A few months ago, I decided to check out How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. I’ve seen internet memes of the show, and I’ve had several friends quote the show to me. I figured worse case scenario, if I didn’t like the first episode, I’d only of wasted half an hour of my time.
Instead, I’ve been hooked through the nose, much more so than I was with Friends or Scrubs, two shows I cried openly during the series finale. And I may have avoided seeing How I Met Your Mother for the simple reason that I hate the end of things. But one thing that has stood out to me about the show, and I’m very much not joking about this, is that there are several lessons you can take from it that are applicable to real life.
The Pause Button During Fighting Lesson: The characters Marshall and Lily have a rule when they fight: at any point during the fight, one or both of them can call time out by saying the phrase pause button. And while the character Ted points out in telling the story to his children that Marshall and Lily’s fights often lasted weeks due to this rule, let’s look at it objectively: Even though they’re fictional characters, they’re characters everyone knows in real life, the couple that everything just works for, the couple that everyone strives to become with their significant other. They fight, they get annoyed with one another, they make mistakes, but at the end of the day, they still love and support one another. Why this lesson is so important: When we fight, we tend to lose sight of what’s important. And when we fight with those we love? We tend to forget this is someone who’s on our side, who we love and who loves us. Taking a five minute breather gives you time to reassess what you’re fighting about (and if it’s even what you started fighting about to begin with), take the time to think over whether or not the fight is worth the time and energy being spent, and most importantly remember that you’re not fighting your enemy, you’re fighting someone you love. Try it the next time you get into it with a loved one and see how things resolve differently.
The “Don’t Mosby Yourself” Lesson: The character Ted Mosby is known for over-thinking things, so much so his friends refer to people who engage in this activity as “Mosbying” themselves. During an episode in Season One, the character Barney convinces Ted to drink five shots of a mystery concoction the bartender Carl has whipped up. Ted ends up waking up the next morning with a strange woman in his bed, a sprained ankle, a phone number written on his arm and a pineapple on his bedside table, having had one hell of a night his friends have to piece together for him, all on account of not thinking. Why this lesson is so important: Sometimes, it’s better to not think and to just let go and do. I myself am very guilty of over-thinking everything, to the point where I miss out on some very important things going on. In August of 2012, a friend of mine was here for a few days visiting. Taking him on Art Walk Dallas before dinner the last night he was here, I was rushing us to and fro, barely stopping to see things when he put his hand on my shoulder and asked me if I ever slowed down. Taking a seat at a near-by table in the garden we were in, I simply sat and spent a few minutes with my friend. And those are five minutes I still remember vividly: the sounds of the traffic on the street, the flowers in the garden, the way the temperature was actually mild for late-summer in Dallas. To date, those five minutes are ones I count as my favorite in my memories of this friend. If we over-think things, we miss out on experiences and life itself.
The “Eight or Higher” Lesson: After the characters Marshall and Lily have their son Marvin, they enact the “Eight or Higher Rule” which is fairly simple: unless what’s going on is an eight or higher, they’re not going to be able to listen. Why this lesson is so important: Unless you’ve had a newborn in your life on a frequent basis (read: as it’s primary care taker), you might not understand why this is something that’s applicable to life. Or maybe you will. For myself, this applies because I tend to unload. In certain friendships, when you get accustomed to someone being your sounding board, it’s very hard to hold back and not blast them with everything (good or bad) that’s going on in your life. But having been on both sides of this, I can tell you that more often than not, the blasting ends up becoming all bad: which leads to worry, stress, and ultimately, cracks within even the strongest friendships. By all means, talk to your nearest and dearest, but don’t always go to them with everything that’s weighing you down: take a hard look at what you’re dealing with and see if its something they really need to know about. Medical issues, the death of a loved one, employment problems? These are all 8’s. The same old crap you’ve been struggling with? Might want to hold off on unloading, especially if it’s something you’ve gone over several times before.
The “Barney is Awesome” Lesson: Barney Stintson is awesome. Despite the fact he can be a bit of a dog in terms of women, still, this is the guy who gets up every day, puts on a suit, and vows to do something legendary, even though he’s failed beautifically before. Why this lesson is so important: Perspective baby! Even when things go wrong, even when things are boring, Barney still spins it in a positive light, and his eternal optimism? Infectious to the point that even though I’m well aware he’s a fictional character, I’d love to meet him and hang out with him, because I know I’d be guaranteed one hell of a story to tell in the future.
The “Post-Threesome” Lesson: In one episode, the character Ted realizes he’s in a prime spot to fulfill a bucket list item a lot of people have: the threesome. While the writers of the show never answer the question as to whether or not Ted actually goes through with it, there’s a lesson to be learned in the “after” when Barney is asking Ted if he did or did not. Rather than answering Barney’s constant pestering questions, Ted simply states that there are some experiences you don’t talk about after you have them. Why this lesson is so important: Somethings in our life are just for us, or just for us and the person we share them with. Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, right or wrong. Sometimes, it’s better to just jealously guard the experience and keep it your own.
The “T-Bone Car Accident” Lesson: In another episode, Ted is T-boned by a car while sitting in a taxi, and later on, Barney is hit by a bus. Both men realize how they feel about other women in their life due to their accidents, and Ted actually proposes to his girlfriend. Why this lesson is so important: Life is short. Too often we utter the words, “If I’d known I was going to lose them, I would have told them how I felt.” We shouldn’t be hit by a car, bus, or by life itself to suck it up, be a grown up and say how we feel about those most important in our lives. Don’t wait until the worst happens to say the most important words.
The “All Things Happen for a Reason” Lesson: When you break it down, How I Met Your Mother is a commentary on how everything happens for a reason, we just can’t see it at the time. And even if it takes nine years to find the answer as to why, those nine years are worth the wait. Sadly, not knowing why is often painful. Best to hold on tight during rough times and remind yourself that things do happen for the right reasons, even if we can’t see them immediately.
The “Letting Go” Lesson: This is a lesson that’s peppered throughout the entire series. But the episode I’m going to focus on is the episode where Barney and Robin decide after being a couple for a significant amount of time that they’re not happy, and for the sake of their friendship overall to break up. By the time they’ve ended their relationship, they’ve made one another so miserable that Robin is no longer showering, is so annoyed with Barney that she constantly chants “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” and is hunched over. Barney has taken to eating non-stop and the former playboy has no interest in sex. During the break up scene, Barney says to Robin that now is the bad part, where they can’t go back to being friends and Robin counters that maybe it’s not so much a break up as two friends getting back together. Why this lesson is so important: The reality is, we often hold on far longer than we should: to a career, a way of life we’ve been living, a relationship that we’ve long out grown. Whether we’re holding on because we’re hopeful things will get better, we’re fearful of the unknown and want to stay with the painfully familiar, or we just can’t let go, it’s still best to recognize when things have reached the point where more damage will take place if you don’t let go. Holding on for far too long is a recipe for a larger hurt later on. As someone who’s made this very painful mistake in my life, I can tell you it’s far better to let go early and save some grace than to keep holding on to the point your hand goes numb.
The “Putting Them First” Lesson: After Marshall and Lily become parents, their lives change drastically, which is par for the course with a newborn and parenthood. During a fight between the five characters on the show, Barney points out that Lily and Marshall haven’t had time for their friends since becoming parents, and his largest complaint is that they no longer close down the bar. Lily’s response is to tell Barney that there’s a good reason they’re not out until two a.m.: because no matter what else goes on, at five a.m., they’re going to be getting up with their son to feed him. The episode ends with Marshal and Lily sucking it up, getting a sitter and closing the bar down to reconnect with their friends; when the clock strikes five a.m., you hear baby Marvin crying, and see that Ted, Barney and Robin are camped out in Lily and Marshall’s living room. When Lily and Marshall appear to get their crying son, Barney, Robin and Ted tell them to go back to bed, they’ve got this. Why this lesson is so important: It wasn’t the closing down of the bar that was so important to Barney, Robin and Ted. It was the fact that they missed their friends being a part of anything they might be doing. And while it’s completely understandable why Lily and Marshall were no longer out most of the night, still, they took their lumps for the purpose of preserving a friendship, and in return, their friends took their lumps to preserve the friendship by putting themselves in the position their friends were in. The very yin and yang aspect of this episode is what touched me: Everyone put forth the effort and put those they loved first. In life, we sometimes have to put those we love first: as a parent, this is second nature. You don’t think about it when your child is sick or needs you for quality time. But too often as adults, we forget that sometimes, giving someone our undivided attention is a platinum gift, and taking time from our lives, whether it’s to stay up all night talking, meet for coffee or close down a bar for those we love shows them we love them. And most often, when we make this effort, we’re given back the same from our friends. Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and lose the sleep.
The “Suit Up!!!” Lesson: The character Barney from the show is famous for several reasons. But one of his first lines ever said on the show was actually “Suit up!” Why this lesson is so important: While there are times where we have to “suit up” so to speak (weddings, funerals, work), there are times where jeans are more appropriate. Other times, sweats are what’s called for. Still other times, it’s important to say “Why the hell not” and put on your best suit or dress for no reason at all. Why? Because life is short. And while it’s short, at times it can be painful. Why not celebrate the non-moment moments with as much fanfare and fabulousness as you celebrate the big ones? Life only happens once, might as well enjoy the ride balls-to-the-wall, even if it’s just to grab a drink with a friend.
The “Naked Man” Lesson: In one episode of the show, Ted comes home to find Robyn’s date naked on the couch. Later on, we learn that Robyn had sex with her date, based on the fact that he went for it with no shame in going after what he wants. Why this lesson is so important: How often have you looked back on your life and thought that had you just taken a leap of faith, no matter how large or small, you might have had an experience you’d never forget? We don’t regret those experiences, because we didn’t let fear keep us from having them. We only regret the experiences we missed out on because of our fear. Sometime, you just gotta strip down, strike a pose, and hope for the best. At worse… well, we won’t go there. Because if you’re reading this, you’re probably a creative person and can formulate a very bad “worse”. But we’ll just leave it at you never know what might happen if you give your fear the middle finger and go for what you want.
The “Trust Your Friends’ Judgment” Lesson: Lily is probably the character I identify with the most for several reasons: Red hair and the temperament that goes with that particular physical feature, her love of family and her friends, her fierce interior Momma Bear, her creative side. But most of all, I identify with Lily because of her incredible intuition. My one “party trick” is the ability to size up people and situations within five minutes and give you an accurate read. I’m so accurate in fact that I have friends ask me to size up potential boyfriends/girlfriends. While this intuition comes with the downside of being right about those who are less, shall we say kind in this world of ours and the resulting hurt a loved one goes through, still, it comes in handy. During one episode, Ted finds out Lily has sabotaged a few of his relationships. And while Lily went about things the wrong way, still her intentions were the best: she loves her friend, she wants to save him misery in the future. Where as I myself would never sabotage a relationship, I’m still not going to keep my mouth shut when something doesn’t feel right to me. This has led to some monster fights between friends and myself, only to later have the friend in question come back and tell me I was right. And whereas I hate to be wrong, in this situation, it actually hurts to be right. Why this lesson is so important: Our true friends, the ones who are there for us and want whats best for us aren’t going to lie. If they see something that raises a red flag in their mind, they’re going to tell you because they love you, and they want to protect you. Loved ones can see things we can’t see because they’re outside the situation. If the person who’s telling you something is off is someone who’s been there for you, is supportive and is honest, listen to them. You don’t have to agree with them, but understand that they’re coming from a good place and only want what’s best for you.
The “You Never Know The Whole Story” Lesson: In one episode, the character Ted relays to his children that Barney was never around when things were going bad, citing Barney taking off any time Marshall was having a hard time with his break-up with Lily rather than sticking around to comfort his friends. And during Marshall and Lily’s break-up, we see Barney acting like a dog when he takes Marshall out to pick up women. But a season later? It turns out that Barney wasn’t stealing the numbers and the women Marshall was interested for himself. And he wasn’t just bolting from the bar to avoid being a friend. He was, in his own bass-ackwards way, protecting the relationship between two of his friends. He stole women from Marshall knowing it could possibly ruin the chance of he and Lily getting back together. And the time he bolted from the bar when Marshall was heartbroken and needing a friend to talk to? He was actually flying to San Francisco to give Lily a piece of his mind and a plane ticket back to New York so she’d return to Marshall. Why this lesson is so important: We’ve all seen someone who’s had a scowl on their face, drooping shoulders, not much for conversation. You can look at them and assume you know what’s going on, but unless you yourself are with them continuously, you don’t know the whole story. That person scowling could have in fact been stood up by a date. The person with the drooping shoulders? They could have just lost a loved one. The person not saying much? They might be trying to muddle through a heart break. Even when we think we know the whole story, we don’t know the whole story.
The “We Are Our Truest Selves With Those We Love” Lesson: The characters on How I Met Your Mother often times engage in questionable behavior: They hide in the bathroom after hearing their friends are moving to the suburbs, they get fantastically drunk and throw up on one another, they drop information bombs at the worst possible times. But they also spend hours decorating their apartment in Christmas lights, stay up all night talking, partake in ridiculous drinking games together, and high five and fist bump when the moment calls for it. Why this lesson is so important: Back when I first became a parent, I read an online article that encouraged parents to not take it personally if it felt like their child only threw tantrums around them, stating that it was a sign of trust between the child and their parent. And this is one of the best statements I’ve read that truly defines who humans are: we only show our best to those who deserve our worst. And while that can be an issue if all we’re getting is the worst from a person, still the writer of the article was right. Later, I read an internet meme that said quite beautifully, “Don’t expect to get my best if you can’t handle my worst.” The truth is, we can’t truly be ourselves, and I’m talking about who we are at our core at our weakest, strongest, beautiful and most flawed, unless we’re in the company of those that love us. The thing to remember is that we need to give our best to those who can handle us at our worst.