knowing this—that big, beating hearts exist in chests besides my own—gives me hope that I will someday find her. Perhaps the hope is misplaced and will screw me in the end, as I search for the kind of love I see on TV. But I’m 27: the age Ted is when his story begins. The story of my greatest love is on its way, even if I can’t see it yet.