In case it’s not obvious, as this is my second post on How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) in the last week, I like the show. While there are certainly some objectionable parts, there are redeeming qualities, too, especially as the seasons progress and you see the characters change – I’m especially thinking of Barney.
One of the things that intrigues me most about the show, and, really, I think it’s a contradiction within the characters, is the fact that the whole premise of the show is that everything that happens in Ted’s story necessarily (almost deterministically) leads him to his future wife – the “one” for him.
Though Ted is telling the story from the future, 2030, he tells it as if there is a guiding hand, a benevolent divinity, or a personal universe leading each step, ensuring that none of his efforts are wasted as his character is formed into the kind of person ready to meet his future wife. Even his accidents and happen-chance events are determined by some higher force arranging the contingencies to ensure that he will one day meet this woman.
But the contradiction I see in Ted’s character lies therein. He believes there is a benevolent hand leading him to “the one” for him, but at the same time, he never consults that benevolent being (aside from one time when we see him doing an Indian rain-dance) for guidance. He believes a hand is determining his every step, but this belief never translates into tangible, concrete interaction with this being.
In fact, as far as Ted’s character goes, in every other way, he is functionally an atheist. He tells his story with this guiding hand leading him to The Mother, but the guiding hand never impinges upon his life in a way that would cause him to reflect on who he is or what he was created for.
But, interestingly, while I see a contradiction in the writing of Ted’s character, the fact is, I think the writers of HIMYM are actually quite realistic in their writing of these contradictions.
In our culture, we have this romantic notion that there’s “one person”* out there for us, and that all our steps and missteps will be providentially used by a benevolent guiding hand to ensure we encounter this person. But the contradiction within most of us is that, though we talk about “the one” this way, every other part of our lives contradicts a belief in such a benevolent hand. In fact, even people who are intellectual atheists still talk as if there is “one person” out there for them. But this “one person” idea actually necessitates a belief in some kind of God or gods…and more specifically, good and loving ones who care about our happiness.
Ted’s a functional atheist in every way except in his belief that his story must climax with a divinely ordained encounter with The Mother of his children. But this contradiction is the very same contradiction represented in many American lives where people are functionally atheists or a-religious, but when it comes to romance, they are more than willing to talk about it as if a providential, loving hand was guiding them.
Of course, that loving hand has no definitive name, qualities, or character, but that’s a discussion for another time. Right now, I’m just intrigued by the outright contradiction we Americans seem happy to live with…or remain oblivious to.
So what do you think? Where else do you see this contradiction at play in our culture? In your own life?
*Expect one more post from me on this notion of “the one” for everyone.