Robin and Barney were the great love story of How I Met Your Mother. So how did their romance fall apart even though they seemed like two peas in a pod? What would have been a better endpoint for these unconventional lovebirds? In this video, we discuss the ups and downs of the Robin/Barney romance, and where they ended up.
Robin Scherbatsky: “We’re so similar.”
Barney Stinson: “We both like scotch, we’re both awesome.” - How I Met Your Mother, 5x7
Robin Scherbatsky and Barney Stinson. Why couldn’t these unconventional lovebirds make it work?
How I Met Your Mother emphasized that these characters are two peas in a pod—they like all the same things, put friendship first, and are total commitment-phobes. If anyone can make these two romance-skeptics want to settle down, it’s each other. And the show builds to the climax of their wedding, setting the entire final season during the weekend of their nuptials.
Barney: “Our wedding is going to be legend-ary.” 9x1
But after all that, the Robin and Barney romance culminates in a marriage that (we abruptly learn in the second-to-last episode) lasts only a few years. As jolting and unsatisfying as this was for fans who’d invested in the couple, in truth, something always felt a little off about the idea of Robin and Barney getting hitched.
Robin: “I’m wondering if this whole getting married thing is something I can go through with.” 9x22
And not just because the show creators had decided long ago that Robin and Ted were endgame. If we consider Barney and Robin’s romantic pasts, it becomes pretty clear that neither of them is really suited to a hyper-traditional monogamous relationship. Much of Robin and Barney’s marital unhappiness appears to be the product of trying to force themselves into rigid cultural boxes that don’t fit them. Here’s our Take on why Robin and Barney were never meant to end up married to each other, or for that fact, to anyone.
Barney, the Biological Bachelor
To make sense of Robin and Barney as a couple, let’s consider both as individuals, starting with the Barnacle himself. If you’ve watched even a few seconds of the early seasons of How I Met Your Mother, you would have rightly deduced that “get married” was the last thing on Barney’s to-do list, somewhere below “stop wearing suits” and “stop doing magic tricks.”
While Ted seems to have come out of the womb longing to settle down, Barney feels like a biological bachelor. And he’s drawn to Robin precisely because she affirms many of the same values he holds.
Barney: “We both think the marriage and commitment thing’s a drag. We both want something casual and fun. And we clearly get along really well.” 1x14
Barney isn’t looking for a wife, he’s looking for a wingman (or wingwoman) that he’s also really attracted to. This is actually part of the foundation of what’s healthy about their relationship. Whereas Ted’s romantic ambitions for Robin involve turning her into something she’s not, Barney likes her for who she already is.
Barney: “You’re the most awesome person I have ever known…well second most awesome.” 3x16
Still, this mindset doesn’t always add up to a functional relationship pattern by conventional standards. No matter how accepting Robin is of Barney’s love of women, at times it gets close to crossing a line. Meanwhile, Barney’s other relationships in the show shine a light on deep-seated issues that keep him from ever going the distance. The over-the-top prenup he tries to impose on Quinn before their wedding reveals his obsession with control and inability to trust. With Norah, he has trouble being honest about who he really is, then cheats on her with Robin. And in addition to his problems with control and infidelity, Barney struggles with the very idea of being a conventional partner.
The whole reason that Robin seems to be the exception, disproving Barney’s apparent inability to be a boyfriend or husband, is that she breaks from many typical relationship expectations.
Robin: “To my femininity.”
Barney: “Nah…you’re more of a bro. You’re a dude. You’re a man.” 7x4
While Ted criticizes Robin for making men feel like she doesn’t need them, Barney thinks this is awesome. And unlike previous partners who wanted Barney to give up his bachelor ways, Robin eventually insists he keep his fortress of solitude just the way it is.
Robin: “If I ask you to change too many things about yourself, you’re not going to be the man I fell in love with.” 8x19
So ultimately, Barney and Robin fit precisely because both have a non-traditional style—and in their best moments, they work together to find their own way of being together, which doesn’t have to adhere to other people’s rules.
In the end, though, they’re not able to win this battle against monogamous norms. Their first break-up comes about because Barney and Robin feel unable to be who they really are in the context of a traditional relationship.
Barney: “Two awesomes cancel each other out. I’m tired of being canceled out.” 5x7
And in the brief glimpse we get of their marital collapse, we see their partnership unraveling because they’ve again lost the ability to confidently do things their own way. Barney objects to Robin’s constant traveling and work, but he’s long known that independence and career ambition are two of her defining traits. So it’s not so much that Barney can’t accept these things about Robin as a person; it’s that his new role as her husband casts her qualities in a new light, making him feel insecure and invalidated if she prioritizes her professional goals over time with him. In the end, Barney essentially confirms that his problem wasn’t with Robin but with lifetime commitment when he says he doesn’t see their divorce as some sign that he needs to change.
Barney: “I know there was a time when it seemed like I was capable of going the distance, but, if it wasn’t going to happen with Robin, then it’s just not going to happen with anyone.” 9x24
Robin’s Unhappiness in Love
Now let’s look at Robin’s relationship history.
Robin rejecting Ted’s declaration of love on their first date is basically the inciting incident that gets the ball rolling on the whole series. Her initial reluctance to date this guy who’s so obviously eager for a serious relationship is based on a clear understanding of her priorities: to focus on her journalism career, protect her freedom to travel, and be open to future professional opportunities.
Robin: “Look Ted, I don’t know where I’m going to be in five years and I don’t want to know. I want my life to be an adventure.” 2x22
When Robin does finally give Ted the old college try, she once again has to pull away when it becomes impossible to ignore that she and Ted want wildly different things out of life. In all of Robin’s other relationships, too, we see that things end badly for her whenever she tries to change herself to fit a traditional relationship model. After she decides to turn down a dream job to put her love for her co-anchor Don first, she gets burned when he takes that same offer. When she accepts Kevin’s marriage proposal, he later takes it back after finding out that she can’t have (and doesn’t want) kids.
Time and time again, Robin tries to become a more conventional girlfriend or wife, only to end up hurt or rejected. And in part, these relationships unravel because she can’t keep convincingly playing the part of the supportive, self-sacrificing girlfriend or wife, which isn’t who she is. One way or another, her desire for independence and her resistance to being vulnerable inevitably resurface.
Robin: “Oh Lily, you know, I’m not into all that coupley stuff.” 1x6
After her marriage to Barney ends, she gets to do exactly what she’s always wanted to: travel the world as a famous TV news reporter. It makes sense that, when forced to choose between saving her marriage and living her dreams, she chooses the latter. And it should be viewed as a happy ending that this character, who let herself be talked out of what she knows she wants too many times, decided to be true to herself.
Instead, leading up to its ending, the show seems to imply that Robin is being selfish by pursuing her career and that this focus is making her unhappy.
Lily Aldrin: “A genuine Scherbatzsky sighting out in nature. At this point, that’s like seeing sasquatch.”
Marshall Eriksen: “No sasquatch is a warm and affectionate creature. Robin is more like the Yeti, cold and aloof.” 9x24
And this brings us to the other major obstacle to Barney’s and Robin’s romantic happiness: of course, the specter of Ted. This ex who makes it clear that he’s never stopped loving her haunts all of her relationships, and even causes problems on the days before her wedding with Barney.
Barney: “It’s ridiculous that you won’t admit holding Robin’s hand was weird.”
Ted: “It wasn’t weird!”
Barney: “Yes it was.” 9x4
Arguably, to Robin, Ted the over-the-top romantic represents the idea of settling down and having that fairytale love in general. It’s a goal that she’s decided she doesn’t want or need.
Robin: “I’ve never wanted kids, and never, in a million years, will I want kids.” 7x12
Yet just as she can’t ever quite reject Ted conclusively, for good, she can’t totally kick the idea that maybe this conventional prize is something she should want.
Robin (to Ted): “If I was gonna have someone’s babies, I’d have your babies.” 2x22
Thus, Robin’s final reunion with Ted can be read in one of two opposite ways. In the first, Robin was meant to be with Ted all along; it’s just taken her this long to get over her many relationship hang-ups and admit that she’s always really loved him.
Penny Mosby: “This is a story about how you’re totally in love with Aunt Robin.” 9x24
The second reading of this resolution, however, is that Robin is, once and for all, truly surrendering. After a lot of resistance, she finally gives in to the damaging myth that monogamous commitment represents the only socially accepted, “happy ending” for a woman- even though all of the evidence we’ve seen throughout the series suggests that this doesn’t satisfy her.
So you could argue that Barney and Robin’s not ending up together ultimately can be explained by them buying into Ted’s ideas about what a relationship should look like, instead of their own. And looking at our two portraits of Robin and Barney together, we can conclude that the end of their marriage shouldn’t be viewed as some massive failure, but rather, two people realizing that marriage wasn’t serving their individual goals and desires.
Barney: “This isn’t a failed marriage, it’s a very successful marriage that happened to only last three years.” 9x23
Best Friends with Benefits
Robin: “I’m such a mess. Why do you even like me?”
Barney: “‘Cause you’re almost as messed up as I am.” 7x11
What’s most striking about Robin’s and Barney’s coupling is that these two have a ton in common. They both appreciate finely aged whiskeys and cigars imported from Cuba; they both have pretty significant daddy issues; neither of them dreams of having kids; and of course, they both share Canadian ancestry. Most of the time these shared affinities add up to an amazing friendship that’s complemented by mutual attraction.
A natural comparison to Robin and Barney are Rachel and Joey from Friends. Much like Robin and Barney, Rachel and Joey are very similar in temperament, considered the two “hot” ones in their group, and neither tends to overthink things like the neurotic Ross, who would correspond to Ted in this triangle. Ross has been in love with Rachel since he was a teenager, so, like Ted, he often seems to be in love with a certain idea of this girl, while Joey (like Barney) develops feelings that are based on actual friendship and enjoying the person she truly is, right now.
Ted Mosby: “I wanted her to be the mother of my children and spend eternity in her arms.”
Barney: “I want to sleep with her, at least one more time!” 5x21
But both of these romances were ultimately doomed by the problem of the neurotic professor (Ross and Ted) who apparently had “dibs” on ending up with the girl. Friends never even really gave the Rachel-Joey relationship much chance to develop, and in the end, Rachel and Joey consoled themselves with the idea that their friendship was too strong to give way to romance. Robin’s and Barney’s attraction got the opportunity to be explored in much more depth, but the suggestion that these two are in essence great friends also applies to this couple.
Thus, when revisiting the supposed “failure” of Robin and Barney’s marriage, it’s worth considering that not every couple that loves each other needs to be married or even be monogamous.
Robin: “I feel the same way I suck at relationships.” 5x1
Perhaps Barney and Robin would have done better to end up as some version of “friends with benefits.” The pressure to first define their relationship is external—in the form of Lily literally locking them in a bedroom and forcing them to choose a label. And this reflects the show’s deeply ingrained faith in the laws of monogamy, which are upheld by Ted Mosby and his long-term couple pals Lily and Marshall.
Lily: “Marshall and I have been together fifteen years and the only debate we’ve had over Tommy Boy is whether it’s awesome or super awesome. That’s love bitch!” 6x20
Ted’s, Lily’s and Marshall’s idea of a relationship require Robin and Barney to sacrifice things which, to quote Barney, are awesome about themselves, which makes them feel like less-good versions of themselves.
Barney: “Why do that fat guy and old lady staring…oh my god, that’s us.” 5x7
If Robin was able to confidently pursue her career without feeling like this was in direct contradiction to her role as a “wife”, then maybe she wouldn’t have grown to resent Barney. And if Barney were able to occasionally indulge his desire for the bachelor lifestyle to gather more content for his lifestyle blog, then he might not have felt so threatened by his wife traveling around the world and leaving him in a hotel room without WiFi. Both of their relationship issues were accelerated by the pressure of fitting into a marital mold that neither of them really wanted.
It’s worth noting that the show’s official alternate ending, which was actually included on the DVD, implies that after Robin achieves the professional success she always dreamt of, she and Barney eventually get back together. And widespread fan outrage over the last-minute Ted and Robin reunion suggests that this alternate conclusion would have felt more satisfying to many. It offers us a world where Tracy, the woman who shares Ted’s vision of a happy family, is truly framed as the love of his life, and there’s space for Robin and Barney to each do what they need to do separately while finding their way back to each other in their own unconventional fashion. So if you thought that Barney and Robin got a raw deal in the finale, consider wiping your memory of the original version and making the alternate version of the ending the one true ending in your mind.
Barney: “This woman has a hold on my heart that I could not break if I wanted to.” 8x6