Last night was the finale of How I Met Your Mother, which, you may know, has long been a favorite of mine. The finale itself was pretty divisive. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) I was satisfied with the ending—I liked the closure, I appreciated that they didn’t dwell on the mother’s death, I was glad they set the story-telling six years after her death, so we could see that Ted turned out ok and I didn’t have to cry for him too much. I didn’t love that Barney and Robin got divorced after approximately two minutes. I HATED her old lady hair in the final scene. But when those closing credits rolled, I was smiling.
Episode specifics aside, I did go to sleep with a sense of sadness. It was as if I’d said goodbye to old friends. I’ve been watching How I Met Your Mother since 2005. I’ve known Marshall and Lily and Barney longer than I’ve known most of my Chicago pals, and it’s amazing how much I truly feel like I get these people who, I have to remind myself, aren’t even real people.
While researching Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me, I learned about a scientific concept called “parasocial interactions”: one-sided relationships where one party knows a lot about the second party, but the second party knows nothing, or next to nothing, about the first. It is most commonly observed between celebrities and their followers—I , for example, feel like Mindy Kaling is my BFF; she, on the other hand, doesn’t know I’m alive. A study out of Kansas State even found that one of the most common parasocial relationships people have is with the characters from Friends. Guilty. Could I be any tighter with Chandler?
Parasocial interactions aren’t bad for you, provided you have enough self-awareness to recognize you don’t actually know these people. (Stalker territory, folks.) Research has shown that, when kept in check, we can reap the same benefits from an imagined relationship, like mine with the HIMYM gang, as we do from the real-life kind. We might feel more connected, less isolated, and more confident. If we identify with someone, and also think highly of her, we might even by association think more highly of ourselves.
So I’ll miss the slap bets and Robin Sparkles and the reminders that nothing good happens after 2 am. I’ll miss MacLaren’s and Puzzles and all the Interventions. But most of all, I’ll miss my (parasocial) pals.
Ever had a parasocial relationship of your own? Ever miss the fictional characters of a TV show or a book as if they were your real-life friends? Or am I just too committed to my TV?
My new book, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me, comes out three months from today! (The release date was changed to July 1.) You can preorder it here and I’d be so grateful if you did. Publisher’s Weekly said readers will “alternately laugh and cringe” and “examine their outlook on perfection, self-acceptance, and aspiring to be one’s very best self.” Who doesn’t want that?!?