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What’s up with Ted

I’ve been wondering this some, myself. Ted seems to have spent the past few seasons repeatedly getting over Robin, only to later declare his love for her again. Likewise, Ted seems to keep veering back and forth between trying for something serious and just screwing around. All of this begs the question: “Ted….dude…..WTF?!” Well, I think I can hazard a guess.

We saw much of this at the start of Season 7 with Punchy’s wedding. Ted was exhausted. Dating consistently for almost 7 years will wear anyone down, particularly a romantic who’s looking for a life partner (or thinks they are, anyway). He’d lost his romanticism, his mojo, whatever you want to call it. Over the course of Season 7….not much changed, really. (A subject of some consternation on the blog, some of you will no doubt recall….) Ted seemed to be treading water, if he dated at all. And, again, he seemed to turn back to Robin for solace. And then to Victoria. And then…not much. Until Barney’s sister, followed by Jeannette, followed by the random girl from the open house. And that’s been about it for Ted’s love life, really. Pretty quiet, when you think about it.

First, by way of explanation, I think much of this is due to how Ted’s character has been written – or rather how he hasn’t been written. Ted’s character has said “I’m ready now” and backslid multiple times. He doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes, and he’s come across lately like just a huge sad-sack, with his friends pitying him, and him pitying himself. Ted hasn’t shown a ton of insight into himself in terms of WHY he’s acting this way, so we’re left to figure it out for ourselves, and make guesses (like this post) as to what motivates him. This season, we’ve also had a number of editing mishaps, I think. The schedule for episodes was juggled around some, and I expect that certain plot elements within an episode couldn’t be re-shot, and couldn’t be cut without the episode running short. This would be the explanation for why Ted said “I’m ready to get serious” after the breakup with Jeanette, and then two weeks later is hooking up with a random bimbo. Why’d that happen? Probably because the elements of the story had to stay, and they couldn’t re-shoot that sequence so as to have Ted NOT hook up with her or work a play on her. So, it stays, and Ted backslides within the story. Oops.

HOWEVER, I do think we can concoct an in-story explanation for Ted’s behavior, and that’s what the rest of this post is about. Well, mostly.

Now then, to begin with, I do think Ted is over Robin — I think he was over her after “No Pressure.” At least in the sense of wanting a romantic future with her in any serious way. At this point, I don’t think he wants Robin, per se, but rather a girl just like her…only sort of different. Except, he can’t envision anyone like Robin who ISN’T Robin, particularly when Robin is right there to distract him. It’s difficult to picture in your mind what you want, when you have the memory of “SO CLOSE but not quite” right there next to you all the time.

Now then, as far as what’s up with Ted in his dating life OTHER than Robin, I think I can explain that, too, within the story of the show (rather than appealing to meta-story concerns like editing). Ted’s pattern of behavior has alternated between wasting his time with women he knows are wrong (e.g., Carly, Jeanette), and falling back on familiar ground (e.g. going back to Robin in S7, going back to Victoria in S7/S8), which also happens to be wrong. We’ve seen him embrace his inner cad a bit, too, even as he’s said “I want something serious and real,” or “No more dating. I’m ready to get serious.”

So….what’s up? Where, to paraphrase the words of The Pixies, is Ted’s mind?

I think that Ted feels that life is bitterly unfair to him right now. He’s always viewed himself as the “nice” guy who’s supposed to “win” in the end, and instead, the scoundrel (Barney) gets the girl. Barney does everything wrong — repeatedly — and still ends up with the “right” girl. Robin isn’t the right girl for Ted, obviously (including because she’d pick Barney over Ted), but she represents the “right” girl. So, Ted’s pissed, feeling sorry for himself, has lost hope, and has basically been engaging in a lot of really stupid, self-destructive behavior. Imagine breaking up with your girlfriend and getting blind drunk. Now take that same kind of destructive impulse and stretch it out over two seasons, with your now-ex-girlfriend stomping on your heart and your dreams occasionally. So, that’s part of what I think Ted’s up to when he knowingly goes after the wrong girl (e.g. Carly, the girl with the amazing ass, Jeanette, apartment-hook-up-girl, etc.).

Connected to that, I think, is Ted’s inability to really go for what it is that he says he wants. I think a lot of that has to do with Ted not believing in himself or in the notion that he can find the girl who’ll make him truly happy. Ted has, on three separate occasions, gone for a girl who ultimately crushed him. Victoria, Robin, and Stella (not so much Zoey – everyone knew that was a dead end relationship). In each case, I’d argue that he dared — however briefly — to dream of more. He took chances, and got hurt. Badly. I think as a result of those experiences, particularly Robin and Stella, Ted still hasn’t gotten back his sense of optimism or hope. You see it even in The Time Travelers where the imaginary Coat Check Girl tells him to give it up because all his relationships end like this anyway. I think there was a glimmer of hope when he moved on from Robin, but that was extinguished when Victoria (true to her M.O.) bailed again, and the way Robin ended up with Barney, and it hasn’t come back since.

I really think that Robin being with Barney has shaken Ted to the core and made him doubt not only the notion of being able to find what he wants, but his own attractiveness to a girl who’d fit the bill. After all, his only concrete example of the “perfect” girl is Robin. And she picked…waaaaiiit for iiiiiit……Barney. There may be an element of Ted emulating Barney right now in the hopes that he can attract a girl like Robin (if not necessarily Robin herself), but I think a lot of that is because Ted doesn’t believe that good old romantic, goofy, Ted could do it on his own.

And THAT is what I think changes at the wedding. I think that’s where his moment of self-doubt finally disappears and he gets back to being himself. It’s that reason that you see him at the train station, reading Love in the Time of Cholera. That’s Ted getting back to being TED. The CORE version of Ted, rather than Ted-in-a-Barney-mask. That part of him is still there, sure, but it’s only a part, and I bet it disappears pretty quickly when presented with the right girl and a sense of real purpose.

So, what would improve this within the story? I think some kind of discussion either towards the end of this season or during next season, about all of this stuff. Obviously they couldn’t work this in within a single episode, but maybe some episode with the mother in mid Season 9 where he tells her…most…of his past. Some scene with Current Ted explaining how he’d lost hope, kept trying to force things, or be someone different (maybe with flashbacks to Ted running plays, dating Zoey, sitting in the bar alone, etc.), and how that changed when he met the Mother.
Or, maybe we get a sequence with Future Ted explaining how those moments and his bad decisions had been necessary so he’d learn, and how it had taken him that long to have all the pieces fall into place. At the very least, some sort of acknowledgement that Ted was stuck in neutral for a long time, for a reason, and explaining what changed.
The one thing I’d like to see most is that the change be something Ted CHOSE to do, not something that just fell into his lap. The show plays with destiny as a concept, and that’s nice and a little seductive, too, but as Future Ted himself has said, you actually have to take action when the opportunity presents itself. Ted has, in my opinion, been incredibly reactive…when he isn’t making truly BAD choices. I’d like to see him consciously make a good choice for a change, rather than simply getting lucky. Here’s hoping we see that (and plenty of the Mother) in Season 9.

9 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Apologies for the Russian novel of a post, folks. But this has been on my mind for a while, and I figured I’d put it down in writing.

  2. I think you pretty much summed it up. It’s really just been the results of the writers having to put Ted’s story on hold for two seasons, because they’ve revealed so much mother related information that the fans really aren’t going to buy into any Ted romantic relationship at this point. I think they would have been better off revealing the mother earlier, and continuing the show with her, but hopefully the payoff is worth it in the end.

    • That’s part of it, yeah. Revealing that the Mother wasn’t going to be anyone we met in Season 7 or Season 8 was a problem. However, I don’t think it was an insurmountable one. Just because you aren’t meeting the person you end up with doesn’t mean you can’t learn from your experiences, and it’s been that that I think has been missing — any sense that Ted’s actually learned anything.

      Think about it this way. If Ted dates a girl and screws something up, or realizes he made a bad choice in dating her, that’s not necessarily a problem. If he learns from it, learns how to do things differently, learns to say “Hmm…maybe I shouldn’t date her JUST because she’s got a great ass…” then he’s actually at least making progress.

      If, on the other hand, he’s just screwing around, not actually learning anything, not gaining any insight into himself or his actions, or not even trying to change, then, to my way of thinking, it cheapens the arrival of the Mother.

      If Ted screws up repeatedly, and then just happens to get supremely lucky by finding a woman who thinks he’s the cat’s pajamas (What? People still say that! It’s a thing. I’m bringing it back.) then the Mother is simply this deus ex machina to the central problem that Ted can’t get his shit together. She shows up and bim bam boom, he doesn’t NEED to get his shit together. He wins because…uh….the writers say so.

      To me, that’s cheap. It’s a cop-out. Ted has to earn his success, at least partially. For all the mistakes he’s made, all the bad calls he’s made, he needs to get on the other side of that and to have actually learned something, instead of being slapped upside the head by fate and getting lucky.

      Fate plays a role, no question. It presents us with chances. But the truth is we have and have had chances all along. We just may not have recognized it or may not have been in the right place to make something happen (or the other person wasn’t). This is the whole destiny vs. action thing. Events happen beyond our control, but we control how we respond TO those events.

      Life doesn’t knock on your door. You have to go out and find it. And even if it does knock on your door because you’re a lucky sonofabitch, you still have to ANSWER the door. What we haven’t seen in a while is Ted really learning what he needs to do to be ready to answer that knock. And the end result could be that, if he meets the Mother as a result of that knock, she may just…land in his lap.

      I’m hopeful the writers won’t do that, and will make Ted earn his relationship with the Mother even after he meets her. I think he’s got an uphill battle in that regard (after all, he stole her umbrella, screwed with her roommate, and acted like an ass in class), but it’s one that he CAN win.

  3. Thanks for writing on this, because I do think it is something that has been lacking in the writing of the show.

    That’s why I loved the coat check girl part of that episode, the only thing that could have made it better was tying back into their conversation about everything that is supposed to be fun, usually isn’t (like robots vs. wrestlers, or dating, there are lots of ways they could have gone).

    But knowing that whole thing is in Ted’s mind, let’s look at the future versions of CCG. The one who still wanted Ted was a mess, desperate for his attention and not wanting to scare him off, making him muffins b/c that was her nickname for him. I see this as how Ted currently views the romantic quest. You cling to what you think you want and ultimately lose it because you are a mess.

    The other future CCG is dressed to the nines (like Barney does). She got bored of Ted and moved on. She dismisses the other CCG and is the most assertive in the conversation (Robin like?). I think Ted is afraid that anyone of quality now will pass him over for someone else.

    And I think there is a lot of room to get Ted character development into the end of this season, if they want it. I have a feeling it will be a let down with all kinds of crazy things happening the day of the wedding (worse than the end of season 2), but ideally I’d like Ted to echo back to his narration from The Wedding in season 1. He thought weddings provided the spark to catch love on fire. How better to show that Ted has needed all this time to evolve than to have him ruminate on the fact that love can be hard work but ultimately comes down to making that connection with someone. More important than the list, more important than grand romantic gesture, it is about finding someone to share your life with. Once Ted can acknowledge that, bam! dangle the mother in front of him

    • Very interesting points, Proff. I think you’re on to something.

      I think it also ties into Ted’s view of himself and his luck with love. The two CCGs are both extremes, neither of which reflect well on him. Either he’s dealing with a loony who is over-the-top into him, or he’s got someone who’s amazing but out of reach. In other words, it’s either too easy, or it’s too hard. There’s never any in between.

      I think his self confidence has really taken a major beating over the last few seasons. They alluded to that with the montage of Ted’s rejections and beatings and such in Band or DJ. He’s had a ROUGH go of it, and it’s hard not to internalize that stuff when you keep ending up disappointed.

      Some of what Ted needs is the right sense of self confidence. He needs to believe that he can actually get what he wants. By that I mean he needs to believe that the put-together CCG would actually be interested in him and might not mind his quirks so much. He needs to believe that he can do this without HAVING to resort to grand romantic gestures, but rather just…being who he is. Not that grand romantic gestures are necessarily bad, but that they should be genuine and heartfelt, rather than just putting on a show or going through the motions to say he went through the motions. At the same time, he needs to recognize that he doesn’t have to put up with the crazy-eyes version of CCG just so he can be with someone and feel some kind of connection. He has to believe enough in himself to be willing to walk away from that, and have faith that he can find something better.

      But I think you’re right that the real key is the connection and recognizing that it’s not a fairy tale. Not for a lot of people, anyway. If you’ve got the connection, that’s awesome, but you’ve got to be willing to do the work, too. And I expect Ted’s gonna have some work to do, at least early on, to actually get anywhere with the Mother.

  4. Great post guys. Happy to see a working Comments section again. I think personally, you nailed quite a few points and I am just going to add a few more.

    For me, I can literally see myself being like Ted in the past few years, or something very close to that. Literally, the same story of falling for a ‘great girl’ who is as close to perfect as you can imagine, and for some reason it not working out.

    Then, you stay in touch and keep being the best of friends, causing old feelings to come up every now and then despite knowing you are going nowhere with it. The girl I am talking about is a version of Robin, write down to being a news reporter.

    I think the point, about self-confidence taking a knock is the one which sums it up best. It isn’t as if you live with it daily, but as soon as there is nothing to focus on, it can rear its ugly head. I feel the main point is that if you are really really very close to someone and feel like ‘he/she is the one’ it is best to not stay in touch with that person for a long time.

    Notice, Ted’s lack of friends outside of the HIMYM circle. It stems from that inter-dependency factor, and as Victoria said in Season 7, Ted you cannot go on like this. That IS the point. The problem is when people are in that position where the person you liked is also your best friend, detaching away from both those things simultaneously for both parties is extremely hard.

    There’s my two pence.

  5. Love the blog and the disscussion. I have view this season as Ted getting to the point where he could be the man that wis wife will love. In the episode on St. Patty’s Day (sorry I am bad with season titles) he remarks that he is glad he didn’t meet her there because she wouldn’t have like him, infact Ted says I didn’t like myself. He had to learn from his mistakes and had to hit bottom before he became the man his wife will love.

  6. I thought I got through, then I look at the comments-length… I only say this: Wow. This really hits the nail in the head. +1.

  7. I am updating my Post here with something that I wrote on another Blog

    Ross says:
    April 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Raoul, I hope you are wrong. I think you hope you are wrong. I originally did not want the Wedding going into Season 9. At this point we have so much to close out before the Wedding happens. I do not want the story to jump again. CB and CT love to do that time warp story telling. We may see it again, DROLL.

    Corina, I really like your thought process on the Mid Season and this Post. I do think Ted over-stepped his Robin/Barney boundary because of the past these three share. Ted does have Wedding duties for Both Barney and Robin. Yet he can not be involved in relationship advice.

    Let me explain my position on this topic. One Ted dated Robin multiple times. Ted and Robin lived together. As roommates they slept together.

    Yet Ted is one of Robin’s confidants. Barney calls Ted his best friend and made Ted his Best Man. That alone is a big second conflict.

    In the recent past Ted even shared his love for Robin. Misguided as that gesture was, Ted made it. Everyone knew it happened and it hurt 5 people not just two.

    At the wedding both Barney and Robin confide in Ted. So they are all three still friends. Ted somehow gets his feelings under control. Ted lies to Robin in Farhamton about Barney’s emotional state. Ted says to himself I am out of this relationship by that point. But you and I both know this is not over yet.

    Finally in the future Ted and his wife let Robin into their home life. So much more to be said on this topic. But that would be another post all together “What’s Up with Ted” and he has one very understanding Wife.

    My point is Ted needed to be put in his place by Barney. I do not fault Barney for what he said. Even when it was a little hurtful. I think Ted needed that.

  • The Mother