A closer look at monogamy and romance in How I Met Your Mother


A favorite of mine is the popular How I Met Your Mother. This show is a collection of flash-backs following Ted Mosby’s desperate search for romance and the adventures he encounters with his friends along the way. How I Met Your Mother is mainly targeted towards young adults who relate to the emotional roller-coaster of romance. For my Marxist analysis I will be focusing on the pilot of the show because it provides a good summary of the main on-going themes. By looking underneath the show’s humor a clear message reinforcing the hegemony of “monogamous romantic relationships are desirable and results in happiness” stood out to me. This dominant ideology is illustrated by the pain Ted suffers due to his ‘single’ status, the approval Lily and Marshal invokes from other characters due to their ‘happily in love’ status and the disapproval Barney incites due to his ‘against monogamy’ standpoint.

Throughout the pilot episode (and the other episodes), Ted is evidently frustrated by being ‘single’ and desperately wants a monogamous relationship providing an anti-model for the audience. In this case, Ted’s suffering implies to the viewers that they do not want to be single like Ted. Ted’s desperation is sparked by Marshall’s engagement to Lily and is demonstrated by his ongoing defeated and discouraged attitude as well as his constant complaints about being single. He regularly expresses desire to be like Marshall and Lily which I perceive to be the show’s positive models.

How I Met Your Mother reinforces the idea of “monogamous romance results in happiness” by providing Marshall and Lily (happily engaged couple) as the role-models of happiness for Ted. Throughout the episode Marshall and Lily are viewed by the other characters, especially Ted, as the perfect couple. “The olive theory is based on my friends Marshall and Lily. He hates olives, she loves them. In a weird way that’s what makes them such a great couple, perfect balance.” (How I Met Your Mother, episode 1). The fact that Ted used the olive theory as an indication of his future with Robin (Robin hates olives, Ted loves them) shows that Ted looks up to Marshall and Lily to the point of using ridiculous nuances in their relationship in his own. The implication is clear when contrasting this positive approval with the condemnation Barney spurs as the opposite end of the spectrum.

Barney’s steadfast standpoint on “no monogamy” is paired with an outlandish persona which results in the viewers relating “no monogamy” with the ridiculousness and disapproval provoked by Barney. I believe this was the show’s original intent although Barney’s character since proved to be extremely popular and charismatic. “…even the dumbest single person alive and if you don’t believe me… call him. (Referring to Barney)” (How I Met Your Mother, episode 1). Barney is presented as a silly and amoral womanizer who the other characters rarely agree with.

The different levels of happiness and approval each of the main characters is presented with illustrates what the show is trying to imply as desirable and happy. The show’s message through these characters reinforces “monogamous romantic relationships” as the norm. Another interesting aspect of the show to consider for a Marxist analysis would be the show’s message on who is empowered in the young dating scene (attractiveness). Comparing the physical and behavioral characteristics of the “attractive” and “unattractive” characters of the show could be helpful for such an analysis.


“Pilot”. How I Met Your Mother. 20th Century Fox Television. 19 Sept. 2005. Television.


3 thoughts on “A closer look at monogamy and romance in How I Met Your Mother

  1. “How I Met Your Mother” was a great text to discuss for your marxist analysis. That show is a really good example of a dominant ideology that some are lucky to have, and leave others determined to find the same. The ideology of monogamous relationships is very persuasive in this situation because Ted happens to be good friends with a couple who appear very happy with each other and that everyone else should strive for the same. If Ted were friends with people who weren’t in a very successful monogamous relationship then maybe he wouldn’t be so determined to find a girlfriend.

    The ideas here are well put together because as a viewer you are able to see both sides of a bachelor’s life who are not living this ideology of “relationships bring nothing but happiness” and how they chose to deal with it. In this Marxist analysis the ideas are engaging because the subject positions are portrayed as people you hope to be like and people you hope to not be like. This particular show views people who are in a monogamous relationship as role-models and people who are not, such as Ted, anti-models. Although this show fails to demonstrate that not all monogamous relationships are revolved around happiness, they do a good job in showing that being a bachelor can leave you a happy individual (i.e., Barney).

    You did a good job in comparing Ted and Barney in the sense that living a single life is going to be a challenge if you’re to busy comparing yourself with other people’s situations (i.e., the olive theory) and hoping to find the exact happiness. Barney’s choice to neglect the ideology of a monogamous relationship and be a “womanizer” appears to leave him with no regrets but Ted ignores that possibility because he is too hung up in his desperate search for romance. Your ideas are original because they remind us from a Marxism perspective that once again, love and attractiveness is what people find admiring, yet they fail to portray the flaws that can be involved with a monogamous relationship.

  2. I think that using How I Met Your Mother to conduct a Marxist analysis was very clever. This show clearly reflects many Marxist principles and I think your ideas about the episode are well thought out and organized.
    Although I like the fact that you used the particular theme of “monogamous relationships,” I certainly feel that more could be said about fundamental Marxist ideologies, such as hegemony and materialism. As Sellnow puts it, “material conditions and economic practices shape the dominant ideology about who ought to be and ought not to be empowered.” (71) In this show for example, the relationship between Lily and Marshall gives us, the audience, a clear indication about the dominant ideology that “men are more empowered than women.” In this particular episode, Marshall is a law student whereas Lily already has a job as a teacher. Although he attempts to create a romantic atmosphere and dinner for Lily for their big night, he constantly fails to do so because “cooking” and “doing romantic things,” as deduced from this episode, are things women do and are “good at.” Lily, tired from work, attempts to go to the shower, but after Marshall keeps asking her for help, she comes back and does everything he was supposed to do for her. Marshall cannot even open the champagne bottle and uses puppy dog eyes in an attempt to make Lily do the”task” for him. It is also important to note that it is clear that heterosexual relationships are dominant and is considered “desirable.”
    Another thing that I noticed is Barney’s suit and his constant reminder to Ted to “suit up.” This is what Barney, a central and charismatic character in the show, perceives as “empowerment” and “attractive.” For example, he mentions that he doesn’t even know how the bartender got to be with such a pretty Lebanese girl when “he doesn’t even own a suit.”
    Overall, I think your analysis of the episode was really good and the image you used is another excellent reflection of Marxism. Perhaps you can discuss their choice of beverage, attire and pose in detail? I think this describing the image a bit would definitely support some of the ideologies related to your Marxist analysis. Great job and keep up the good work!

  3. Pingback: Don’t Hate Me… | Torching the Mundane

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