Saying Goodbye to (Fictional) Friends

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?!?


Filed under Everything I Know I Learned on TV, Jennifer Gwyneth and Me

9 responses to “Saying Goodbye to (Fictional) Friends

  1. Was a big fan of HIMYM too, so glad to see that I’m not the only one who felt compelled to write a blog post about it!

  2. I felt the same way when Brothers and Sisters was suddenly canceled with no closure . I missed the charactors and spending time in thier home and lives each week , and was shocked how much loss I felt when the show just stopped !! I am glad to know I am not alone !!!

  3. Anonymous

    yeah, i was a big fan too,,,,it was my favorite, after ‘Friends’ series of course,,, but anyway glad to hear from other people around,,,

  4. Okay, I’m a big dork and couch potato who has had relationships with tv characters forever. I want to have dinner at the Braverman’s and be part of their chaos. No matter what shows, movies or plays they do, certain actors will always be Dawson, Pacey, Joey, Rachel, Phoebe, the Fonz, McDreamy, etc.
    HIMYM goes down in history as one of he worst finales ever and now it is documented along with Lost, Seinfeld and Dexter. I have voraciously read every critic and tweeter and (almost) unanimously it was proclaimed season 9 was superfluous. It was all about the weekend of Robin and Barney’s wedding and then in the finale they divorce after the first commercial?
    I couldn’t have felt more deceived than when Bobby stepped out of the shower and said good morning to Pamela on South Fork rendering the previous year a bad dream. SERIOUSLY?
    Thanks for giving me another place to vent. My friends are tired of hearing about it and my husband stopped watching after the 4th season.
    And, I can’t wait to read the book

  5. I actually (still) my friends in Friends..

  6. Part of me is really happy that HIMYM has come to a close. The last two seasons were a bit of a drag or ;abor of love. Even though this final season did pick it up a bit, so at least it was an improvement on the previous season. It was an interesting premise for a show and I dig that. I think I’ll actually miss Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan’s characters. Plus, I really enjoy Jason Segel in general.

    I totally understand you here. For the most part I really enjoyed watching HIMYM. I also think I can relate to the parasocial interactions’ from my enjoyment of watching Sex & the City when it was on TV too. It made me sad when it came to a close, but it really dawned on me that I was living through television characters a little too much and needed to live a little more of my own life at the time.

  7. Maggie

    I enjoy the parasocial relationship to the characters and friends in Nora Roberts novels rather than those portrayed on TV.

  8. motherhendiaries

    Never was a fan, to be honest… but then, I’m a geek who didn’t watch a single Seinfeld until the series finished. Now I know pretty much every line off by heart… “I can’t spare a square!” haha! Maybe it’s because I prefer to watch things marathon style rather than waiting for an endless week to tick away until I can take my seat on their forward facing sofa again. However, yes, I so get the parasocial thing… we all do it. Just never had a really cool word to put to it before today, so – umm – THANKS for that! Love your blog btw… me and a zillion others, I know. But I JUST FOUND YOU so it’s all new to me! – Mother Hen

  9. OMG Mindy Kailing is also my BFF too!! We live in the same city but she doesn’t know I exist either. 😦 and ironically, I am in the midst of re-watching the entire series of Friends! *sigh* isn’t Chandler just the best! I cried when Joey told Rachel that he had feelings for her and she didn’t reciprocate. I think I remember this changing but I’m not there (again) yet.

    So true. Love this post.

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