On the surface, How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom about one man’s search for true love. Going deeper, it’s three love stories. In Season six, our main character, Ted, still hasn’t met the love of his life, though we know that he one day will. Were How I Met Your Mother a romance novel trilogy, the story of Ted and his true love would be book three, and yet to be published.
Book one belongs to Marshall and Lily. Theirs is a sweet “love at first sight” story, Marshall is a big-hearted idealist from a large, close-knit family, who finds his soulmate in Lily, a strong-willed, creative woman, who's at once nurturing and a mistress of manipulation. These guys prove that keeping the home fires burning can be hot as well as heartwarming, keeping their love for each other as top priority. As first book protagonists often do, they serve as parental figures for the rest of the group, always ready to give romantic advice and emotional support.
Book two would belong to Robin and Barney, both important figures in Ted’s life. Barney, the suit-wearing golden rogue with a mysterious, yet well paying job, and a long line of casual conquests appointed himself as Ted’s best friend early on, vowing to teach Ted how to live. Barney is the master of the elaborate lie, the crazy scheme, and when he utters the words “challenge accepted,” nothing will stand in his way until he’s met that challenge, even if he’s the one who issued it in the first place. Bit by bit, we see the chinks in his façade, catching glimpses of the tender soul hardened by abandonment. His adamant disdain for commitment masks a deep yearning for exactly that.
Robin also relishes her independence, enough so that she moved from her native Canada to New York to pursue her goal of becoming a broadcast journalist. She’s willing to work her way up from the bottom, anchor local early morning shows even her friends don’t watch, if those jobs might possibly get her closer to her goal. Raised as the son her father never had, Robin loves guns, hockey and laser tag, and has a secret pop star past that rises to haunt her when least expected. While we first met her as a potential love interest for Ted, who gave it his romantic all, that relationship wasn’t meant to be. She’s all for enjoying a man’s company, but love and marriage are alien concepts, due to her parents’ troubled relationship.
A genre-savvy romance reader can see where this is going. Robin and Barney get their wires crossed when Robin substitutes for Ted on a guys’ night out, and Barney mistakes Robin’s offer to come to her apartment for a game of Battleship as an invitation to something more intimate. Robin is shocked, but Barney replies that his offer is logical. They both want something casual, neither of them is looking for commitment, and they obviously get along well together, so why not let things get physical? Though Robin admits his arguments make sense, she’s not over Ted at this time, and Barney gives in to his better nature, stepping aside…for a while.
Time passes, and Robin rekindles an old flame, who abandons her the same way as he did years ago, leaving her desolate. It’s Barney who provides comfort, assuring Robin she is better than her faithless beau, and Robin rewards his gallantry by showing Barney the failed music video she’d made with her first love all those years ago. As Ted’s narration states, over footage of a tender, romantic kiss, Barney and Robin watch the video again and again—until they aren't watching anymore.
The aftermath of their intimate encounter shocks them both. Neither Barney nor Robin are used to such intense feelings, and they try to go back to the way things used to be, but what worked before doesn’t work anymore. When an accident lands Barney in the hospital, his friends ask if everything he loved flashed before his eyes when he thought he might die. They kid him about thinking of breasts, suits, money and scotch, but as soon as Robin enters the room, he has eyes only for her. In a sweetly crazy and private conversation, Barney and Robin admit their conflicted feelings for each other and decide to take the leap.
Thus begins a summer of secret assignation, the passion heady, overwhelming and without concerns for the future. When Lily literally locks them in a room and insists they define the relationship, Barney and Robin hit on a plan that plays to their strength. They decide to lie and say they have defined themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend, though as Lily points out as the happy faux-faux couple departs, they don’t know that they’re lying.
Oh sure, there is the small matter of their breakup, but experienced romance readers know this is only a bump in the road. Robin was the one there for Barney when he discovered a family friend was his long-lost father, and Barney went out of his way to give Robin her dream date with a new beau and smiled wistfully watching the literal fireworks from afar. There’s a much-hinted at wedding in the sixth season finale, with Barney and Robin the only regular characters not seen in the flash-forwards. Read into that as you will, romance fans.
Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing With Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.