This TV Show Taught Me Everything I Need To Know About Being Engaged

Photo: Courtesy of CBS.
On May 7, 2007, How I Met Your Mother's Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel) tied the knot. To mark the occasion nine years later, I decided to look back at the ways the show inspired my own relationship and upcoming wedding.

Friends who didn't watch HIMYM don't understand the fan base when I mention the show to them. It seems like just another CBS sitcom with a laugh track, or another show about a group of white friends hanging out. Those things are technically true, but for fans, it was a lot more than that. Plenty of episodes in HIMYM's nine-season run dealt with relationship issues that other sitcoms haven't addressed, at least not as well.

Of course, the past decade has seen other great married couples on TV, too. Happy Endings' Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe) are a particularly noteworthy example. Still, even years after HIMYM went off the air, the TV relationships I think about most often are Lily and Marshall, and Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders).

It might be the innocence of Lily and Marshall's relationship that's more relatable to me than those of other TV couples. Like the HIMYM duo, my fiancé and I met during the first week of college and have limited (well, more like nonexistent) romantic experience outside of our relationship. Our wedding will also happen as he's finishing graduate school, just like Marshall's when he is finishing his law degree. (We're also going to live with a third-wheel college friend after the wedding, our own Ted Mosby — he's even studying architecture.) Sure, Lily and Marshall's struggles are simpler than those of most TV couples. But their relationship is so unapologetically earnest, which is a big part of the reason I feel so much nostalgia for this sitcom.

Other generations have Friends' "We were on a break." That's how I feel about things like "Now we're even," and the Robin Sparkles videos. And, as I plan my wedding and look back on my own relationship, I'm really happy for the relationship lessons How I Met Your Mother taught us.
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Photo: Richard Cartwright/CBS via Getty Images.
Marriage doesn't have to mean "settling down."

Many of the episodes leading up to Lily and Marshall's wedding resonated with me — and, I suspect, a number of other couples. In my home state, getting married a few years out of college isn't abnormal; most of the people I grew up with are already married. But in New York, I started worrying I was losing myself as the wedding date crept closer. My friends and coworkers are living carefree lives — I don't want to be the fuddy-duddy married person in the group.

When I was overcome with the fear that I was "settling down" too early, I thought I needed to "go wild" before the wedding. I (fairly impulsively) decided to get a tattoo, which, for me, was pretty out of character. But thinking of the HIMYM episode "Best Prom Ever" actually assuaged a lot of my fears. As Lily and Marshall scope out a band for their wedding, Lily confesses to Robin that she fears she didn't do enough before getting married. (In Lily's case, the equivalent of the tattoo was not having a "lesbian experience" — to which Robin responds by kissing her.)

But Lily and Marshall both went on to earn plenty of professional and personal achievements after their marriage. It's not the ending of your own individual lives — it's just the start of an even more exciting journey together.
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It's not about the wedding itself.

Okay, so this one's not exclusive to HIMYM. Nowadays, more couples seem to be catching on to the fact that cultivating a healthy marriage is more important than planning one perfect day.

HIMYM had one of the best — and sweetest — examples of this, though. Marshall and Lily had an "unofficial" wedding outside their ceremony. That way, if anything went wrong inside — like Marshall's terrible hairstyle, hence, the hat — they were already married. I'm trying to apply the mind-set to my own planning. It's an important day, but what's more important is a life with your partner.
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It's normal to have insecurities.

Lily and Marshall's engagement included what some people might call red flags. In the show's early episodes, the couple spent months broken up, while Lily pursued an art career in San Francisco. I think of these episodes often, because I did the same thing to Steve in college. I thought we weren't having "the college experience," so we broke up for a few months.

I thought those apprehensions were long gone — until our wedding countdown hit the three-month mark. I started having serious doubts about the event and spent hours on the phone with one of my bridesmaids. He (yes, I have a male bridesmaid) helped me realize that my issues weren't with my relationship, but with smaller details that, in the end, don't matter. I thought I was concerned about being with one person for life, but that wasn't really the case. I can't imagine being in a relationship with anyone else, and I think Lily's character would have said the same thing in San Francisco.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about one scene from the show's third episode, "Sweet Taste of Liberty." Lily is newly engaged, and she's jealous that Robin is getting all the attention at the bar. Robin tells her that everyone else is looking for what she's already found with Marshall. I thought of this scene many times when Steve and I were broken up, and I still think of it frequently now. It's so easy to be jealous of other people, or the attention they get, or relationships that seem to be perfect on the outside, but at the end of the day, what's important is your own relationship.
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Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images.
Sex is whatever you define it to be.

In the second season's "First Time in New York," Robin tries to convince her high school–aged sister (who's played by Lucy Hale!) not to have sex. That sparks a discussion about the main characters's virginity losses — but it's not what you'd expect.

The gang ends up debating whether Lily lost her virginity to her high school boyfriend, Scooter, after a "just the tip" experience. Everyone has different opinions, but the only ones that matter are Lily's and Marshall's. (In the end, they conclude that they've only had sex with each other.)

On a broader scale, the episode makes a point about society's general obsession with virginity. There's often (at least in my experience with religious marriage classes) a pervasive obsession with defining what sex is. But in today's day and age, the labels just aren't necessary. What matters is what you and your partner agree on in your relationship.
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At the end of the day, a relationship shouldn't be hard.

HIMYM came at a simpler time, before it was normal for characters like Scandal's Olivia Pope to tell us she wanted "painful, difficult" love. When one of the group's old friends freaks out before his own wedding, Marshall tells him that while relationships require work, they shouldn't be difficult. Even when you're frustrated with your partner, remembering why you love them in the first place is key.
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Photo: Richard Cartwright/CBS via Getty Images.
There’s no "right way" to be in a relationship.

As a romance-hating person, I already feel like I've disappointed a lot of people with my lack of excitement about wedding planning. But it's also led to jokes from my friends about whether Steve and I actually have a passionate relationship. (The short answer: yes!)

Last fall, one of my close friends joked that Steve and I would have twin beds when we were married. If money were no object, though, I'd love sleeping in separate rooms entirely! Steve is a sleep-talker, and I'd probably get better rest without him there.

All that to say — the idea of twin beds isn't weird to me, but it was shocking to see an episode of HIMYM about twin beds air in 2010, during the show's fifth season. The plot involves Robin's boyfriend Don admitting that he and his ex-wife slept in separate beds — and the marriage ended in divorce. But Lily and Marshall also try sleeping in twin beds in this episode, and the show doesn't criticize them for it. If separate beds, or something else that's unconventional, makes you and your partner happy, that doesn't make your relationship any less real.
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There's not always one right answer to a solution.

HIMYM
wasn't the first show in which an out-of-state job offer caused tension in a marriage. But season eight's "Romeward Bound" still felt new. Lily gets a job offer to work as the captain's art consultant in Italy — just as Marshall gets a call that there's a judge opening in New York state, his dream job. Plots about uprooting families are one thing, but I can’t think of another show where both members of a couple got dream job offers within weeks of each other.

In the end, Marshall and Lily did spend time living in Italy, and he eventually got a judge spot when they came back to New York. It wasn't an easy decision — and no one was "right." A relationship isn't a competition, but it's not giving up on your own opinions, either. The buildup to whether or not they'd go to Rome was thoughtful and judgment-free — viewers weren't supposed to "side" with either of them.
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Every year is better than the last, and life isn't over when you reach a certain age.

The nostalgia I feel for HIMYM stems from my love for all things earnest, and one of the best things about the show was the group's philosophy that life just keeps getting better. I spent a fair amount of time in college battling depression, and it affected my friendships and my relationship. So many shows evoke feelings about the "glory days" of being in your 20s, but by the end of the show's run, these characters were pretty old. And they were still happy! Developing better relationships over time isn’t bad, and HIMYM didn’t portray aging negatively, the way many shows do.

I've always been a fan of the Ted-Robin relationship (I don't understand why anyone isn't), and I still tear up when watching the final scene. Ted's kids are grown up, and he's literally old and gray, but the next years of his life are going to be the happiest yet! In a time when people are constantly warning you about the divorce statistics, it's nice to see a ray of hope in Ted holding the blue French horn up again. You deserve happiness no matter how old you are or what mistakes you've made, and it truly fills me with hope, for my relationship and for other people's, to see Ted and Robin finding happiness later in life.
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