‘How I Met Your Mother’ and the Problem of a Sex-Negative Happy Ending

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Barney wound up with the wrong girl.

How I Met Your Mother created one of the best sluts in the history of television. Yes, I use that word as a compliment and, yes, I’m talking about Barney Stinson, Neil Patrick Harris’ character. For nine seasons Barney was the ultimate bimbro, using increasingly ornate pickup artist tricks to land women in the sack. Much to the world’s chagrin they often worked. So why was the show so intent on destroying the very essence of Barney and tying him down? It’s because that is what a “happy ending” is all about.

On last night’s series finale Barney got married, divorced, and fell in love with another woman within the span of 60 minutes (about 43 if you take out the commercial breaks). This final season was spent convincing the audience that Barney was deeply in love with his friend (and his broseph’s ex) Robin. We had months of them getting closer and closer together and convincing each other it would work. What happened? They got divorced 20 minutes (or three years, if you believe the show) later.

That’s because Barney cannot be tied down. How I Met Your Mother took our favorite promiscuous characters and forced them into relationships because that is the only way that, historically, the pop culture world allows us to be happy. It is impossible to be single-and-loving-it for the rest of their lives. After Barney’s divorce, he goes back to his old ways and says that if it didn’t work with Robin, why should he try again.

He’s right. He knows himself and knows that what really makes him happy is chasing and bedding women. There is nothing wrong with that. That is a completely fulfilling and reasonable way to live. Sure, Barney’s treatment of women was sometimes awful (and that should not be excused) but isn’t it his right to find happiness any way he wants?

In the final episode he does it by trying to have a “perfect month,” bedding 31 women in 31 days. He accomplishes that but Number 31 gets pregnant and has a daughter, the one woman Barney discovers he can devote himself to. That’s actually a sweet way to end the show, but what is problematic is that it thrusts Barney into another romantic relationship (this time with the never-seen Number 31) when he clearly doesn’t want or doesn’t need to be in one.

Yes, How I Met Your Mother was determined to have its happy endings, even if it included killing off The Mother and having Ted and Robin try another shot at love. Just as it spoiled the slow trajectory of its series-long arc, the ending ruined our favorite character Mr. Barney Stinson. A happy ending should come in a character-finding fulfillment, and it was good that Barney found that in his daughter, an unexpected place. But the show hints that because he has the daughter, he can’t hit on floozies anymore. What’s Barney to do? Lead a celibate life of paternal devotion alongside a woman who he only slept with once? That doesn’t sound like any way to live, and no way to make Barney happy. 

Image via CBS.