Just ruminating… but I promise I have a point.
I've been binge-watching How I Met Your Mother again. I've had a complicated relationship with this show over the years. I did not watch the show when it first premiered in 2005. During what would have been season 4 (2008-09), I made some new friends, and a lot of them were pretty much obsessed with HIMYM. I started watching it off and on for a while. I found the premise intriguing, the long, detailed storytelling in flashback with the viewer searching for clues on who Ted's future wife might be. But so many of those long, detailed stories involved drinking, hanging out in bars, and relationship and sexual partner drama, including a lot of lying and scheming to go to bed with people they just met. I just had a hard time relating to the characters. I've had the same problem with other shows following the same formula of a bunch of single buddies and their romantic exploits. I tried watching Friends a few times in the 90s and didn't like it for the same reason, and the same people who got me into HIMYM also got me into The Big Bang Theory, which I stopped watching eventually after all of them got into serious relationships. (I did go back to Big Bang on the night the final two episodes aired, and I love the way they ended it, but I'm getting off topic.)
Anyway, years later, in 2020, I had some friends who needed to stay here for a couple days, for reasons I don't need to get into. I was stuck in the middle of COVID lockdowns, everything fun in my life had been taken from me, I missed all of my friends terribly, and I was starved for human contact. I didn't mention to anyone that I had people over because I was afraid I could get cited or something. Wanting some kind of interaction, I pulled a chair up to the door of the blue room where my friends were binging HIMYM. They arranged the TV and their chairs so I could watch it with them.
Some time later, about a year ago, I was flipping around on the TV and found reruns of HIMYM. Shortly after that, I started watching the series in order from beginning to end over a period of about a month or two. I had seen enough bits and pieces of it to know that I wanted to watch everything in order, so I could see all the details of the story unfold. I still found the characters and their lives a bit unrelatable, but I enjoyed seeing how all the details worked together in the story. By then, I was well into my current nostalgic writing project, and I realized that the storytelling on HIMYM is a lot like my storytelling, with so many little details that connect and come back later. (If you don't know about this writing project, ask me, and I'll either tell you about it or explain why I haven't told you about it before.) That was always the thing I liked about HIMYM. (Also, at some point between 2014 and 2022, the surprise in the final episode that a lot of people did not react well to had been spoiled for me, so I did not get to experience reacting to that. And I actually like the way it ended.)
One of the aforementioned HIMYM fans whom I met in 2008 got me the entire series on DVD for Christmas this year, which is why I've been watching it all the way through again, with the special features and commentaries this time. I recently got to the end of season 6, and that just got me thinking. Because it's now well established that I'm an extremely detailed storyteller, let me include some relevant background information on the show. (If you've seen the show, you can skip the rest of this paragraph and the next two.) The narrator, the "I" in the title, is Ted, an architect living in New York City. The show has four other main characters, all in their late 20s through mid-30s during the show's run. Marshall and Lily are a couple; they and Ted are longtime friends who met as university freshmen in the same dorm. Barney is a sleazy womanizer who hangs out in the same bar as the others. And Robin met everyone in that same bar in the first episode; she has been a love interest for both Ted and Barney at times. One of the key plot threads of season 6 is that Barney works in the corporate offices of a bank, and he convinces his superiors to hire Ted to design their new building. A run-down old hotel will be torn down to make room for Ted's new building, and he keeps butting heads with an activist named Zoey [sic], who wants to save the old historic building. Through a complicated set of circumstances, Zoey becomes friends with the rest of the group, then with Ted, and eventually she and Ted begin a relationship. They just agree not to talk about how they are on opposite sides of the building issue.
Eventually Ted and Zoey's disagreement reaches a point where they cannot ignore it. Ted's friends make him realize that his relationship with Zoey is doomed: either he will always resent her for making him give up his dream to design a New York skyscraper, or she will leave him for following through on his dream and crushing hers (and we find out in that episode that she has a personal connection to the old building she wants to save). Ted tells her, "Sometimes things have to fall apart to make way for better things. We're done here." Ted's friends come up with a scheme to make him not directly responsible for destroying the building, but they still break up.
In the following episode, set a few months after Ted and Zoey break up, Ted, in an emotionally fragile state because of something unrelated, runs into Zoey. She has fallen on hard times since the breakup, she brings up the idea of getting back together with Ted, and Ted accepts. But in the end, Barney and Robin chase down Ted as he is about to arrive at his date, and they successfully convince him that getting back together with Zoey is a bad idea. Robin says, "The future is scary, but you can't just run back to the past because it's familiar. Yes, it's tempting..." and Barney continues, "But it's a mistake."
Watching these episodes made me think that there's a lesson for me in this.
First of all, Ted putting his career ahead of his relationship with Zoey... of course, doing that isn't always the best approach. But in this case, Ted and Zoey had a fundamental disagreement that was insurmountable and would only create problems for them down the road. I have to remember that, no matter what changes I need to make to my life to make new friends and possibly meet someone to spend the rest of my life with, there are certain things that must not be compromised. It isn't worth it. Of course, figuring out what is and isn't worth compromising will take some work.
The part about running to the past because it's familiar hits a little close to home. The past is familiar, and if I may be honest, a lot of things about the present are unappealing. Look at what I do in my spare time. I write stories set in the past, when I was younger and life was simpler. I build stuff with Legos, just like I did in childhood. I listen to a lot of music, but pretty much (although with one notable exception, of course) all older music from simpler times in my life, or new music from bands whose heydays were a long time ago. Is this wrong?
I don't know. Not inherently, but it could become so. The past wasn't as appealing as I remember it. I mostly only remember the good things about the past, and I tend to push aside all of my memories of the crushing loneliness and rejection. I often feel like I’m stuck in life because my life never moved forward in the stereotypical sense of getting married and having a family, and I haven’t entirely figured out how much of that has to do with not meeting the right person vs. how much of that is that I’m afraid of moving out of the familiar and taking the next step.
But memories have inherent value. Writing stories based on the past can bring enjoyment to others. I’ve often found that, in my writing, I see new perspectives on my own life, and I can see how much I've grown since then. And building Legos can be considered a form of art.
So I guess the most important thing here is to stay grounded in reality, to know how much to hold on to and what to let go of. I need to be open to new experiences alongside the nostalgic ones. And I need to find a more appealing aspect of the present, which can't happen if I'm spending all my time stuck in the past. Thank you to those of you who have made suggestions and offered invitations to new experiences. And those of you whose suggestions and invitations I haven’t followed through on, I apologize; I've been more tired than usual this year, dealing with a lot at work. I still appreciate it, and I will do what I can when I'm ready.